Antwerp, Belgium

Architecture buffs will love exploring Antwerp, especially the Cathedral of our Lady, the Guild Houses, a castle and one of the world’s most beautiful train stations. Oh yes, Antwerp is also the diamond capital of the world.

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1 Old Town of Antwerp, Belgium

The Old Town of Antwerpen in northern Belgium is charismatic. On the left is the colorful City Hall called Stadhuis. In the middle is the Cathedral of Our Lady clock spire. Antwerpen is famous as the “diamond capital of the world.” 20,000 of the city’s half million residents also work in fashion. Antwerp has developed an excellent reputation in this industry since the mid-1990s.

Grote Markt 4, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

2 Cathedral of Our Lady from Suikerrui in Antwerp, Belgium

From the bank of the Schelde River, walk along the Suikerrui towards the historic city center of Antwerp, Belgium, for a view of the Cathedral of Our Lady. This spectacular Roman Catholic church was built in 1521. On the left are statues of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, and his wife, Salacia. As rulers of the oceans, they represent the importance of shipping to Antwerpen.

Groenplaats 21, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

3 Cathedral of Our Lady Clock Spire Close Up in Antwerp, Belgium

This close up of the 404 foot northern tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady, which was finished in 1518, lets you see the intricate lacelike stone and gilded clock. Inside is a carillon that contains 49 bells. The largest bell called Karolus weighs over 14,000 pounds and requires 16 people to help ring it.

Groenplaats 21, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

4 Cathedral of Our Lady Portal of Last Judgment in Antwerp, Belgium

The tympanum above the Cathedral of Our Lady’s main portal is an exquisite depiction of the Last Judgment. Look closely at the relief: on the left side are those destined for heaven and on the right are those banished to hell. More statues of saints and angels delight the eye in the ornamental molding of the archivolt that surrounds the arch.

Groenplaats 21, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

5 Stadhuis and Brabo Fountain in Antwerp, Belgium

The centerpiece of Grote Markt square is Stadhuis, a mid-16th century, Renaissance city hall decorated with colorful flags. Below the Virgin Mary statue is the Hapsburg coat of arms. This Spanish dynasty ruled central Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. More interesting is the 1887 statue of Silvius Brabo. He liberated sailors from paying tolls after defeating a giant named Druon Antigoon. The hero is about to throw his enemy’s severed hand into the Schelde River. The Flemish word for this is handwerpen. According to legend, this is how Antwerp got its name.

Grote Markt 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

6 Guild Houses in Grote Markt in Antwerp, Belgium

Surrounding Grote Markt, a square in the center of Antwerp, is a row of guild houses initially built around 1580. During the Middle Ages, each trade of merchants in the Low Countries of Belgium and the Netherlands strove to create their own unique and impressive hall to reflect their success. Typically, the ornate facades had their coat of arms and a gilded statue on top. The originals were significantly damaged in a 1576 fire while others were destroyed during WWII. These historic landmarks were faithfully reconstructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Grote Markt 23, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

7 Painter Peter Paul Rubens Statue in Antwerp, Belgium

It is fitting that this statue of Sir Peter Paul Rubens shows the Cathedral of Our Lady in the background because he created some of the altar’s most famous baroque paintings in the early 17th century. Four of his masterpieces still adorn the church. This statue in the center of Groen Plaats square was created by sculptor William Geefs in 1840.

Groenplaats, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

8 Grand Bazar Now Hilton Hotel in Antwerp, Belgium

In the late 19th century, the Grand Bazar opened its first department store in Belgium and this one in Antwerp’s Green Place square was built by architect Victor Horta in 1885. The once prestigious chain was acquired in 1970. This building now houses a Hilton Hotel in the heart of the city’s Old Town.

Groenplaats 32, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

9 Meir Shopping Street in Antwerp, Belgium

The pedestrian-only street through the heart of Antwerp’s fashion district is Meir. It is a delightful walk past 18th and 19th century buildings with more stores and higher rents than any other street in Belgium. This concentration of retailers has been a long standing tradition. During the 16th century, the city was called “triomfelycke coopstad.” This is Dutch for “triumphant shopping city.”

Jezusstraat 2, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

10 Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp, Belgium

The citizens of Antwerp, Belgium have enjoyed opera performances since 1661 but, since 1907, the venue has been inside the Vlaamse Opera. Also called the Flanders Opera, it closed for a two-year renovation but reopened in time to celebrate its 100 year anniversary in 2007. The beauty of this Neo-baroque building was further enhance by a new opera square called Operaplein when it was finished in 2018.

Frankrijklei 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

11 Central Station Main Entrance Façade in Antwerp, Belgium

The Antwerpen-Centraal has been called the “Railway Cathedral.” The terminal has repeatedly been voted as one of the world’s top five train stations. To say it is impressive is an understatement. The glass dome and eight towers above the main entrance on Kievit Square were built in 1905. The entire train station stretches 1,300 feet.

