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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 Antwerp's Old Town

Antwerp as well as the Old city centre is very close to the river Scheldt. This river was always very important to the city and thanks to the river Antwerp could grow as the see port and as the centre of commerce and international trade.

Panorama Grote Markt

The current Old Town of Antwerp was built mostly in 15th and 16th century during the time when the city was rapidly growing and becoming European trade centre. As each typical city of Low Countries Antwerp posses its big market place called in Dutch De Grote Markt with its Town Hall and the most important houses of that time what can be seen on the panorama photo above.

In the 16th century, the municipal authorities proposed to replace Antwerp's small medieval town hall with a more imposing structure befitting the prosperity of the great port city. A plan was drafted in 1540 for a new building in a style typical of the monumental Gothic town halls of Flanders and Brabant.

But an atmosphere of war prevented any progress on the project. The building material intended for the city hall was instead used to shore up the city defenses. Meanwhile Gothic architecture was no longer fashionable, so the new town hall was designed in the Renaissance style. Completed in 1565, the building lasted hardly a decade before being burnt to a shell in the Spanish Fury of 1576. It was repaired three years later.

Rathuis

Renovations during the late 19th century by Pierre Bruno Bourla drastically modified the interior. Much of the stately decor dates from this period, as does a roof over what was once an open-air inner courtyard.

The Antwerp's Town Hall has also its architectural influence abroad.The Green Gate in the city of Gdansk, Poland is a building which is clearly inspired by the Antwerp City Hall. It was built during 1568-1571 to serve the Polish monarchs. It is a masterpiece by Reiner, the architect from Amsterdam.

Guilden Houses

On the left you can see the photo of 16th-century Guild houses at the Grote Markt.

In pre-industrial cities, craftsmen tended to form associations based on their trades, confraternities of textile workers, masons, carpenters and carvers, glass workers, each of whom controlled secrets of traditionally imparted technology, the "arts" or "mysteries" of their crafts. Usually the founders were free independent master craftsmen.

These houses were used by the members of particular Guild to organize meetings and decide their policy against the city council as well as their policy against the others Guilds. Therefore it was very important to have its Guild house close to the Town Hall.

The most important in 16th century Guilds was the Sint-Joris Guild of the Archers. The house of the guild of Archers is crowned by the statue of St. George - it’s one of the most gorgeous ones on the square.  Close to this house is another Guild house at Grote Markt number 5, the house build by the guild of coopers, the barrel makers, in 1579.

Grote Markt Brabo fontain

On the photo left above we can see the north - east side of the Grote Markt with famous Brabo fontaine in the middle. In the photo right above we can see the fontain that tells us the legend of Brabo and Antigone. Antogone was the giant that terrorised local people and Brabo was the hero who made the fight to Antigone and cut his hand. The legend say that this gave the name to the city - "hand werpen -> Antwerpen" what means throwing hand and this is exactly what Brabo is doing when standing on the top of the fontain.

Antwerp existed also before the 15th century but as much smaller city. There are very few buildings today from that time but one of them stands close to the river, Het Steen.

Het Steen MAS museum

Het Steen (on the left photo above) is medieval fortress in the old city centre of Antwerp. Built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages as the first stone fortress of Antwerp, Het Steen is Antwerp's oldest building and used to be its oldest urban centre.

Previously known as Antwerpen Burcht (fortress), Het Steen gained its current name in around 1520, after significant rebuilding under Charles V. The rebuilding led to its being known first as "'s Heeren Steen" (the King's stone castle), and later simply as "Het Steen" (the stone castle). The Dutch word "steen" means "stone", and is used for "fortress" or "palace", as in the "Gravensteen" in Ghent, Belgium.

First, the fortress made it possible to control the access to the river Scheldt and later, it was used as a prison between 1303 and 1827. The largest part of the fortress, including dozens of historic houses and the oldest church of the city, was demolished in the 19th century when the quays were straightened to stop the silting up of the Scheldt. The remaining building, heavily changed, contained a shipping museum, with some old canal barges displayed on the quay outside.
In 1890 Het Steen became the museum of archeology and in 1952 an annex was added to house the museum of Antwerp maritime history. In 2011 this museum moved to the recently constructed near the Napoleon dock, the MAS museum (see the right photo above).

Madonna1 Madonna2

The old Antwerp did not have so many streets as today's Old Town. Many of these streets were just channels like today in Venice but they were used mostly for transport of goods that were coming to Antwerp on ships.

It was quite dangerous to walk at night with very little or no street lights at all and if someone have drunk some beer this evening and then he was trying to come back home he might have end in the channel.   

Madonna3

Therefore, on every corner, where the streets cross with channels, the Saint Mary statue was placed to help the people to find their way without landing in the channel.

When leaving the Old Town of Antwerp you can go through the Groenplaats, the open sqare behind the Antwerp's Cathedral.

Since 13th century this place was used as the cemetery for those citizens who were not rich enough to be buried inside the churches. In 1784 Keizer Josef II forbade the burials inside the city defensive walls. The terrain was opened to the public and because it was green many called this place Green Cemetery.

Later on it was changed to the city square and in 1805 it was named Place Bonaparte. After 1815 the name was changed to Freedom Square and in 1843 the statue of Rubens was erected in the middle and replacing the Cross that was standing there.

Groen plats

It was always an important place in Antwerp. The first horse tram line in Antwerp that was established in 1839 started at the Groenplaats and goes from here to the Central Railway Station.