Today we visited the centre of Antwerp. What we discovered was a city of squares.
Antwerp is Belgium’s second largest city and you can tell it size by the number of major roads around the city with an awful lot of traffic. The city sits on the on the River Scheldt but unlike Bruges and Ghent did not benefit from the cloth trade as it was too far east and was to far west to benefit from the German/Holland trade routes. The city only gained prosperity when the French arrived in 1797 who rebuilt the docks and opened the Scheldt to shipping. Because of the port in both world wars the city was a major target. Today it is one of Europe’s major seaports and is also known for being at the heart of the worldwide diamond trade.
As like most Belgium town the centre of the town is the Grote Markt. This one was particular impressive with the skyline dominated by the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathdraal (Cathedral of Our Lady).and the Brabo Fountain which Daisy did not want to go anywhere near. The guildhouses on the square were also impressive with their 16th century decorated facades.
The Cathedral when built between 1350 and 1520 the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries, originally with five aisles and later seven. Over the years it has been ravaged by fire, plundered and damaged but has been each time been restored to its original glory. At the time of visiting it was undergoing its latest restoration. The splendour of the church was enhance by a temporary exhibition called “Reunion” which brought together works of art originally the cathedral altarpieces but now in other collections that had been separated for two centuries. The exhibition included several Rubens, several Floris and many other artists.
Leaving the cathedral we entered the expansive open square called the Groenplats which was very popular in the spring sunshine and gave great views of the cathedrals spire and had a statue of Antwerp’s famous son Rubens.
Leaving the square we then made our way through the fashion district of Antwerp before turning back towards the cathedral through several squares and Pelgrimstraat which according to our guide book had “the best views of the cathedral with a sliver of sloping, uneven roofs set against the majestic lines of the spire behind”(Belgium Rough Guide) This was certainly true.
Picking up lunch at one of the local patisseries (good job we are doing a lot of walking) we made our way to the river waterfront. Moored along the dock was several river cruise boats, one had several Canadian flags flying. In addition in the car park by the waterfront there were a huge number of tour operator coaches. No wonder there was so many tourists in Antwerp.
Walking along the river front we came to Het Steen a medieval fortress which once dominated Antwerp. .Just outside the castle was a statue of Lange Wapper, a local folklore figure who was fond of children but because of his height used to spy in bedroom windows!
We were at the end of our day in Antwerp and as we walked through another square back to the car park we came across the Vleeshuis or Meat Hall. This hall had been built for the guild of butchers in 1503. The building had alternative layers of red brick and stonework resembling rashers of bacon. Certainly an interesting end of the day.
Antwerp is a city worth visiting.