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Antwerpen Belgium

Old City centre seen from across the river Scheldt.

Antwerp Kathedral logo

Onze Lieve Vrouw kathedral Antwerp, anno 2009

Welcome to the city of Antwerp

Antwerp is the haven city located on the right bank of the river Scheldt, which is linked to the North Sea by the estuary Westerschelde. The city has the second largest cargo seaport in Europe as well as in total tonnage shipment (after Rotterdam) and the third largest container seaport in Europe (after Rotterdam and Hamburg). On world rank Antwerp’s seaport is on 11th or on 16th place depending on category of shipments.

During the Middle Ages (15th and 16th century) was the Antwerp’s seaport number ONE and not only in Europe but in the world. In 17th century the seaport activities have been moved to Amsterdam and in 19th century were moved to Rotterdam that became number one in Europe and kept this title for quite long. In the 20th century was Rotterdam seaport number one in the world but in the 21st century this title has moved to Shanghai in China leaving Rotterdam seaport on the third place after Shanghai and Singapore.

Antwerp map

On the picture above you can see the plan of the city with only a part of the Antwerp’s seaport (north area above the city). You can also see the Harmonie Wijk with its borders drawn in red. The whole picture is centered on the Mozart Street in the Harmonie Wijk because this is just my physical point of view. Anyway, the map of Antwerp does not look bad, even the centre is not position in the Old City Centre.      

Historical Perspective

Pre-1500

Historical Antwerp had its origins in a Gallo-Roman vicus civilization. Fragments of glass and pottery have been found from mid-2nd century to the end of the 3rd century. In the 4th century, Antwerp was first named as having been settled by the Germanic Franks. The name was most probably derived from "anda" (at) and "werpum" (wharf).

The Merovingian Antwerp was evangelized by Saint Amand in the 7th century. At the end of the 10th century, the river Scheldt became the boundary of the Holy Roman Empire and Antwerp became a border province facing the County of Flanders.

In the 11th century Godfrey of Bouillon was for some years known as the marquis of Antwerp. Antwerp was also the headquarters of Edward III and his son Lionel, the earl of Cambridge, was born there in 1338.

16th century the golden age of Antwerp

After decline of Bruges, the city of Antwerp became of importance. At the end of the 15th century the foreign trading houses were transferred from Bruges to Antwerp.

The Antwerp became the center of the entire international economy, something Bruges had never been even at its height. Antwerp was the richest city in Europe at this time. Antwerp's golden age is tightly linked to the "Age of Exploration". Over the first half of the 16th century Antwerp grew to become the second-largest European city north of the Alps by 1560 (about 120 000 citizens) after Paris. Many foreign merchants were resident in the city. Francesco Guicciardini, the Venetian envoy, stated that hundreds of ships would pass in a day, and 2,000 carts entered the city each week. Portuguese ships loaded with pepper and cinnamon would unload their cargo. According to Luc-Normand Tellier "It is estimated that the port of Antwerp was earning the Spanish crown seven times more revenues than the Americas." Antwerp Map 1624

The Antwerp became the center of the entire international economy, something Bruges had never been even at its height. Antwerp was the richest city in Europe at this time. Antwerp's golden age is tightly linked to the "Age of Exploration". Over the first half of the 16th century Antwerp grew to become the second-largest European city north of the Alps by 1560 (about 120 000 citizens) after Paris. Many foreign merchants were resident in the city. Francesco Guicciardini, the Venetian envoy, stated that hundreds of ships would pass in a day, and 2,000 carts entered the city each week. Portuguese ships loaded with pepper and cinnamon would unload their cargo. According to Luc-Normand Tellier "It is estimated that the port of Antwerp was earning the Spanish crown seven times more revenues than the Americas."

Antwerp Houses Markt

Without a long-distance merchant fleet, and governed by an oligarchy of banker-aristocrats forbidden to engage in trade, the economy of Antwerp was foreigner-controlled, which made the city very cosmopolitan, with merchants and traders from Venice, Ragusa, Spain and Portugal. Antwerp had a policy of toleration, which attracted a large orthodox Jewish community. Antwerp was not a "free" city though, since it had been reabsorbed into the Duchy of Brabant in 1406 and was controlled from Brussels.

The religious revolution of the Reformation erupted in violent riots in August 1566, as in other parts of the Low Countries. When the Eighty Years' War broke out in 1572, commercial trading between Antwerp and the Spanish port of Bilbao collapsed and became impossible.

On 4 November 1576, Spanish soldiers plundered the city. During this Spanish Fury 6,000 citizens were massacred, 800 houses were burnt down, and over 2 million sterling of damage was done.

Most rich citizens have flied Antwerp and went to the United Provinces in the north, starting the Dutch Golden Age. Antwerp's banking was controlled for a generation by Genoa, and at hat time Amsterdam became the new world trading centre.

17th-19th centuries

The recognition of the independence of the United Provinces (today’s Netherlands) by the Treaty of Münster in 1648 stipulated that the river Scheldt should be closed to navigation, what has destroyed Antwerp's trading activities. This remained in force until 1863, although the provisions were relaxed during the French rule from 1795 to 1814, and later after Napoleon defeat, during the time Belgium formed part of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands (1815 to 1830).

Antwerp had reached the lowest point of its fortunes in 1800, and its population had sunk under 40,000. When Napoleon, had realized the strategic importance of Antwerp’s seaport, particularly as base to attack Britain, he assigned French money to enlarge the harbor by constructing two new docks and deepening the Scheldt to allow for larger ships to approach Antwerp. Napoleon also hoped that by making Antwerp's harbor again the finest in Europe he would be able to counter London's harbor and stint British growth, but he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo before he could see these plans realized.

On the left photo we can see one of the two docs constructed by Napoleon Bonaparte. Later on, these two docs have defined the direction (to the north) in which the Antwerp's port is expanding until today.

Napoleon Docs

In 1830, the city was captured by the Belgian insurgents from Brussels ending the period of the Kingdom of the United Netherlands and marking the beginning of the Belgian Kingdom. Later that century, a ring of fortresses was constructed some 10 kilometers from the city center, as Antwerp was considered vital for the survival of the young Belgian state.