I traveled from Paris yesterday on a high speed, non-stop train and arrived in two hours. I brought with me a cold. (Here’s something about trip that I want to record: for the first time ever I went through airport-style security screening before boarding the train. People taking trains within France were not screened but those on international trains were. I was glad to see it, especially since all our luggage was x-rayed.)
I’m staying for the next two weeks in an old apartment in the historic port area of Antwerp– up 48 narrow, ancient stairs! The apartment is spacious and has some water views as well as a view of the new city museum (about which I’ll write more on another day).
Today I walked to the historic center of town. Here’s a little history of Antwerp, from Wikipedia, heavily edited by me:
“In the late 1400s the city of Antwerp grew in importance. A writer of that period stated that Antwerp became ‘the centre of the entire international economy.’ Antwerp was the richest city in Europe in the first half of the 16th century. Its golden age is tightly linked to the “Age of Exploration” [the discovery of the Americas, etc.] Antwerp grew to become the second-largest European city north of the Alps. The Venetian envoy stated that hundreds of ships would pass in a day, and 2,000 carts entered the city each week. During this period the entire region that became Netherlands and Belgium was controlled by Spain. In the century after 1541 the city’s economy and population declined dramatically, while rival Amsterdam experienced massive growth.” Read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antwerp
I’m telling you this to explain why this small city has a golden center that was built 500 years ago. Here are some photos of what I saw today, most of them taken under heavy gray skies but for a short while the sun was out and the sky was blue.
Brussels also has buildings of this magnitude and style, which I hope to show you within the next two weeks. Those were built at least in part by the “guilds” – that is, associations of the tradesmen such as butchers and carpenters who were rich and influential in many of the medieval cities of Europe. I haven’t learned about the origins of the beautiful old Antwerp buildings but I plan to.
Today Antwerp is a city of about a half-million people with a metropolitan area that’s home to 1.2 million people. It’s a modern, cosmopolitan, up-to-date city surrounding a 500 year old core. Walking around the town suggests that the economy here is doing well. There are many new buildings and much restoration happening on old buildings. It still has a very active port, one of the Europe’s largest.
Here are a few more scenes, showing both old and modern bits of Antwerp.
In the next two weeks I’ll be telling you more about Antwerp and some other great cities of Belgium and Holland. And sampling more beer.
Antwerp is much underestimated in my opinion. Try to visit the Plantin-Moretus museum … a fascinating place.
Thanks for your suggestion. I plan to go there tomorrow.
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Christopher Plantin was an exceptionally interesting character.
As well as the most amazing collection of printing equipment – not just printing machines but original collections of punches and printed works, you will see references to the Familia Caritas and his involvement with it: Niclaes, Van Barrefelt, Ortelius and the Stoic-Revivalist, Justus Lipsius. Amazing people!
Thanks for the lovely tour – it really looks like many of the old Hanseatic towns that I’ve seen on the coast of Norway, but more elegant! We drove through Belgium, but didn’t really stop to see that much. This was lovely.
Elinor, George and I did much the same thing once, driving from France to Holland. I’m glad for the chance to come back and do it right. Next week I’m going to visit other towns.