Heerlen, Netherlands


Heerlen (Limburgs: local Heële) is a city and municipality in the southeast of the Dutch province of Limburg. On August 1, 2020, Heerlen had 86,915 inhabitants (CBS). Heerlen is thus the largest municipality in the Eastern Mining Region, and the fourth in Limburg, after Maastricht, Venlo and Sittard-Geleen.

Heerlen's history goes back a long way. The Romans founded a settlement called Coriovallum and built a thermal complex there that is now considered the best preserved antique building in the Netherlands. The place remained inhabited in the Middle Ages as 'Herle'. Impressive growth did not follow until the beginning of the twentieth century, through the extraction of coal. Mining provided prosperity and population growth. After the mines disappeared, Heerlen struggled for a long time with unemployment and economic hardship. This was partly absorbed by the establishment of a number of large companies and government agencies.

From an administrative point of view, Heerlen is today formed by four districts - Heerlen-Stad, Heerlerheide, Heerlerbaan and Hoensbroek - which are divided into separate districts. Heerlen is part of the administrative partnership Parkstad Limburg, where a total of around 240,000 people live. Since 2006, this small city region in size has had the special status of plus region. This status was abolished in 2014.



Although there are traces of earlier settlement, the settlement history of Heerlen only began with the arrival of the Romans. They founded a military settlement there 2000 years ago, which they named Coriovallum. The Romans built, among other things, a bathhouse and practiced pottery.

The oldest written mention of Heerlen or 'Herle' is in a deed of 1065. Heerlen gradually developed during the Middle Ages as an agricultural village, with mills and farmsteads.

Heerlen was a fairly isolated village until well into the 19th century. The main livelihood was agriculture, there were no good supply and disposal roads. If you wanted to travel by train, you first had to walk to Simpelveld (on the railway line Aachen - Maastricht) or Sittard (the railway line Maastricht - Venlo) to take the train there. It was also possible to go to Valkenburg, Sittard or Aachen by postal wagon. It was not until 1896 that the Sittard - Herzogenrath railway line was established, built by the railway builder Henri Sarolea, who would later manage the Oranje-Nassau mines with the brothers Carl and Friedrich Honigmann.

That railway was urgently needed in connection with the exploitation of coal. In 1894 the construction of the Oranje-Nassau mine I, 1899–1974 had already started, which went into production five years later. Three more mines were built on Heerlen's territory: the Oranje-Nassau III (1917–1973) in Heerlerheide, Oranje-Nassau IV (1927–1966) in Heksenberg and the State Mine Emma (1911–1973) in Treebeek (at that time territory of the municipality of Heerlen) .

The population grew explosively in a short time: from a village with 6646 inhabitants in 1900 to a city of 32,263 inhabitants in 1930. For all these people from home and abroad, houses, schools, shops and a hospital had to be built, roads had to be built. and so on, all in a very short time. It is therefore not surprising that very few historical buildings have been preserved. In the great change from village to city they no longer fit in a modern cityscape and so they were demolished. The high chimneys at a coal mine were characteristic for Heerlen during the mining period. These chimneys were popularly referred to as Lange Jan (1938-1976, 138m) and Lange Lies (1953-1976, 155m), and were visible from a very great distance.

Little reminds us of that coal past of the city. The slag heaps have been excavated and turned into residential areas or parks, the cooling towers and large chimneys have disappeared. The shaft building of the Oranje-Nassau I is the most striking and immediate remnant. The many neighborhoods that were built in the years before the Second World War are still striking witnesses of that striking period in Heerlen's history. The only remaining rock mountain in its original state (also in the whole of the Netherlands), of the Oranje-Nassau IV, is located on the edge of the Brunssummerheide, but is threatened with excavation because it contains precious silver sand.

Remarkable buildings have been preserved here and there in Heerlen, reminding us of the time when Heerlen and the Eastern Mining Region were a growth area. In 1935 a very famous building was completed, the Glaspaleis of client and local shopkeeper Peter Schunck.

After years of decay and restoration, the Glass Palace was put back into use in 2004, now as a cultural center. The building is located in the center of the city, surrounded by the three central squares: Bongerd (Markt), Pancratiusplein and Emmaplein. It is a national monument and one of the 1,000 most important 20th-century buildings in the world according to a Union of International Architects classification. In addition, the building and its restoration have received many awards. One of the aspects in which it was far ahead of its time is energy consumption. Soon after commissioning, it turned out that the installed heating was not necessary even in winter, because it works like a greenhouse.



Heerlen is located in the basin of Heerlen, where the Geleenbeek rises together with various tributaries.

Heerlen is an elongated municipality and part of the Eastern Mining Region. There are significant height differences. The center is about 120 meters high. The coal mines and the accompanying scattered development resulted in a fairly built-up area that extends over adjacent (and annexed) cities such as Hoensbroek, and neighboring municipalities such as Brunssum and Landgraaf. After the mines were closed, most of their remains, including the slag heaps, disappeared and industrial estates or residential areas were built on these areas. Infrastructure, in particular the almost parallel motorways Rijksweg 76 and Provincialeweg 281, also contributed to the fragmentation of the landscape.