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GIO Looks at the Timeless Legacy of Belgian Bluestone

Belgian Bluestone, also known as “Petit Granit,” is a distinctive and high-quality limestone quarried in Belgium for centuries. The stone is also known by many other names: Pierre Bleu, Belgian Granite, Belgian Bleu, and Coal Limestone, to name just a few. Belgium’s history, architecture, culture, and economy are deeply intertwined with the unique characteristics and history of its extraction and use.

Origins and Geology

Carbon limestone (Tournaisian) with crinoids, Petit Granit (Public Domain)

Belgian Bluestone is a dark, dense limestone that dates back to the Carboniferous period (roughly 350 million years ago), which takes its name from large underground coal deposits formed from vegetation and large trees that grew in vast swamp forests. This stone is found in several regions in south Belgium, especially in Tournai and Soignies. It was formed in ancient marine environments, leading to the stone’s characteristic blue-grey color and the presence of fossilized sea creatures and calcite veins. The stone’s blue color varies in tone, from almost black to a powdery blue-grey, depending on how much carbon the stone contains and the finish applied.

Extraction and Use

The extraction of Belgian Bluestone dates back to Roman times, but it became more widespread in the Middle Ages. As early as the 11th century, it was being used extensively to construct religious and secular buildings throughout Belgium. This limestone was a popular choice for builders and sculptors due to its durability, beauty, and ease of workability.

During the medieval period, Belgian bluestone was used to construct cathedrals, churches, castles, and sculptures throughout Europe. However, its use was not limited to grand architectural projects; it was also used for more pedestrian elements such as foundation stones, steps, and paving stones.

Tournai’s Cathedral of Notre Dame is a cruciform 11th–12th-century basilica, one of the finest in Europe.

 

Belgian Bluestone sculpture: Crest of Liège dated 1592
Belgian Bluestone sculpture: Crest of Liège, dated 1592

Industrialization and Modern Use

The quarrying and processing of Belgian limestone underwent significant changes during the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was used for residential construction (door and window sills, flooring, and other architectural details) and public works, including curbs, street paving, and monuments.

Belgian Bluestone remains a sought-after material today, and the more fossilized marine life that is visible, the more desirable and valuable the stone! The timeless beauty of this material makes it a popular choice for flooring, countertops, and architectural features.

Since 1999, the name “Petit Granit” has been an Appellation d’Origine Locale (Local Appellation of Origin). Around fifteen quarries in Belgium are active today.

Cultural Significance

Beyond its practical uses, Belgian Bluestone holds cultural significance in Belgium and Europe. It symbolizes the region’s rich geological history and craftsmanship, and the quarries of Belgian Bluestone are a significant part of the region’s heritage.

Meet GIO’s Belgian Bluestone-Inspired Tile Collection

Belgian Bluestone is gorgeous, but if you are searching for a stunning porcelain alternative, look to GIO’s Bluestone Pierre. While our tumbled edge Bluestone Pierre evokes the look of Belgian Bluestone, with white calcite veins, coal lines, and visible fossils, it is interpreted in durable, easy-to-maintain, and easy-to-source porcelain.

Bluestone_Pierre
Gio’s Bluestone Pierre

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Image Credits

Cathedral of Tournai:  Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, Tournai JPG001, CC BY 2.5

Crest of Liège: Jrenier, Blason-liege-1592, CC BY-SA 3.0

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