Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Antwerp
Antwerp (Flemish Antwerpen, French Anvers) is situated on the right bank of the river Scheldt (Flemish Schelde, French Escaut), 88km/55mi from its mouth in the North Sea. Antwerp is the capital of the province of Antwerpen and the second largest seaport in Europe.
The city's remarkable reputation does not rest solely on its trade and industry however; it is also the cultural capital of Flanders. Centuries of prosperity have bequeathed an inheritance which includes the magnificent cathedral, the town hall, many other outstanding historic buildings and, above all, the city's paintings, an incomparable collection of 15th to 17th century masterpieces from a time when the work of artists of the South Netherlands school attained extraordinary heights. Quentin Massys, the "Velvet" Bruegel, Rubens, van Dyck, Jordaens, Cornelis de Vos and many others all lived and worked in Antwerp. This rich cultural tradition is maintained today by the city's numerous museums, theaters, three universities and several academies and institutes, in recognition of which Antwerp was chosen European City of Culture 1993. Among the groups contributing to Antwerp's cultural diversity are 20,000 members of the Jewish community, the largest in Europe.
Thanks to its harbor Antwerp was an important center of trade and commerce even before records began. In addition to its long established traditions in banking and insurance, the continual expansion and modernization of the port has seen the emergence of a multitude of trades and industries processing imported raw materials on the spot. Today Greater Antwerp is the biggest industrial conurbation in Belgium with shipbuilding and ship repair, petrochemicals, vehicle assembly and food manufacture among its principal activities. The city is also a major export outlet, not just for Belgium but for Europe as a whole. Five rail routes and several canals terminate at the Port of Antwerp.
The relocation of port facilities around a newly constructed basin to the north has opened the way for redevelopment of the old wharves close to the city center. This dockland area is now the focus of Antwerp's most ambitious building project in recent times, known as "the City on the River". Architects invited to take part in a design competition submitted outline schemes, three of which have now been selected for further appraisal. Assuming plans come to fruition the old basin north of the Steen will become a residential area incorporating an open air maritime museum. The embankments on either side will also be redeveloped and a multi-level square with a subterranean arts center will be built on the site of the former south dock.
Traditionally the name Antwerp originates with a giant, Druon Antigonus, whose castle stood on the site in Roman times. He reputedly cut off the hand of any passing seafarer who refused to pay a toll, throwing the severed hand into the Scheldt. Antigonus is supposed to have been slain by the Roman Silvius Brabo who, it is said, himself hacked off one of the giant's hands and tossed it ("handwerpen") into the river. More mundane is the suggestion that the name is derived from the word "aanworp" or "aanwerpen" (meaning "thrown up ground") - referring to a piece of land which jutted out into the river abreast of the Steen and where there was once a settlement.
Whatever the truth about its name, in the second and third centuries AD a Gallo-Roman settlement most certainly existed on a site now occupied by part of southern Antwerp. This was followed in the fourth and fifth centuries by a Frankish village. Christian missionaries established themselves in the area around Antwerp in the seventh and eighth centuries, during which time St Amand is believed to have founded the "Infra castrum Antwerpis", destroyed by the Normans in 836. Under the Treaty of Verdun of 843 Antwerp became part of Lothringia, and in the 10th century it was made a margravate of the Holy Roman Empire. The city's emergence as a port began in 1031, the Hansa establishing a presence there in 1313.
Having earlier, in 1106, passed to the dukes of Brabant, the city on the Scheldt was now transformed into the North Sea's leading trading port, its wealth founded on its wool warehouses. In addition to new fortifications the building of the cathedral reflected growing prosperity, and Antwerp was already thriving when, at the end of the 15th century, the Zwin silted up, bringing even more trade to the city at the expense of its great rival Bruges. Under the protection of the emperor Charles V, Antwerp swiftly developed into the busiest and richest commercial city in Christendom. By the year 1560 the population had risen to around 100,000 inhabitants, 100 ships entered or departed the port every day, and more than 1000 business houses had become established.
From the 16th century onwards Antwerp also enjoyed a reputation for high standards of craftsmanship, its products being in demand as far afield as Arabia, Persia and India. This economic success was marked by the building of the old Beurs, the commercial exchange, and numerous artists including the painters Massys, Venius and the Bruegels, the sculptors Coecke van Aelst and de Vriendt, the writers Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde and Anna Bijns and the musicians Ockegem, DeHertogen and Cornet worked in the city, as did scientists such as Mercator, Dodoens, Ortelius and Lipsius and the printer Plantin. This heyday period was however doomed not to last, the seeds of destruction being sown during the reign of Philip II when the Inquisition caused thousands of Antwerp's citizens to flee the port. In 1576 the mutinous Spanish garrison went on the rampage, plundering the city and killing an estimated 7,000 of its inhabitants. Capture by Duke Alexander Farnese in 1585 further hastened its decline. Antwerp's commercial mantle was assumed by Amsterdam and Rotterdam, whence the persecuted Protestants had fled. By 1590 the city's population had more than halved to just 40,000 people.
