The inner city of Antwerp has approximately half a million inhabitants. About a million people live in the greater Antwerp area (Antwerp and its suburbs).
The province of Antwerp is part of Flanders. The official language is Dutch, as you might know by now. Since we speak with a different accent than the people in the Netherlands, we say we speak Flemish. The Flemish and the Dutch have no trouble understanding each other though. Most people also speak French and English. We recommend that you speak English if you don't speak Flemish (or Dutch).
Antwerp, What's in a Name?
The name Antwerpen actually comes from the old Dutch word for "harbour": "aanwerp", but not according to a well-known myth. The story goes that Antwerp was terrorised by a giant called Druon Antigoon, who made the passing ships pay toll - (or, alternatively, one of their hands if they refused) until one day a brave Roman centurion named Silvius Brabo fought and killed him, chopping of his hand and throwing it into the river Scheldt. Throwing hands in Dutch is "hand werpen", hence "Antwerpen".
Antwerp is Belgium's most underrated tourist destination. Few places combine the old and the new quite so beautiful. Antwerp is where stunning Art Nouveau mansions can be found next to Neo-Renaissance villas, and medieval castles provide a magical background for the city's many bars and pubs.
Popular Antwerp activities include eating pralines, drinking a glass of "oude jenever" or De Koninck beer ("bolleke"), discovering how good chips can really be, staring at the beauty of the cathedral and looking at Diamond vendor display windows.
One of the best of all the local activities is to sit in at least one (but preferably several dozen) of the city's many bars or brown cafes (small pubs) and experience a wide arrange of Belgian beers. It’s up to you to try them all and determine which are the best.
The History of Antwerp
Neolithic tribes were thought to be among the first human inhabitants of the Low Countries, the long-standing name for the region now divided into Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Julius Caesar arrived with his armies in 57 BC and promptly subjugated the local tribes people, who were called the Belgae. After a lot of battles Caesar said that the Belgae were the bravest of all the Gauls ("Belgae Gallorum fortissimi"). When the Roman Empire went through some jitters in the third century it was booted out by Germanic Franks. Thus the current language divide was born, as Latinspeakers stuck to the southern regions and German-speakers took a trip up north.
The cornerstone of what was to be Antwerp was laid around AD 800 during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, when a fort was erected on the site of the future city and Christian missionaries began sniffing around for the scent of compunction.
The following three or four centuries saw the ebb and flow of feudalism, and among the strongest fiefdoms of this period was a Flanders -based court established by a man with an inflexible appendage - Baldwin the Iron Arm. The Flanders region consequently emerged from feudalism with a gung-ho attitude to cloth production and northern European trade that encouraged the growth of local towns such as Ypres, Ghent and Bruges, the latter of which was made capital of the Duchy of Flanders in 1093. These three communities quickly flourished, in particular Bruges, which became a trade-hungry terminus for merchant ships from all over Europe, "Venice of the North" as people said. Antwerp, however, was a little slower on the economic uptake, and would not begin carving out a metropolitan niche for itself until the early 16th century brought the construction of the guildhalls.
Guilds were specialist associations of traders and craftsmen (eg the Guild of Weavers, the Guild of Butchers) and had already been in existence for several centuries before they began building their wood and stone headquarters - guildhalls – around the perimeter of Antwerp's "Grote Markt", mirroring the construction of similar buildings around Brussels' Grand Place. It was a sign of things to come because over the next half-century, burgeoning Antwerp was favoured by the powerful Habsburg- Burgundy ruler Charles V, commander of the Low Countries, over the economically declining cloth towns. With his patronage, the city established itself as the greatest port in an expansive empire.
The times of prosperity were ruthlessly cut short. When Protestants smashed up the city’s cathedral in 1566 as part of the Iconoclastic Fury, the fanatically Catholic Spanish ruler Philip II sent troops to take control.
