This next region occupies the center of Belgium, and extends from the French border to the Meuse River. As in northern France, a widespread and fertile cover of loess makes this the best agricultural region of Belgium. The relief is rolling and in the west there are small hills, relics of former escarpments. Some of these became famous during the World War as strategic points for the defense or capture of which thousands of men were killed, as at Kemmelberg near Ypres. Fields of wheat, barley, oats, and sugar beets as well as orchards and vegetable gardens, surround the many villages. The population is dense, and there are many towns which serve as centers of trade and culture, for example, the university city Leuven (French Louvain). But all roads on this upland lead to Belgium's great capital, Brussels. Because of circumstances that were largely political, this chief city of the Province of Brabant chanced to become the seat of government during a period of foreign domination, and gradually overshadowed the Flemish cities. Having become the capital of Belgium in 1830, it continues to be the most important city, the very heart of Belgium. Essentially French in culture in spite of its location north of the language boundary, it resembles Paris in many respects. Industrial development has followed on political importance, but there is little specialization. The Willebroeck Canal connects Brussels with the Schelde, and small seagoing vessels can reach the city.
In the southern part of the upland along the Sambre-Meuse River, which follows the soft coal layers at the foot of the Ardennes, a great manufacturing development entirely overshadows agriculture, and from the French border up to Liege the landscape is dominated by factories. Coal has been the basic factor in this industrial development. The coal syncline crosses the country from France to Germany, forming the Sambre-Meuse depression. Exploitation is not always easy, for the coal seams are thin, the geological structure is in some places very complicated, and the quality of the coal is not the best. Superior resources are found in the Campine at greater depth, but exploitation is here still in its infancy. For the iron industry foreign coal of suitable quality has to be imported in large quantities, a disadvantage which is partly offset by the export of coal from Belgian mines.
The mining of iron ore, which was once important, is now insignificant in comparison with the large import of that commodity from French Lorraine. The southeastern corner of Belgium has a small share of the great Lorraine iron-ore deposits, but the neighboring mines of Luxembourg are of greater importance. Their value is enhanced by the nearness of the German coalfields which have given rise to a number of smelters. The pig iron here produced is mostly exported. Zinc, also, used to be exploited near the German border, but is now imported as ore from foreign countries.
The Sambre-Meuse industrial zone can be subdivided into three sections. The western section--the Borinage--around Mons is essentially a coalmining region. The next district, that of Charleroi, in connection with its coal output has developed metal works, machine factories, chemical industries, and the manufacture of glass which is a Belgian specialty. In both sections industries are more scattered and are carried on in smaller towns than in England. Even Mons and Charleroi are comparatively small. This industrial development continues along the Meuse River to the third section, with the old town of Namur at the confluence of the Sambre and the Meuse as one of the centers. Only farther north, however, around Liége, does it again take on great significance. During the nineteenth century, the ancient city of Liége became the center of a great industrial region, with the usual iron works and machine factories as well as zinc smelters and glass plants, notably those producing fine crystal.