Grottes de Folx-Les-Caves

The Caves of Folx-Les-Caves


Useful Information

Location: rue A. Baccus 35, B-1350 Orp-Jauche.
(50.666192, 4.940886)
Open: Closed.
[2022]
Fee: Closed.
[2022]
Classification: MineLimestone Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:
Guided tours: D=60 min.
Photography:
Accessibility:
Bibliography:
Address: Grottes de Folx-Les-Caves, rue Auguste Baccus 35, B-1350 Orp-Jauche (Folx-Les-Caves), Tel: +32-81-877366, Fax: +32-81-877366. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1606 first written mention of the quarries.
~1750 used as a hideout by the notorious brigand Pierre Colon.
1771 oldest inscription in the quarries.
1793-1797 monks take refuge in the caves during the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution.
1828 rediscovered after an earthquake.
1886 start of mushroom farming.
1952 electric light installed, underground dancing.
1975 end of mushroom farming.
1989 end of underground dances.
???? opened to the public by the owner Maurice Racourt.
1993 quarries declared a Historic Monument.
2010 reopened by his brother Paul Racourt and his niece Monique Racourt.
2016 put up for sale.
2019 sold and closed for the public by the new owner.

Description

The name Grottes de Folx-Les-Caves is twice misleading, these are not grottes, which actually means caves in English, but former limestone quarries. The second guess would be that the small village Folx-Les-Caves was actually named after the quarries, and the French term caves actually means cellar, but it seems they were never cellars. The small village has actually no use for such huge cellars. In the 18th century, before the village existed, there was only a huge forest which was crossed by the road between Namur and Tienen. It was called forêt les caves (forest of cellars), because there were rectangular openings to the quarries visible in the forest. As a result the small agricultural village was named after the forest which later became Folx-Les-Caves.

The first artificial caves at this place are probably from the neolithic, probably for flint mining, but there has never been an archaeological excavation. During the 16th and 17th century the caves were enlarged by massive limestone mining, and today they form a labyrinth of many hectares. The huge caverns are a result of the room and pillar method, so it is today a labyrinth of vaulted passages and pillars. It is unknown when the Medieval limestone quarrying started, it was first mentioned in a book by Jean-Baptiste Gramaye in 1606 under the name caverna subterranea. According to local lore the caves were the hideout of the highway man Pierre Colon, a Robin-Hood-like bandit of local fame. He was a notorious brigand around 1750. According to the legend he was followed into the quarries by the police, but was able to lead them astray in the dark maze. The oldest inscription in the quarries bears the date 1771. During the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution, monks from nearby monasteries used the quarries as a hideout. They built two altars, one at the end of a cul-de-sac gallery and another in the room called chapelle du Saint-Esprit (Chapel of the Holy Spirit). It was named after figures symbolizing the Trinity which were carved into the wall.

It seems the quarries were abandoned and forgotten, and the owners of the land, the Racourt family, were not aware of their existence. According to family lore there was an earthquake in 1828 which lead to the rediscovery. They converted the site into a mushroom farm in 1886. During the wars it was quite successful because there were barracks with stables nearby, where they got an abundance of cheap horse manure, and labour was also cheap. The mushrooms were sold to hotels all over Belgium. In 1948, they produced 180 kg of mushrooms a day. In the early 20th century, until 1910, the huge caverns were also used for dancing with candlelight.

The electric light was installed in 1952, we guess for the mushroom farm, but it also allowed the reactivation of the underground dances. Quite convenient was the fact that the entrance was close to the inn of the Racourt family. In 1975, the mushroom production was reduced substantially. For some time they were growing chicory and Maurice Racourt started to offer guided tours. There was only a small cave for growing mushrooms left, both for personal use and for the visitors to explain the used techniques. With his death in 2009 the caves were closed to the public. His brother Paul Racourt and his niece Monique Racourt 2010 reopened the site.

But in 2016 the Racourt family decided to put the caves up for sale, they had no children who could take over. In 2019, the quarry was finally sold to the brewer Pierre Celis who planned making it the major tourist center of the region. Unfortunately a feasibility study mentioned the danger of rockfall, and the new owner closed them for good. That's quite sad, as rockfall is quite common for such quarries, but nevertheless the danger is insignificant. It seems this was more or less an insurance or permit problem.