Silent furnaces

Ever since I started visiting the western Saarland, I have been intrigued by the industry along the Saar river. The motorway into the state capital, Saarbrücken runs along one side of the river, and on the other are giant steel and ironworks. Driving past them on the motorway side of the river it was not always clear which of these was operational or not. Some clearly are, the piles of steel billets next to a barge loading crane would be of different sizes on different occasions. The most imposing structure however is now no longer operational.

The large triangular pipes can be seen from the motorway and on visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site, their purpose in the ironworks is explained. Despite being the most dominant visible feature of the site when passing it, they are actually only a small part of the overall works, coloured yellow in the image which explains how the furnaces operated.

The first such furnace was built in 1881 and in the subsequent 35 years, a further 5 were built to arrive at the 6 furnaces which operated on a 24-hour basis until the site was finally closed in 1986. A mixture of raw iron ore, sinter and coke was poured into these furnaces to produce pig iron, which was collected every 2 – 2.5 hrs from the base of the furnace.

The coke necessary to heat the iron ore sufficiently to extract the pig iron was also produced from local and imported coal in its own coking facility.

There are railtracks around the site on which materials were transported from one part to another, with locomotives owned by the ironworks, but which were permitted to operate on the public rail tracks too, enabling transport to and from the site as well.

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