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Hainaut, located in the southwestern part of Belgium, is one of the country's ten provinces. The province borders France to its south, while within Belgium, it borders the Flemish provinces of West Flanders, East Flanders, Flemish Brabant, and the Walloon provinces of Walloon Brabant and Namur. The capital city is Mons, which contains a considerable amount of historical heritage and landmarks. Yet, the largest city within the province's borders is Charleroi, a former mining town. The Boot of Hainaut's landscape consists more of rolling hills. The highest point within the province is the village of L'Escaillère, at an altitude of 365 meters above sea level. There are several protected natural areas in Hainaut, one of them being the Scheldt Plains nature park which features forests, meadows, and farmers' open fields interspersed with woods and hedges. For most of its history, Hainaut was part of the County of Hainault, created during the Carolingian period. The county encompassed the larger adjacent territory and lasted until circa 1830 when its northern territories became part of Belgium. In terms of local climate, the warmest month throughout the year is July, with the average temperature being around 25°C.
The largest city within Hainaut's borders is Charleroi, which is also Wallonia's most populous city. As a former mining town, the city is presently a considerable tourist destination, with several historical and cultural landmarks. Charleroi features diverse heritage, including the UNESCO-listed Belfry and the Passage de la Bourse. The city is currently undergoing an urban renovation to combine its historical heritage and industrial relics with contemporary infrastructure, extending from Lower Town to Upper Town. A growing cultural scene in the city includes theater, dance, music, photography, and urban art. However, the city is also home to institutions such as Théâtre de l’Ancre, l’Eden, Charleroi-Danse, and the Vecteur, as well as many artistic spaces and cultural centers. Some of the local Charleroi's city museums include the Beaux Arts, the Glass and Marble Museums, and Europe's largest photography museum.
The capital city of the Hainaut province is Mons, located in the central part of the province. As described by Victor Hugo, “Mons is perhaps worth talking about because it is a charming town.” A number of cultural landmarks are found in the city of Mons, which attract a relatively high quantity of tourists. The city was designated the European Capital of Culture in 2015, as it is home to numerous museums showcasing art, science, and history. History enthusiasts can explore the Museum of the Doudou, Mundaneum, often nicknamed the "Google of paper," and Maison Van Gogh in Cuesmes. Mons is a blend of old and new architecture with a historic atmosphere evident in its ancient alleys and architectural heritage. Visitors can explore the Grand Place, where they can touch the head of the Monkey of the Grand Garde with their left hand, which supposedly gives good luck, according to local folklore. Other sights include the Belfry, and the Collegiate Church, all of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Visitors can also tour the Mundaneum and the Neolithic Mines of Spiennes.
Beyond historical and cultural heritage, nature is another draw to the Hainaut region. The province features 261 kilometers of navigable waterways, which represent considerable outdoor destinations. Located in western Wallonia, the Harchies Marshes is an area that covers the Haine Valley between Bernissart and Hensies. The region is comprised of former wet meadows that have been inundated due to mining collapses, creating a network of wetlands. Since the 1950s, these marshes have been renowned for their unique nature, particularly for their birdlife. The Regional Center for Initiation to the Environment of Harchies offers regular guided tours every first Saturday, which are open to everyone.
Hainaut province contributes to the state's borders with France, as it is located in the southwestern part of Belgium. The province's capital is Mons, which in Dutch is called Bergen. However, the most populous city is Charleroi. Hainaut stretches across an area of 3,813 square kilometers and is inhabited by an estimated total of 1,344,241 people. The Boot of Hainaut has a fairly hilly landscape and it is part of the Ardennes and its foothills, namely the Fagne and Condroz. The highest point within the province is the village of L'Escaillère, at an altitude of 365 meters above sea level. The Boot of Hainaut is home to the artificial five Eau d'Heure lakes, creating the most extensive lake area in Belgium. The Borinage is a well-known region in the province, as it is the old coal mining region around the city of Mons. Another notable area is the Pays des Collines, a low hilly landscape forming one natural region with the Flemish Ardennes in the East Flanders province.
There are several protected natural areas scattered across the Hainaut province. One of them is the Pays des Collines nature park. The green belt of the nature park consists of various trees, shrubs, and herbaceous components. The interconnection between these elements is essential for the proper functioning of the ecological system. Orchards, hedgerows, trees, forests, wastelands, and other landscapes contribute to the Pays des Collines nature park. Another protected area is the Scheldt Plains nature park, covering 26,500 hectares of land. This park is found near the Franco-Belgian border along with the Scarpe-Scheldt Regional Nature Park, forming the Hainaut Cross-border Nature Park. It boasts a diverse range of landscapes and biotopes, with forests, meadows, and farmers' open fields interspersed with woods and hedges. Pollarded willows can be seen marking the horizontal perspectives of the views. Some of the local attractions include the Pays des Mâchons walk in Rumes, nurseries in Lesdain, Antoing, and Beloeil castles, the Grand Large Lake and Marina in Péronnes, the Iguanodon Museum in Bernissart, and the Harchies Marshes.
With regard to the average temperatures in Hainaut's capital, Mons, the warmest month is July, with an average daily temperature of 25°C. Reportedly, January is the coldest month, as temperatures generally rest around 6°C on average. April tends to be the driest month in Mons because it receives about 52 mm of rainfall on a typical basis. The most precipitation falls during December, as it receives an average of about 92 mm.
The Merovingian dynasty originated in the Tournai region, which is part of the Hainaut province. Later, the County of Hainault was created during the Carolingian period, encompassing the majority of the present-day Hainaut province as well as adjacent regions such as Valenciennes, Maubeuge, and Bavay in France. After the Carolingian Empire split in 843 A.D., the county became part of the Kingdom of Lotharingia before being ceded to the Kingdom of France in 870. In 925, the County of Hainault became an independent state within the Holy Roman Empire. The Counts of Hainault held the title of Counts of Mons and later became Counts or Margraves of Valenciennes. Baldwin VI of Flanders, also known as Baldwin I of Hainault, was the first count of the combined Flanders and Hainault.
The County of Hainault was frequently entangled in the politics of France and was culturally and linguistically French. The counts of Hainaut were often rulers of other counties, including Flanders and Holland. In 1432, Hainaut became part of the Burgundian Netherlands, which was later inherited by the Habsburg dynasty. The southern part of Hainaut was acquired by France in 1659 and 1678, while the northern part became part of Belgium in 1830.
In the 19th century, the industrial revolution made a significant impact on Hainaut. Eventually, the area became home to various industries, including steel, metal manufacturing, mechanical and electrical construction, chemical, earthenware, glassware, and clothing. New trade channels were developed, including a canal linking Mons to Condé, which opened in 1818, and the Charleroi-Brussels canal. The Mons-Brussels railway line also opened in 1841. As a result of this expansion, new towns appeared, and the emergence of the urban proletariat led to the labor movement's growth. Hainaut became a center of social protest, and the Belgian Workers' Party adopted the notable Charter in Quaregnon in 1894. In the 20th century, the two world wars had a significant impact on the region. By the 1960s, the coal mines closed, and many Italian migrants settled permanently in the area.
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