A Delightful Stroll Through Antwerp
05 July, 2016
Antwerp lies 50 kilometres from Brussels and is a must-see city if you happen to be in Flanders. There you will find all the ingredients for enjoying a splendid getaway – streets brimming with fashion, a magnificent historic centre with beautiful buildings, including the Rubens House museum, and a culminating tour of the district where 85% of the world’s diamond trade is concentrated – not bad, is it?
One of the best ways to “drop in on” the city is by train as you will be greeted right away by the spectacular Central Station. Built from 1895 to 1905, it consists of a large, formidable structure crowned by a huge dome and decorated in twenty different types of marble, which has earned it the nickname of “marble temple”. No wonder it is regarded as one of the finest stations in the world.
After such a grand reception, the best thing is to head for the city’shistoric centreto rake up vestiges of its splendid past. A must-visit site is the Grote Markt (Main Square), framed by 16th- and 17th-century guild buildings, with pride of place going to the Antwerp City Hall. In the centre of the square stands one of the icons of Antwerp – the fountain of Silvius Brabo. Sculpted in bronze in 1887, the theme relates to the origins of the city. Legend has it that a giant named Druon Antigoon, who guarded the bridge over the river Scheldt, used to charge a toll for any boats wishing to sail by. Any boatman who refused to pay the fee would have his hand cut off and thrown into the river. One day, the Roman centurion, Silvius Brabo, who had grown tired of this situation, cut off the giant’s hand and threw it into the river, giving rise to the origin of the name Antwerp (Ant= hand, werpen= to throw). No wonder then that a typical local confectionery called handjes is shaped like a hand, in memory of the legendary event.
Pressing on with our downtown walk, we recommend stopping to visit the Cathedral which houses one of Rubens’ masterpieces, The Descent from the Cross. Another sight worth visiting is the Gothic Church of St James, part of the branch of the Road to Santiago which starts in the Netherlands.
Another major landmark in Antwerp is the Rubens House (Rubenshuis), where the painter spent the last 29 years of his life. Now a museum, it successfully conveys how this artistic genius lived and worked. Rubens was one of the favourites of King Philip IV of Spain, his leading patron.
Among the curiosities of this city, which has earned it worldwide fame (notwithstanding its harbour, which is one of the major ports in Europe), is its important role in the diamond trade. The figures talk for themselves: 40% of the world’s industrial diamond is marketed in Antwerp, as is over 85% of rough diamond and 50% of polished diamond – nothing to be scoffed at! The district where all this activity takes place lies south of the Central Station. There, sightseers can visit the Diamond Museum and brush up on their knowledge of this luxurious, highly valuable mineral.
More suited to a variety of budgets is Meir, the city’s most important shopping street, where you can find all sorts of brands sold from the interiors of beautiful 18th- and 19th-century town palaces. Fashion and design are also major players in Antwerp, so be sure to head for Nationalestraat to visit MoMu, the Fashion Museum.
Let yourself be carried away by the charms of this beautiful city – book your Vueling to Brussels here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Images by tom hartley
05 July, 2016