Genk is a city and municipality located in the Belgian province of Limburg near Hasselt. The municipality only comprises the city of Genk itself. It is one of the most important industrial cities in Flanders, located on the Albert Canal, between Antwerp and Liège.
54% of the inhabitants are of foreign origin from about 85 different nationalities, mostly Italians, Turks, and Greeks.
- The biggest tourist attraction of Genk is Bokrijk, an open-air museum consisting of authentic relocated buildings (mainly dating from 17th till 19th century) from all over Flanders. In the summer season, historical Flanders comes alive in Bokrijk through numerous actors and re-enactment events.
- Genk was established as one of the entrance "gateways" of the Hoge Kempen National Park, the first National Park in Flanders, at its opening in 2006.
- Also noteworthy are the old coalmines of Zwartberg, Waterschei and Winterslag, surrounded by slag heaps, huge black mountains of dug up soil and coal remnants. Some of the mine buildings and housing can be visited.
- Despite its industrial past and present, Genk is nicknamed 'De Groene Stad' (The Green City). It sports a nature reserve called "De Maten", the large recreational area Kattevennen (with the Europlaneterium), Bokrijk, and several other green areas. In sunny weather, you may also want to pay a visit to the Sundial Park (Dutch: Zonnewijzerpark). The history of the landscape painters who visited Genk between 1840 and 1940 can be discovered in the Museum Emile Van Doren.
- The Europlanetarium Genk has a planetarium and observatory.
- Genk is home of Motives Festival, an annual event taking place in November and celebrating "new sounds of jazz." Recent performers have included the fiery piano jazz of Esbjörn Svensson Trio, funky saxman Joshua Redman, and futuristic electronics wizard Leafcutter John. Another musical event, Genk on Stage, takes place during three days in the summer.
- Genk is also rich in tradition, with a colourful carnival taking place around Ash Wednesday, the May celebrations featuring the May Queen, a flowers parade and a huge fireworks finale, and finally the Saint Martin procession, in honour of Saint Martin of Tours, one of the most popular saints in Flanders.
Celtic and medieval origins
Genk probably originated as a Celtic village, and was converted to Christianity in the 10th century. The remains of a little wooden church dating from that period were found in the area. The first mention of Genk as Geneche can be found in a document dating from 1108, ceding the territory to the Abbey of Rolduc. Politically, Genk belonged to the County of Loon until it was annexed by the Prince-Bishopric of Liège in 1365.
During a century of on-going industrialisation further south in Belgium, Limburg modernised only slowly: Genk remained unimportant and small, growing slowly to a population of 2,000 around 1900. The peaceful village was the home of landscape painters and writers such as Neel Doff.
20th century development
In 1901, André Dumont found a large quantity of coal in the nearby village of As. Soon after, the "Black Gold" was also found in Genk. After World War I, the village started to attract a large quantity of both Belgian and foreign immigrants, and quickly became the biggest city in Limburg after Hasselt, peaking to a population of 70 000. However, in 1966 the coal mine of Zwartberg closed down, and Genk had to develop new industries, mainly along the Albert Canal and highways. By the end of the 1980s, the two remaining coal mines at Winterslag and Waterschei were also closed.
In 2000, Genk officially became a city. Genk was recently voted the friendliest city in Europe by the SEA Tourist Commission.
In 2004, the city of Genk named a street after Jacques Coghen, finance minister of Belgium in the 1830s.
Genk is the industrial centre of the province of Limburg and offers over 45,000 jobs, making it economically the third most significant city in Flanders.
The Genk Body & Assembly factory of Ford Motor Company was the largest and most important employer in Genk until recently, employing some 5,000 people and building the Mondeo sedan and hatchback, the Galaxy (second generation, from 2006 and onwards) MPV/minivan, and the S-MAX sub-MPV. The factory closed in 2014.