Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Everything takes place as if everything was
done to forget the working-class past and turn
the town from a diffi cult area into a 'posh' one,
an even elitist place or bastion, something that
is facilitated by the structure of the town that
kept its old walled design, with boulevards hav-
ing replaced old city walls. The industrial and
coal extracting past rarely comes to the fore, to
such an extent that on the town's offi cial Web-
site, mines are not mentioned in the quick his-
tory section, even though it is an industry that
largely contributed to turning Belgium into the
third richest country at the beginning of the 20th
century. The idea behind Mons' strategy is that
the increased care for heritage and the new cul-
tural activities will create a new, positive image
of the place and will tempt investors into invest-
ing in the area that is centrally located and eas-
ily accessible. A new logo was created (Fig. 10.1).
It encapsulates this desire summarized in 'ideas
and heart' and appears everywhere in the town,
including on the working areas.
This logo is a major tool in the construction
of Mons. When asked if the concepts it presents
relate to inclusion of the inhabitants, the locals,
or is it rather relating to the 'welcoming of the
tourists', the answer leaves absolutely no doubt:
'it is above all a question of welcoming, obvi-
ously, so that people outside know Mons is a
pleasant, warm place to be.' 6
In this construction of Mons and the attempt
to create a specifi c atmosphere, one should be
aware of the dangers of concentrating on one
single period for built heritage diversity. Indeed,
the focus on 18th-century building should not
make one forget that Mons also holds other
treasures such as high-quality facades of the
19th and 20th century. Contemporary work of
shopfronts by Barthelemy and his team offer us
a good example of this.
The same risk of diversity exists with the
focus on the unique and the 'grand'. At the
moment, there seems to exist a tension between
a rather bourgeois town (Mons) and the sur-
roundings where the average income lies signifi -
cantly lower than in the rest of Belgium. The
professed aim of the cultural and tourist strategy
is to 'pull the region forwards and upwards', 7
thus turning the surroundings into wealthier
places as well as distributing the benefi ts of tour-
ism, partly through longer stays. The rationale is
to develop in the region different attractions or
cultural activities, especially with the help of
State or EU fi nances. The danger, however, is to
alienate locals from their surroundings if they are
not integrated into the development and if their
history or diversity is not taken into account.
Mons is clearly constructed as a European
tourist destination. Because it is applying for the
status of European capital of culture, Europe
has turned into the main, if not only, point of
reference. Mons's Website boasts that the town
lies at the crossroads of Europe, only 50 min
away from Lille (Capital of Culture 2004), 54
from Bruxelles, 80 from Paris, 150 from London,
202 from Cologne and 208 from Amsterdam
(train times). In the brochure explaining why it
thinks it deserves to become European capital
of Europe, the names of different artists are
given who 'have brought a stone to European
culture', 8 'Mons 2015, an eminently European
project' or 'the project puts forwards cultural
currents common to all Europeans' or 'the pro-
ject establishes long term cultural co-operations
and favours circulation within the Union'.
Clearly, the type of tourist expected and the
possibilities of funding infl uence the choices
made in the (re)presentation of the town.
Only at one point does the offi cial prospec-
tus mentions that 'the project favours dialogue
between cultures of Europe and other cultures
of the world', but this takes the form of music
Fig. 10.1. Mons's logo - on ideas and heart (mean-
ing warmth).
6 All quotations from an interview with an elected high political offi cial closely involved in culture, tourism
and economy.
7 Interview with a local authority member, April 2004.
8 From Mons: capitale européenne de la culture en 2015. All quotations in this paragraph come from this
brochure unless otherwise mentioned. Original text in French, author's translation.
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