Antwerp suffered another mortal blow when, following unification of the seven provinces, control of shipping on the Scheldt fell into Dutch hands, eventually leading to the closure of the river under the terms of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. Even so Antwerp still retained its status as the cultural center of the region. Painters including Rubens, van Dyck, Jordaens and Teniers, and sculptors such as Quellin, were among the artists living and working in the city where, in 1663, Philip IV of Spain founded an Academy of Art modeled on those of Rome and Paris. It was not until the French conquests at the end of the 18th century that Antwerp's fortunes revived. The Scheldt was reopened for navigation in 1795 and between 1800 and 1803 Napoleon I laid out the Scheldt quays and old dock. The port assumed a crucial role in the Emperor's blockade of England ("Antwerp is the pistol aimed at the heart of England"). The 1815 Congress of Vienna gave Antwerp to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, bringing a significant boost to the city's prosperity (population 73,500 in 1830). This was mainly the result of trade with the Dutch colonies, trade which Antwerp was soon to lose once more to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Bombardment of the city during the sieges of 1830 and 1832 caused massive damage. In 1863 Belgium bought back from the Dutch the right to levy dues on shipping in the Scheldt, a right which the Dutch had exercised since 1839. This brought a revitalization of trade and commerce in the second half of the 19th century, marked by the fact that both the world trade exhibitions of 1885 and 1894 were held in Antwerp. In parallel with its economic growth, after 1859 Antwerp was also transformed into one of Europe's most heavily fortified cities. When the inner defenses were finally dismantled, the massive ramparts were replaced by wide boulevards.
In the First World War the Germans besieged Antwerp in September and October 1914, eventually occupying the city. Between the two wars the tonnage of freight passing through the port increased steadily and Antwerp soon regained its former prominence, being the venue of the seventh modern Olympic Games held in 1920 and ten years later of another world trade exhibition. In the Second World War the city was again occupied by the Germans. It continued to suffer heavy bombing even after the Allied liberation, being the target of some 800 German V1 and V2 rockets.
Following the Second World War the volume of freight traffic continued to expand. Antwerp's outer fortifications were demolished, the only remaining vestige now being the "Vestingwater", the former moat. An apparently endless series of new tunnels, docks and locks were constructed and in 1975 work commenced on the city's underground. Since 1989 Antwerp has boasted the largest sea-lock in the world, the Berendrechtsluis.
Visitors with only a day to spend in Antwerp probably do best to limit themselves to the major city center sights, principally the Grote Markt with its town hall and numerous guild-houses and, only a short distance away, the cathedral. Both can be viewed without haste in a morning leaving the afternoon free for a visit to one, or perhaps two, of Antwerp's museums. Usually the choice can be narrowed down to either the Plantijn Moretus Museum and Rubens' House, for which an afternoon suffices, or the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, which really requires more time to do it justice. A trip on the Scheldt, or one of the longer tours of the harbor, provides a different kind of alternative to the museums. Having two days available for sightseeing means the added options of a visit to the Maritime Museum in the Steen, or a walk through the Jewish Quarter calling in at the Diamond Museum and Antwerp's famous zoo. Also highly recommended are the Museum Mayer van den Bergh andthe Sint-Jacobskerk where Peter Paul Rubens lies buried.
As well as organizing coach tours the Antwerp Tourist Office publishes brochures detailing various signposted walks around the city. The Office will also arrange the services of a guide. On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays between Easter and the end of October (but daily throughout July and August) horse-drawn carriages are available for hire in the Grote Markt.
Antwerp's Metro links Groenplaats in the city center via Centraal Station to the terminus at Plantin in the Jewish Quarter. Several tram routes make their way around the narrow streets of the inner city through which also pass all bus services bar one (No. 9 via the Minderbroederrui). Buses Nos. 6 and 34 run from the Scheldt embankment to the districts south of the city center. Groenplaats is the main city center tram stop. Most bus lines call at Franklin D. Rooseveltplein, not far from Centraal Station. The inner city area can easily be explored on foot without the need for any form of transport.
St James' Church
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.
Cathedral of Our Lady
Open-air Sculpture Museum
Royal Flemish Opera House
Antwerp Tourist Office
Provincial Diamond Museum
Museum Ridder Smidt van Gelder
Anterp - Rubens' House Furnishings
Rubens' House Courtyard and Garden
Museum Mayer van den Bergh
Museum of Fine Arts (closed for renovations)
Museum of Contemporary Art
Provincial Museum of Photography
Mechelen - Hanswyk Procession