Ten years later the unpaid garrison mutinied, ransacking the city and massacring 8000 people in three nights in what has become known as the ’Spanish Fury’. Although the Spanish were driven out after the massacre, they besieged Antwerp again in 1585. The city was forced to surrender and was incorporated into the Spanish Netherlands and became a Catholic city. As reaction the Northern Netherlands closed off the Schelde. From an economic point of view this was a disaster. Not only Protestants but also the commercial and intellectual elite fled the city. By 1589 Antwerp’s population was more than halved.
Leopold II continued the new nation's development into the 20th century, though he also took time off from domestic affairs to somehow personally acquire and then (for a full quarter-century) brutally exploit the huge swathe of Congo in central Africa – control of this 'colony' transferred to the state a year before Leopold II's death in 1909 and was not entirely relinquished until 1960.
Belgium's neutrality was ignored by occupying German forces during what was called the Great War and the country again bore the brunt of action during WWII. The year 1951 saw the start of the rule of King Baudouin I - son of Leopold III and Queen Astrid - who sat on the throne until 1993 and is credited with forging Belgium's post-war political credentials in Europe. This led to Brussels becoming the provisional seat of the European Commission in 1958, then the headquarters of the European Union in 1993, and soon (by 2006) the conference room for NATO.
Amid all this weighty Belgian political influence and the accompanying labyrinthian bureaucracy, Antwerp has quietly shored up its economic importance to the country. The resulting confidence has prompted this historic city to market world-class goods (prominently designer wear and diamonds), open more of its mediaeval doors to tourists, and entertain itself in literally thousands of cosmopolitan bars, cafes and clubs.
Most of these people would settle in Amsterdam and be part of its rise in power. The royalty of the so-called Spanish Netherlands upped their ostentatious lifestyles throughout the late-16th and early-17th centuries, encouraging the baroque brushstrokes of Rubens and Van Dyck, and leading to the establishment of today's lace and diamond industries.
Another turning point in Antwerp's history came in 1648 with the signing of a treaty to end the Thirty Years' War, under which part of the River Schelde was closed to non- Dutch ships; this heralded the rise of Amsterdam's port and the demise of Antwerp's. The 18th century was a multicultural nadir, beginning with Spanish rule, continuing with Austrian rule and ending under French occupation. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, there followed a short-lived reunification with the Northern Neterlands which ended with a revolt against the Dutch and finally led to the coronation of King Leopold I and Belgian independence in 1831. Antwerp grew in step with Brussels, the capital of the new nation, after the laying of railway tracks reinvigorated its port. In particular, it became the centre of the lucrative diamond trade and it still maintains this position today.
Museums of Antwerp
Leuvenstraat 32, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Every day from 10am-5pm, except for Mondays.
Admission: € 6 , -26 years 1€
MuHKA's full name is Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, or Museum of
Contemporary Art Antwerp. The MUHKA's 4 000 square metres of exhibition space
devoted to art from 1970 to the present day. The building and the collection, which of course is constantly being added to, belongs to the Flemish Community.
2. Museum of Photography
Waalsekaai 47, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Every day from 10 am-5pm, except for Mondays
Admission: € 6, -26 years 1€
The Provincial Museum of Photography uses photographs, pieces of equipment and other object and documents to illustrate the history of this technique and art. It is one of the world's major museums in the genre.
3. Plantijn-Moretus Museum
Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Every day from 10am-5pm
Admission: € 6 , -26 years 1€
The museum shows the whole book production process as it was in the old days and an enormous collection of books, printed or collected by Plantijn and the Moretus family. Moreover, visitors can admire the original interior of the patrician house.
4. House of Rubens
Wapper 9-11, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Every day from 10am to 5pm
Admission: € 6 , -26 years 1€
In a side-street (named 'Wapper') of the Meir avenue stands the former house of Peter Paul Rubens, the greatest and most famous of all the Antwerp painters.
It now houses the Rubens House Museum. Nowadays visitors to the house should be aware that they don't visit a house as it was left behind by its most famous inhabitant, but rather a reconstruction of what it must have looked like in the first half of the 17th century.
