Charleroi is a city and a municipality of Wallonia, located in the province of Hainaut, Belgium. By January 1, 2008, the total population of Charleroi was 201,593. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of with a total population of 522,522 by January 1, 2008, ranking it as the 5th most populous in Belgium after Brussels, Antwerp, Liège and Ghent. The inhabitants are called Carolorégiens or simply Carolos.
The Charleroi area was already settled in the prehistoric period, with traces of metallurgical and commercial activities along the Sambre. Several public buildings, temples and villas were built in the area in the Roman period. Burial places, with jewels and weapons, have been found. The first written mention of a place called Charnoy dates from a 9th-century offering in the Lobbes abbey, which lists various neighboring towns and related tithe duties. During the Middle Ages, Charnoy was one of the many small hamlets in the area, with no more than about 50 inhabitants, part of the County of Namur.
The history of the city of Charleroi began in 1666. In the spring of that year, Francisco Castel Rodrigo, Governor of the Netherlands at the service of five-year-old Charles II of Spain, expropriated the area from the local lords to build a fortress near the Sambre. In September of that same year, the name Charnoy was officially replaced by that of the newly founded city of Charles-Roy (King Charles), so named in honor of Charles II. The chronogram FVNDATVR CAROLOREGIVM (MLCDVVVI) can be found in the register of the parish of Charnoy for the year 1666. A year later, Louis XIV’s armies, under the command of the Vicomte de Turenne, besieged the unfinished fortress. Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban completed the fortification work; the future city was granted its privileges; a bridge was built over the river, and free land was distributed to the inhabitants.
From 1666 to the Belgian Revolution
Shortly after its foundation, the new city was in turn besieged by the Dutch, ceded to the Spanish in 1678 (Treaty of Nijmegen), taken by the French in 1693, ceded again to the Spanish in 1698 (Treaty of Rijswijk), then taken by the French, the Dutch and the Austrians in 1714 (Treaty of Baden). The French Prince of Conti took the city again in 1745, but it was ceded back to Austria in 1748, beginning a period of prosperity under Joseph II. Glass, steel and coal industries, which had already sprung up a century earlier, could now flourish.
Trouble began again in 1790, the year of the civil uprising that eventually led to the United States of Belgium. The Austrians occupied the city, were forced out by the French after the Battle of Jemappes on November 6, 1792, and took it back again four months later. On June 12, 1794, the French revolutionary Army of Sambre-et-Meuse under the command of Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, invested Charleroi and won a decisive victory in the ensuing Battle of Fleurus. The city took the revolutionary name of Libre-sur-Sambre until 1800. Napoleon stayed in Charleroi for a couple of days in June 1815, just before the Battle of Waterloo. After his defeat, the whole area was annexed to the Netherlands, and new walls were built around the city.
1830 to present
The Belgian Revolution of 1830 gave the area its freedom from the Netherlands and ushered in a new era of prosperity, still based mostly on glass, metallurgy and coal, hence the area’s name, Pays Noir ("Black Country"). After the Industrial Revolution, Charleroi benefited from the increased use of coke in the metallurgical industry. People from across Europe were attracted by the economic opportunities, and the population grew rapidly.
Strikes, riots, exile, rise of the labor radicalism
Following the Industrial revolution in Wallonia, Charleroi from the 1850s–1860s became one of the most important places where labor strikes broke out. In 1886, 12 strikers were killed by the Belgian army in Roux. In the 1880s, miners in Hainaut were recruited by the Dominion Coal Company in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. These miners were anxious to flee the repression following bloody strikes and riots in Liège and Charleroi during the Walloon Jacquerie of 1886. Walloon miners from Charleroi also emigrated to Alberta, Canada. The working men of Charleroi always played an important role in Belgian general strikes and particularly during the Belgian general strike of 1936, the General strike against Leopold III of Belgium and the 1960-1961 Winter General Strike.
World Wars I and II
By 1871, the fortified walls around the city were completely torn down. Heavy fighting took place during World War I due to the city’s strategic location on the Sambre. After World War II, Charleroi witnessed a general decline of its heavy industry. Following the merger with several surrounding municipalities in 1977, the city is today the largest city in Wallonia and the 4th largest in Belgium.