Antwerp

An interesting legend lies behind the name of the city. When it stood upon the Scheldt River in ancient times, the giant Antigoon demanded a toll from everyone who wanted to cross the river, and cut off one of their hands if they refused. This continued until the brave Roman soldier Brabo killed the giant by cutting off his hand and throwing it into the Scheldt. The name Antwerpen is said to come from Hand Werpen, which means hand-throwing in Dutch.

Archaeologists maintain that the city dates back to the 2nd Century AD. It began as a settlement. Defensive structures were erected in this area when the Christian influence began making itself felt in the 600s. In the late 900s, the city became a district of the Roman Empire. It continued to expand from then on, experiencing major economic growth in the 1300s. It became the main site of trade in Western Europe, the best-developed industry being wool. With its location near the Scheldt River, it also became a major port, which it remains to this day in terms of shipping and oil refineries.

Antwerp came under the auspice of the Flanders Province in 1356, experiencing a brief decline as it lost its autonomy to a great extent. The city flourished in the 16th Century, becoming an economic and cultural center. Famous artists and scientists such as Bruegel and Ortelius lived in this era. Antwerp was beset by political strife in the second half of the century, which led to catastrophic events like the Spanish Fury and the Fall of Antwerp in 1585. It was conquered by Phillip II, and mass migration ensued. Only 40,000 citizens remained in the years that followed, down from 130,000 years earlier. Antwerp did not recover until the 19th Century. Its economic power gradually increased from then on, despite the disasters of World War I and II.

Contemporary Antwerp is a fabulous city with many remarkable monuments, such as the Town Square with its Brabo statue in the middle, the Diamond Museum, the Towering KBC Bank structure, and other attractions. The historical district encompasses the Town Square and Town Hall. Another historical landmark is the Steen (‘stone’ in Dutch), a small castle bordering the Scheldt. Its name relates to its method of construction, using stone instead of wood, a novelty in the age it was built. It was a prison between 1549 and 1823 and an archaeological museum after that. Today, it’s the National Museum of Navigation.

There are a number of other interesting museums to visit. An astounding one is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, which contains an art collection with works dating from the 1300s to modern times. It features paintings by Jan Van Eyck, Jean Fouquet, Titiaan, Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Hals, Emile Claus and other respected artists.

Antwerp is known as the diamond center of the world, a status not undeserved by any means. The city stands side-by-side with New York and South Africa as a major international center of the diamond industry. Naturally, the world's biggest Diamond Museum is located here. An audio guide is offered, inclusive of all languages, and the staff is available to answer any questions you might have. The museum features an exact reproduction of the British Crown Jewel, with some of the biggest diamonds in the world.