Antwerp is the true daughter of the Scheldt river. Around 200 AD, the site was occupied by Frankish tribes. Even before 650, in what was then called the "aanverp", a wooden fortress with earthen wall was built to protect the village. The missionaries Eligius, Amandus and Willibrord arrived in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, to convert Flanders to Christianity.
The Normans destroyed the village in 836, but it was immediately rebuilt, and it developed considerably through the growth of Flanders's textile industry. It became one of the world's most beautiful cities, as well as a trading port.
According to an old legend, the town received its name from the mystical giant Druon Antigone, who lived on the Scheldt. He charged a toll to all who sailed the river, and from those who refused, he cut off a hand, and threw it into the Scheldt. Eventually the giant Antigoon was defeated by the young hero Silvius Brabo, who in turn cut off one hand of the giant, and threw it into the Scheldt. Hence the name Antwerpen, made up of "hand" and "werpen" (to throw). The statue of Brabo stands in front of Antwerp's beautiful city hall, which was built around 1560.
According to a more scientific explanation, the name Antwerp may stem from the Gallo-Roman period, from the Latin word Antverpia, made up of "Ante" (before) and "Verpia" (deposition), or "washed up sand" in the bend of a river. Still another explanation refers to the Benedictines of Deurne, who in 750 built a new settlement on the new bank of the Scheldt, after that had changed its bed, and didn't run close to their previous monastery in Deurne (villae Thurnini) anymore. The new settlement was called "anda verpus", or a settlement that was moved forward.
Brabo City Hall of Antwerp
The Cathedral of Our Lady is the largest Gothic church in Belgium, and its construction took almost two hundred years ! After 1500, Antwerp became a leading art center, with world famous artists such as Quentin Matsys, Peter Paul Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens and David Teniers.
The statue of Rubens is certainly impressive, even though it has a somewhat unforeseen effect, when viewed from a certain angle ! You certainly won't find any mention of this in any brochure, but every Antwerp street kid knows about "Rubens' thumb", since time immemorial... The home of Rubens can be visited (Rubens House), and there is also a wonderful triptych of his hand in the Cathedral of Our Lady, called "the Deposition" and dating from 1611.
Rubens and the Our Lady cathedral "Rubens' thumb"...
Around 1200-1225, the "Stone" (stone house) and the castle wall were built. It was the first stone fortress in Antwerp, and it is also its oldest building !
Initially it was called the "Antwerp Castle", but when around 1520 it was substantially rebuilt by Charles V, it became known as "the Lord's Stone", which later simply became "the Stone".
At the entrance stands the statue of "Lange Wapper", harassing two drunkards. According to the legend, Lange Wapper was a demon, who made the streets of Antwerp unsafe with all kinds of devilments. Especially at night he appeared, and chased drunks. Actually, he was a small and thin little man, but he could make himself much taller, until he even towered above the houses !
However, the people of Antwerp discovered that Lange Wapper could not stand the image of Mary, and so they put an ever increasing number of statues of Mary on the facades of their houses. Therefore the Lange Wapper fled to the city center, fell into the Scheldt, and drowned !...
the Steen (Stone) Lange Wapper
In 1950, Antwerp organized an international open air sculpture exhibition in the Middelheim Park. It became such an immense success, that the city decided to make this attraction permanent. More than sixty years later, this park contains an impressive collection of modern sculpture !
In 1555, the French printer Christophe Plantin founded a world renowned printing and publishing company. For the next 300 years, the "Officina Plantiniana" was run by the family Moretus. In 1876 it became a museum, with typographic material, a library, objects of art, and an impressive collection of graphics. The museum also offers an extraordinary overview of printing techniques from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century. It contains the oldest printing presses in the world, dating from around 1600 !
By the 15th century, Bruges was a renowned diamond center, but that changed when the Zwin silted up. During the 16th century, Antwerp took over this industry. At the Diamond Museum, you will find interesting information about the origin of diamonds, its processing into jewelry, and the history of diamond jewelry from the sixteenth century on.