THE coalfields of the north of France have been added to Unesco's list of world heritage sites, joining the likes of the Taj Mahal, the Great Barrier Reef, Mont-Saint-Michel and Yellowstone National Park.
Covering a 120,000-hectare area, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais mining basin contains pits dating back to 1850 plus all the associated structures: liftshafts, slag heaps (some covering 90 hectares), railways, stations, and mining villages.
Dominated by the towering "Twins of Loos-en-Gohelle" - two 170m slagheaps that are Europe's largest - the coalfield is France's 38th site to be added to the list, which now contains 961 sites.
The Bassin Minier Uni association has been battling for recognition since 2003 as the site represents a landscape created over three centuries of mining, from the 1700s to the 1900s.
It also holds a place in Europe's industrial heritage for the move to create model workers' villages.
The last coalmine closed at Oignies on December 21, 1990 when miners gave up working a 40km wide seam of coal, stretching from Belgium to the coast at Boulogne.
Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti said Unesco had "recognised the universal and exceptional value of this landscape - all at once cultural, industrial and social which pays tribute to the now-vanished mining way of life".
It is hoped that the new honour will bring increased numbers of tourists to the area, which has already been revived with the opening of the Louvre extension in Lens in the former No9 Colliery - and the starring role in the highly-successful Danny Boon film Bienvenue Chez les Cht'is
Photo: Hubert Bouvet