The collection of paintings by Rubens himself and by some of his contemporaries alone makes it worth to pay the entrance fee. During a visit one can stroll through the reconstructed garden, visit the work shop of Rubens and his private quarters.
Vleeshouwersstraat 38-40, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Every day from 10am-5 pm
Admission: € 5 , -26 years 3€
This late-Gothic hall (1501-1504) was originally the only place in the city where meat could be sold. The Butchers' Guild had a chapel, a banqueting hall, a meeting room and a kitchen here. This museum now houses archaeological finds, applied art and objects which document local history.
8. Ethnographic Museum
Opening hours: Every day from 10am-5pm, open on Whit Monday
Admission: € 4, -26 years 1€
A visit to the internationally famed Ethnographic Museum is like a journey that enables you to explore the art, ingenuity and wisdom of the peoples of the earth, or, in other words, the riches of the most diverse cultures. The museum shows objets d'art and utensils from Africa, America, Asia and the South Sea area. The total collection, which started in 1864, now comprises some 25 000.
9. Diamond Museum
Koningin Astridplein 19-23, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Open every day of the week, from 10am -6pm.
Admission: € 6, -26 years 1€
Antwerp is the world centre of diamond processing and of the diamond trade. The famous Antwerp cut and the advanced scientific research are founded on the centuries of tradition, which are brought to life in this museum. The displays guide visitors through the whole production process from mining to the dazzling end product. The history of the fascinating industry and trade that have developed around these little gems is also covered. A complete nineteenth-century diamond workshop has been reconstructed in the museum, but the real centrepiece is the treasure chamber where priceless pieces of jewellery sparkle seductively. On Saturday afternoons and by arrangement in advance on weekdays, you can see a diamond cutter at work in the museum.
10. Middelheim Museum
Middelheimlaan 61, Wilrijk
Opening hours: Every day from 10am-8pm, except for Mondays
The Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum is situated just outside the "Ring" in a park that was purchased by the City way back in 1910 to prevent it being cut up into lots. The permanent exhibition of modern sculpture was put together in the fifties at the instigation of the then burgomaster Lode Craeybeckx. The collection now consists of more than 300 pieces, beginning chronologically with Auguste Rodin. Most are out in the open air and share the seasons with the wonderful nature. However a number of sculptures require protection from elements and so are housed in a pavilion.
11. Het Steen - Maritime Museum
Steenplein 1, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Tue-Sun from 10am -5pm, open on Whit Monday
Admission: € 4
Steen is the Dutch word for "stone". In Antwerp the "Steen" is the name of the little
castle that can be seen at the entrance of the city centre, on the border of the river Schelde. The castle is called that way because it was one of the earliest buildings in Antwerp constructed with stones (at a time when most houses were still built with wood).
The Steen was used as a prison from 1549 until 1823. As from 1862 it was
used as the added to the building. Since 1952 the National Navigation Museum has
been housed here. Next to the castle are the large storage halls of the 19th-century
harbour. Here old boats cranes, cargo handling equipment, etc., can be seen.
Keizerstraat 12, 2000 Antwerp
Opening hours: Every day from 10 am-5 pm, except on Mondays
Admission: € 2.50, -26 years: 1,25€
This museum was once the home of 17th-century mayor Nicolaas Rockox, art collector and friend of Rubens. Purchased by the Kredietbank in 1970, the house was refurbished according the inventory drawn up on Rockox' death. The collection has since been added to and comprises works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens, Teniers, Bruegel, Matsijs and many others.
13. Fashion Museum (MoMu)
Opening hours: Every day, from 10am -5pm, except for Mondays
Admission: € 5
The MoMu (Mode Museum) collection consists largely of an inheritance from the former Textile and Costume Museum: it is a very diverse collection of clothing, lace, embroidery, fabrics and tools for artisanal textile processing, mostly from the Southern Netherlands. The oldest collection pieces date back to the 16th century, but the emphasis is on the 19th century. MoMu, with its contemporary vision and purchasing policy, will add creations by Belgian fashion designers in particular.