July 22, 2018
Some notes on the early history of Antwerp. Antwerp dates back to Gallo-Roman times, by the 4th century being settled by the Germanic Franks. At the end of the 10th century, the Scheldt became the boundary of the Holy Roman Empire. Antwerp was made a margraviate by the German emperor Otto II and a border province facing the County of Flanders. In the 11th century, the best-known leader of the First Crusade (1096-1099), Godfrey of Bouillon, was originally Margrave of Antwerp.
The Sint-Katelijnevest is one of the characteristic streets that radiates from the Meir shopping avenue that bisects the centre of old Antwerp along an east-west axis. The narrow street arcs northwest towards the Scheldt river, and is rich in varied businesses and eating establishments located in Neoclassical and Art Deco structures, the crowning piece being the Sint-Pauluskerk.
The banks of the Scheldt river running through the centre of town showcase structures important to the city history as well as public recreational spaces, including the U.S. Army memorial, the Het Steen castle, the Willem Ogierplaats, the Sint-Annatunnel, and the Museum Vleeshuis.
Het Steen is a medieval fortress, built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages, the first stone fortress and oldest building of Antwerp. The fortress made it possible to control the access to the Scheldt river. Much of the fortress was demolished in the 19th century when the quays were straightened to stop the silting up of the Scheldt. The remaining building, heavily changed, now contains a shipping museum, with some old canal barges displayed on the quay outside.
Another one of the great historic structures of old Antwerp lying close to the Scheldt river is the Vleeshuis. The structure housed an indoor trade market in the Middle Ages, including a regulated meat market. Founded in 1290, the guild of butchers became the oldest trade guild in Antwerp. By 1500, the Vleeshuis had become too small and the Butchers Guild moved to a new structure.
At the end of the 19th century, the Antwerp city council acquired the Vleeshuis for the municipal archives, the structure subsequently being repurposed as a Museum of Antiquities, with a collection included metals, ceramics, iconography, architecture and musical instruments.
The Sint-Andrieskerk (after which the neighborhood is named) contains exemplary Baroque art, including a rich array of painting, furniture and sculpture. Construction of the Sint-Andrieskerk was begun in the 16th century by Augustine friars, but due to religious conflicts, the structure was physically divided to accommodate both Catholics and Calvinists in the mid-16th century, the integrity of the church’s structure suffering from ongoing conflicts between the two groups. The structure was expanded in the 17th century by the Calvinists, then took a different direction again with the French occupation at the end of the 18th century.
The Nationalestraat is one of the prime corridors for the hip in Antwerp, replete with vibrant and colourful boutiques, shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. The street ranges from the Meir passage in the north to the Tropical Institute several blocks to the south, establishing a central north/south axis of the Sint Andries neighborhood. Graffiti and innovative design touches are set against classic modernist and historic Flemish residential and ecclesiastical architecture.
The Antwerp Latin Quarter or the Theater District is known for its theaters and associated restaurants and cafes. The district is bordered by the historic centrein the northwest, the University area in the north, the Central Station and City Park in the east, Harmonie, Zuid-Brederode and Het Zuid in the south and Sint-Andries in the west. The theaters in this neighborhood include the Bourlaschouwburg, Royal Dutch Theater, ‘t Klein Raamtheater and Arenbergschouwburg.
Just west of the botanical gardens, the Mechelseplein is a typical Antwerp city square in its multifaceted and engaging character. Restaurants, cafes, trendy stores, institutions and greenspace vie for attention in this space that bridges the gap between two roads.
The Plantentuin botanical garden is a compact but alluring green space, rich in its diversity of decorative plants and culinary herbs. The garden was originally created in 1804 for the students of the School for Surgery, Chemistry and Botany housed in the adjacent St. Elisabeth Hospital. The garden currently houses about two thousand herbs, and also contains a small pond with large goldfish.
Central to the Theaterbuurt theater district is the Stadsschouwburg, a vast structure featuring multiple performance rooms as well as an expansive exterior plaza, composed with stark modernist aesthetics. The elegant hotels, restaurants and cafes in the surrounding neighborhood compliment the brutalist character of the Stadsschouwburg adeptly.
The 14 hectare Stadspark is the largest park in the inner city of Antwerp. The park was created in the space occupied by a former fort, its pond partly tracing the former fort’s moat. The park features a variety of greenery, including yew trees, American linden and cypresses, a Japanese walnut tree, as well as a playground, a WWI monument, a number of statues and a WWII bunker.
Another surprise in Antwerp’s intriguing urban mosaic, the De Vertelboom is a poetry installation laid out on a whimsical square, sandwiched between the Rubens house and the Royal palace.
(Narrative excerpted from Wikipedia and www.aviewoncities.com).