Antwerp – A Friendly City in Belgium
Set on the eastern bank of the Scheldt (river), Antwerp is a beautiful city in the Flemish region of Belgium. It has one of the largest European seaports and it represents an important economic and cultural center in the Low Countries. The origin of its name is explained by an interesting legend that tells the story of a giant who would only allow people to cross the river and enter the city if they paid a toll. If they refused to pay the tax, their arms would be cut off. The giant was eventually defeated by a hero called Brabo, who managed to sever his arm and throw it into the river, thus ensuring free access to the city. This heroic gesture gave the city its name: “aan de werpe” means “at the throw” in Dutch.
A beautiful statue dedicated to the mythical hero Brabo can be admired today in the city’s Old Market Square (Grote Markt). It was created in 1887 and it shows the hero as he prepares to throw the giant’s hand into the Scheldt. The square is also remarkable because of its iconic guilds houses, which were originally constructed on 1576, and then upgraded in the 19th century. Tall and narrow, with golden statues at the top, they really are a unique sight.
Another important landmark in the Markt is the City Hall, which was built in the 16th century, when Antwerp was enjoying the peak of its success and global influence. It was actually built because the city was expanding so much that the original gothic-style town hall was no longer big enough. Consequently, the building stands as a symbol of power and abundance. It is now the most important Renaissance building in the Low Countries, having influenced the architecture of numerous other government buildings in Europe.
One of the world’s tallest buildings and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Cathedral of Our Lady. It is one of the most spectacular examples of stone-lace architecture in Europe, and it was the tallest building in the Low Countries for centuries. At 405 feet high, it still is the tallest structure in Antwerp, attracting numerous tourists every year. Quite interestingly, the church is not exactly finished today, even if construction ended in 1521. Only one of the two originally designed towers was erected, and it boasts a carillon mechanism with 47 bells. The tower also holds significant works of art by Rubens and other notable artists.
In case you were wondering, the oldest building in the city is an 800 years old fortress called Het Steen. It Antwerp’s first massive construction built in stone, and today only a fraction of its original glory can still be seen.
Before you leave the city we suggest you make two more stops. Art enthusiasts should definitely spend some time strolling around in the Middelheim Sculpture Museum, which is actually a permanent open air exhibition with over 300 works of art. Its story began in 1950 with an outdoor exhibition whose success was so big that the mayor decided to make it permanent.
If you love animals, you must go to the Antwerp Zoo, which is one of the oldest zoos in the world, dating back to 1843. About one million visitors come here every year to see over 950 species of animals, including some really rare and exotic ones, such as the okapi, the polar bear, the small panda and the Siberian tiger. Make sure you don’t miss the fun ‘freeze land’, where happy sea otters and different species of penguins enjoy a perfect temperature. And finally, after you’ve seen it all, take some time so unwind in the beautiful gardens with sculptures. Forget that you are in the city and enjoy nature at its best!
- Anvers is also the leading diamond city in the world. Over 70 percent of all diamonds are traded here, so purchasing a diamond jewel as a souvenir is only fitting.
- You can visit the city all year round, even in winter, because its appeal doesn’t fade with the change of seasons.
- If you want to try some local dishes, go for the famous Belgian fries, some ‘Frikadelle’ (sausages) with beer, Waterzooi (steamed chicken), and Broodje/Boterkoeken (local sandwiches).
- Don’t miss the remarkable Museum of Maritime History in Het Steen.
- Recommended luxe hotels: Bed and Breakfast Studios 1-2-3, Plaza Hotel, and Hotel Rubens-Grote Markt.