The waterways in France were once the arteries of industry. Over time, economies have shifted and the modes of transportation have changed. Left behind in the wake of modernization is the decaying infrastructure of bygone eras.
Traveling by water the factories and plants of these once powerful industries sit forgotten, slowly decaying at the waterside. The story of these rusting factories, their rise and their fall, is unknown to us as we slowly pass by on the water. What purpose did these industrial buildings serve? Why was there industry at this particular place? And why have these large complexes been abandoned?
Cruising the Moselle we had an opportunity to discover the history of one these old plants, U-4. In an unusual move, the community of Uckange has preserved and protected one of the town’s pig iron foundries, U-4. Recognized as a piece of the region’s industrial heritage, this old factory has been registered as an historic monument. It is now open as a museum.
Visitors can tour U-4 on a controlled access walkway. Along the way signs tell the history of the place, the industry, and of the region. As we walked through the plant we learned that the U-4 blast furnace was one of several in the Moselle Valley that smelted iron ore from the nearby mines. The placards told us that the basic chemical principles behind an iron foundry are straightforward and age-old. The challenge is to perform these tasks on a large scale.
We hope to find more opportunities like this to look behind the curtain of France’s decaying industrial infrastructure. It takes money and serious effort to preserve, maintain, and open to the public a decaying factory like U-4. Indeed, it takes serious money just to dismantle and decontaminate an old factory so the land can be repurposed. So for now it seems we will have to content ourselves mostly with imagining the story behind the decaying industry we see from Wanderlust’s deck as we cruise by.
(Wanderlust stopped at U-4 museum in Uckange during the day of August 12 2015. She was on the return journey from Luxembourg to Metz. After leaving Luxembourg, she traveled 29 kilometers and 4 locks before spending the night in Thionville. From Thionville it is 32 kilometers and four locks to Metz’s port de plaisance.)