Koningin Astridplein 27, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium

12 Central Station Red Steel and Glass Train Shed in Antwerp, Belgium

This red steel with glass arches designed by Clement van Bogaert is the stunning train shed for the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station. Its arched roof, which stretches 607 feet, covers the main platform and tracks. As the sun sets, its simple elegance shines brightly among the growing shadows. It was restored during a 16 year project from 1993 until 2009.

Koningin Astridplein 27, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium

13 Central Station Passenger Hall Detail in Antwerp, Belgium

38,000 people a day pass through this magnificent main passenger hall of the Antwerpen-Centraal railway station. It was built between 1895 and 1905 during the reign of Leopold II of Belgium. He was known as the “Builder King” because of the numerous public projects he commissioned. The three lions are part of the greater coat of arms for the Belgium kings from 1837 – 1921.

Koningin Astridplein 27, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium

14 Central Station Train Shed Antwerpen Sign in Antwerp, Belgium

The Antwerpen sign over the train shed of Central Station welcomes arriving passengers to the second largest city in Belgium. It is the diamond capital of the world, has Europe’s second largest port, is a major fashion center plus it offers tourists charming neighborhoods, cobblestone squares, historic landmarks and excellent museums.

Koningin Astridplein 27, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium

15 Camel Sculpture Near Zoo Entrance in Antwerp, Belgium

When the Zoo Antwerpen opened in 1843, bronze foundries were flourishing around Antwerp and wildlife sculpture was emerging out of France as a new artistic theme. These three came together for sculptor Josuë Dupon who created this life-size camel that stands 69 feet over the zoo’s main entrance.

Koningin Astridplein 20-26, 2018 Antwerpen, Belgium

16 Salacia Goddess Statue in Antwerp, Belgium

Nearby this naked female statue on the Hansa House is one of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, so I assume this statue represents his wife, Salacia. In mythology, she was the goddess of the oceans and gave birth to Triton who was half man and half fish.

Suikerrui 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

17 Hansa House Facade in Antwerp, Belgium

The Hanseatic League was a powerful confederation of merchants that banded together to control shipping and trade in Northern Europe from the 13th to 17th century. This Hansa House, on the corners of Suikerrui (sugar street) and Ernest Van Dijckkaai along the bank of the Schelde River, once served these traders in Antwerp. Notice the statue of Neptune above the right columns. He was the Roman god of the sea.

Suikerrui 5, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

18 Lion Statue and Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium

If diamonds are your best friend, then go to Antwerp, Belgium where 70% of the world’s gems are traded. Folklore suggests the city’s name is from the words “Hand Werpen” because of the giant Antigon. He cut off a hand from anyone who did not pay a fee for crossing the bridge. This lion statue is from that bridge over the river Scheldt resembles the country’s coat of arms. In the background is the Cathedral of Our Lady’s 400 foot spire. Also called Onze-Lieve Vrouwekathedraal, this exquisite, Gothic style Catholic church was opened in 1521 after nearly 170 years of construction.

Steenplein 21, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

19 Het Steen Castle in Antwerp, Belgium

Around 950 AD, Emperor Otto I built a castle along the Scheldt River to defend against Viking attacks. Part of the original structure remains at Het Steen although most of today’s stone fortress was built in the early 13th century. It was later used by Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and then as a prison. It is now a shipping museum. The statue is Lange Wapper, a giant who has been part of local folklore since the 16th century.

Steenplein 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

20 Het Steen Castle Crucifix in Antwerp, Belgium

From 1300 until 1827, the Het Steen castle was a jail. Rich prisoners were housed in the right wing with beautiful river views and served expensive wine. Poor prisoners were kept in unsanitary squalor and tortured. Those sentenced to public execution said their last prayer in front of this crucifix just inside the castle’s entrance.

Steenplein 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

21 Harbor Office from 19th Century in Antwerp, Belgium

This neo-gothic building looks like a castle with its commanding view of the Schelde River. It served as a harbor office when it was built in 1889. Today, it is a Mediterranean restaurant called Nooderterras.

Jordaenskaai 27, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

22 Werkhuis Bebakening in Antwerp, Belgium

I assumed this handsome brick building had a shipping purpose because of its proximity to the Old Pilot Station, MAS maritime museum and the anchor emblems in its windows below the arch. But I didn’t know what it was until I translated its Dutch name Werhuis Bebakening. This means Signaling Equipment Place.

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23 Old Pilot Station in Antwerp, Belgium

In the late 19th century, this Neo-Renaissance building was used as a pilot station to help guide seagoing captains while navigating the Scheldt river. On top is a statue of Barbo. According to legend, he killed a giant that prevented sailors from free passage. Today, Antwerp has the second largest harbor in Europe and it is the fourth biggest in the world.

Tavernierkaai 3, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

24 Lauranda Barge at MAS Maritime Park in Antwerp, Belgium

The Museum aan de Stroom is a maritime museum that opened in 2011. Its exhibitions educate and celebrate the history of Antwerp’s port. Near the ten story MAS building is the Maritime Park with a collection of historic boats beneath a metal shed. This iron tow barge is called Lauranda. It was built in 1928.

