The Port of Antwerp is second only to Rotterdam among the major seaports of Europe, fully justifying its claim to be one of the largest in the world. The harbor installations alone cover an area of more than 10,000ha/25,000 acres, with a further 3,400ha/9,300 acres of land in industrial use. A total of 124km/77miles of wharves provide berthing for sea-going ships and inland craft, while 387 quayside cranes, 12 floating cranes,19 loading gantries and 20 container hoists handle their cargoes.
Access to the harbor basins from the Scheldt is via six sea-locks on the east bank and one on the west, among the former being the 500 x 57m/1640 x 187ft Zandvlietsluis (cubic capacity 613,000cu.m/733,150cu.yd) and the Berendrechtsluis (765,000cu.m/914,940cu.yd), the largest lock in the world, opened in 1989.
Approximately 20,000 vessels from 70 nations enter the port each year carrying between them some 95.4million tons of freight (1989), mainly oil, foodstuffs, raw materials for the chemical industry, mineral ore and manufactured goods such as vehicles. There are 300ha/740 acres of covered storage, including grain silos with a total capacity of 238,000 tons. Storage tanks with a combined capacity in excess of 10million cu.m/350million cu.ft hold the oil and oil-based products (about 28million tons annually) which together make up a significant proportion of the goods brought into the port for onward shipment. In recent years the container handling facilities have been steadily enlarged. Efficient modern industries, mainly petrochemicals, metal (motor car assembly) and food processing, have grown up on sites around the port.
A flourishing port from the late Middle Ages onwards, Antwerp's earliest harbor installations were built on the city's old waterfront along the Scheldt. The first docks, the Bonapartedok and Willemsdok, were constructed during the period of French occupation, largely for military purposes. Commercially speaking it was only after 1863, when Belgium bought back from the Dutch the right to levy dues on shipping in the Scheldt, that the port took on a new lease of life.
Since that time the facilities have been developed systematically and with great success. The initial stage of expansion was accomplished in 1913 with the completion of eighteen docks for sea-going ships and seven for barges. Following the First World War priority was given to improving the storage and loading facilities of the existing port, but in 1956 a huge building program was embarked upon, bringing the Haven to its present size. The Churchilldok and the 10km/6mile long Kanaaldok, through which the port is linked to Rotterdam via the Scheldt-Rhine Canal, were among the projects completed at this time. The process of expansion and development is still continuing, concentrated now around Kallo on the river's west bank. Four docks and the Sluis van Kallo are already in operation.
Port house, 1 Entrepotkaai, B-2000 Antwerp, Belgium