World Facts Index > Belgium
Antwerp or the city on the river Scheldt, is the second largest city in Belgium and the major city of the Flemish region. The approximate 500,000 inhabitants call it the Metropolis. This city has so many different facets that it takes a while before one gets to know it thoroughly. There is a variety of unique neighbourhoods -- each with
its own personality.
The Old City
Many of the splendid architectural highlights can be found in the old city which is the area around the Cathedral of Our Lady and the Grote Markt. The destruction of the two world wars has unfortunately left scars on the old city which dates from the 16th and 17th centuries but recent renovation projects have restored part of the glory.
The Vlaeykensgang is a typical example of the picturesque medieval streets. The golden age of Antwerp can also be found in the numerous paintings of Peter Paul Rubens who lived in Antwerp in the early 17th century.
Quartier Latin and Avant-Garde Fashion
Antwerp has also earned a place among the fashion cities of the world thanks to the efforts of numerous young Flemish fashion designers who have received international acclaim. Some of them include Nadine Wynants, the extravagant Walter van Beirendonck and the popular Ann De Meulemeester. You can find the new fashion district of Antwerp
around Nationalestraat and the more mainstream boutiques in the back streets of Huidervetterstraat. Some great window-shopping guaranteed. This part of town is also known as the Quartier Latin.
The Port of Antwerp
Antwerp is the second largest seaport in Europe, following Rotterdam. The harbour was originally situated in the district which nowadays is called 't Eilandje or the Island and which has preserved some of the authentic harbour life. Expansion pushed it north where you can now find extremely large docks and to the left bank area where
Europe's largest petrochemical installations can be found. You can tour the docks with the Flandria pleasure boats.
The main red light district of Antwerp is situated in what is called Schipperskwartier or Rosse Buurt which is the area between Sint Paulusstraat and Brouwersvliet., not so far from the main tourist draw around the Grote Markt square. The mood is not so playful as in Amsterdam but normally fairly safe.
The south of Antwerp's main attraction is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts which is housed in a monumental neo-classical building. However, 't Zuid or the South really started to buzz a few years ago after numerous redevelopment projects revitalised what used to be a run-down area. Now you'll find many fine brasseries and bistros that serve
great food at reasonable prices. The annual amusement fair called Sinksenfoor is held here in June.
Meir and de Keyserlei
These are Antwerp's main shopping streets and among the prettiest in Europe. Most of the Meir is reserved for pedestrians only and the stylish buildings with international department stores are quite a sight. You'll find a wide range of trendy boutiques here and in the side-streets.
At the end of your shopping spree as you walk down de Keyserlei you'll catch a glimpse of a magnificent building: the Central Station. The area around the station is a strange mixture of nouveau riche as reflected by some of the shops on de Keyserlei and the fabulous post-modern Astrid Park Plaza Hotel, and various poorer looking
establishments and loud bars in Statiestraat. If you walk from Koningin Astrid square towards De Coninck square you'll wander into Antwerp's small China town and the more discrete red light and rendezvous district.
Jewish Antwerp and the Diamond Centre
Antwerp is also the diamond centre of the world and near the Central Station you will find the diamond district. The streets between the station and the city park, called Stadspark, is also the Jewish part of the city and the area where many Hassidic Jewish people live and work. The people add a unique and distinct atmosphere to the city
that cannot be found anywhere else in Belgium. Estimations about the number of Jewish citizens in Antwerp vary from 15,000 to 20,000. However, before the Second World War, the Jewish community of Antwerp consisted of more than 55,000 inhabitants.
History of Antwerp
The question about the age of Antwerp is one that is debated. However, excavations have shown that there was certainly habitation on the bend in the river Scheldt as long ago as the Gallo-Roman period of the 2nd or 3rd century.
The old village was destroyed by Normans in 836 and the first traces of Antwerp as a fortified settelement date back to 980. In 1356 the city was annexed to the County of Flanders and as a result it lost many privileges, which was partly to Bruges' advantage. Fifty years later the political and economic tide turned again and the run-up
to the Golden Age began, when Antwerp became a metropolis of world class.
A first economic boom followed in the first half of the fourteenth century and Antwerp became the most important trading and financial centre in Western Europe; its reputation was based largely on its seaport and wool market.
Around 1450, Antwerp had 20,000 inhabitants, and it had become the largest market town in Brabant. Some famous names from that age include the painters Quinten Metsys and Bruegel, as well as the printer Plantijn, and the humanists and scientists Lipsius, Mercator, Dodoens and Ortelius.
However, in the second half of that century the city was the focus of the politico-religious struggle between the protestant North and catholic Spain and as such it was stricken by a series of bad events. First there was the iconoclasm in 1566, then the Spanish Fury in 1576. Finally there was the Fall of Antwerp in 1585.
After the Fall, the city came under the rule of Philip II and the Northern Netherlands closed off the Scheldt. From an economic point of view this was a disaster. To make matters worse, it was not only the protestants who fled the city but also the commercial and intellectual elite.
Yet the city continued to flourish culturally until the mid-seventeenth century with painters like Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens and Teniers, and the sculptor families Quellin and Verbrugghen as well as printers.
From 1650 to the nineteenth century is a fairly uneventful period. The Scheldt remained closed to traffic and the metropolis became a provincial town. Under Austrian rule from 1715 to1792, Joseph II tried to free the river by military force. However, the plan failed. In 1795, under French occupation, it succeeded but this time the
ships encountered an English blockade.
After the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, there followed a short-lived reunification with the Northern Netherlands and an equally short period of prosperity which ended with the Belgian Revolution in 1830: the river Scheldt was closed once again.
It was reopened permanently in 1863. Apart from interruptions during the two world wars, Antwerp had experienced steady economic growth in the twentieth century. Its importance as one of the major art cities of Europe was confirmed in 1993 when Antwerp was nominated Cultural Capital of Europe.
Today, the city thrives and the neighbourhoods with nationalities from far and near live in harmony.
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