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In the commune of Loos-en-Gohelle, a former mining town in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, are a series of five conical hills, of which two reaches 146 meters in height. These are slag heaps, the residue of 130 years of mining in the rich coal seam underneath Loos-en-Gohelle that extends west to east just below the Belgian border. The twin peaks, locally known as "terrils" and commonly dubbed the "11-19" — the figures refer to the number of the mine pits — are the highest slag heaps in Europe, and can been seen from miles around.

The terrils are familiar to anyone who has travelled on the motorway or Eurostar train between London and Calais or Brussels. These massive black pyramids dot the entire landscape. There are over 350 such terrils in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, but no one is sure of the exact number because some have been exploited for road-ballast, some have been leveled, and others have gradually been taken over by trees and vegetation and are hard to spot. Most are small and irregularly shaped, but the pair at Loos-en-Gohelle are exceptional. They are also one of the last pits in operation, before the coal industry went out of business in 1986.

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© Amusing Planet, 2015.


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