Hanzestedenplaats 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

25 Victorian Woman Painting at Amadeus in Antwerp, Belgium

This painting of a Victorian woman welcomes you to the Amadeus restaurant and bistro on Sint-Paulus Plaats in Antwerp, Belgium. This seven-chain Belgian and French restaurant specializes in BBQ spare ribs. Several people were still licking their fingers as they walked out the door.

Nosestraat 21, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

26 Tympanum Sculpture at St. Paul’s Church in Antwerp, Belgium

This exquisite sculpture above St. Paul’s Church’s main entrance is called Our Lady of the Rosary and was created in 1734. On the left is Saint Dominic, the Spanish priest who founded the Dominican Order. He was the patron saint of this monastery when it was built in 1662. On the right is Catherine of Siena, one of a half dozen patron saints of Europe.

Veemarkt 13, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

27 Butcher’s Guild Vleeshuis Museum in Antwerp, Belgium

In 1504, the butcher’s guild constructed this red brick building which was designed to resemble stacks of bacon. Until 1793 it accommodated over 60 butchers for the processing and warehousing of meat. Today it is the Vleeshuis Museum. Their “Sounds of the City” exhibition displays 600 years of local musical history.

Driehespenstraat 1, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

28 South District Street Scene in Antwerp, Belgium

The South District of Antwerp underwent a significant renovation in the late 19th century but, after heavy bombing during WWII, it declined into a slum. Then, during the mid1980s, it was born again. Today it is home to numerous museums, art galleries and boutiques, large grass parks, trendy cafes, and bars like the Herberg Het Zand.

Sint-Jansvliet 9, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

29 Huis Van Roosmalen in Antwerp, Belgium

In 1928, French vaudeville singer Josephine Baker had Adolf Loos design this postmodern, black and white striped building for her home in Paris. It was never built in France but the design was used in 1986 to construct the Huis Van Roosmalen apartment complex in Antwerp near the Scheldt quay.

Goedehoopstraat 1, Antwerp, Belgium

30 Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium

This grain silo with a giant HK on the front is called Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Dutch or the Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition to a large collection of modern art, it also has an art movie theater and library. The M HKA is located in the Zuid district of Antwerp which has several other museums, art shops and cafes.

Leuvenstraat 32, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

31 Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium

Beneath these two statues of a Greek deity riding in a chariot is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. Built in 1894, the Neoclassical building contains over 7,000 artistic works from Belgium and the Netherlands dating back to the 14th century. The museum closed for renovation in 2014 and plans to reopen in 2022.

Leopold de Waelplaats 2, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

32 Statue of Winged Pheme Riding Chariot in Antwerp, Belgium

This winged deity riding in a horse-drawn chariot is named Pheme in Greek mythology and Fama in Roman. She symbolizes fame and also spread rumors and gossiped about other gods. So I am not sure why this statue by Thomas Vincotte was selected to sit on top of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in 1894. But I love seeing mythological figures riding in a biga (two horses) or quadriga (four horses) chariot, so I thought it was worth a close up.

Leopold de Waelplaats 2, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

33 Greek Messenger God Hermes Statue in Antwerp, Belgium

Hermes was an Olympian Greek god whose golden wings on his sandals and helmet let him move between the worlds of mortals and deities. In addition to being the messenger of the gods, this son of Zeus was also the protector and patron of travelers. But I am not sure why this statue in front of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts is just one of at least a half dozen Hermes images seen around Antwerp, Belgium.

Leopold de Waelplaats 2, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

34 Waterpoort Triumphal Arch in Antwerp, Belgium

When this triumphal arch was built in 1624, it was the passage to the Schelde River from the fortified wall that protected Antwerp. When the river’s quays were renovated in the 19th century, the arch was moved. In 1936, it was dismantled and reassembled again to its current location at Sint-Gillisplaats. Hence, it has earned the nickname “The Wandering Gate.”

Kasteelstraat 2, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

35 Waterpoort King of Spain Coat of Arms in Antwerp, Belgium

This coat of arms was used by the kings of Spain Philip II, III and IV from 1556 until 1665. This baroque sculpture with two lions was designed by the famous local artist Peter Paul Rubens. It was called the Porta Regia when it was created in 1624. Today, it is called the Water Gate or Waterpoort triumphal arch.

Kasteelstraat 2, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

36 Baron Lambermont Statue in Antwerp, Belgium

Ancient Antwerpen folklore explains how Brabo slayed a giant to stop tolls along the Scheldt River. This myth came to life, however, in the mid-19th century when Belgium statesman Baron Auguste Lambermont led a campaign to stop crippling levies by the Dutch on commercial navigation along the river and Antwerp’s port. His success in 1863 led to significant growth for the city. This monument, nicknamed “the little boat,” was erected in 1912 in Lambermontplaats.

Lambermontplaats 21-29, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

37 Law Courts Building in Antwerp, Belgium

When approaching this steel structure with a roofline accented with stunning sails – the tallest is 167 feet – I assumed it was a civic center or a sports stadium. I would have never guessed it houses 36 court and hearing rooms. The Court of First Instance consists of civil, correctional and juvenile courts. Located on Bolivarplaats towards the edge of Antwerp, the Law Courts was built for the Justice Department in 2006.

Bolivarplaats 20, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium