The northern magic of Antwerp: Rubens, chocolate, waffles, and diamonds.
Belgium is an amazing place. It is almost all on the periphery of consciousness, where it is on the 32nd place after France, Italy, or even Greece.
Belgium's GDP per capita is 41.5 thousand dollars (17th place in the world). Inflation has been at one and a half percent for the past 30 years. And before, it just didn't bother anyone, and it wasn't measured. The human development index (calculated on the basis of life expectancy, education level, and purchasing power) is 0.881 (17th in the world). At the same time, we must understand that there, as everywhere else, in Belgium, there are clowns and marginals and a lot of refugees. But-17th place. That's it!
The cash turnover in Belgium is practically reduced to zero. Only tourists from third-world countries and criminals go with cash. Any European knows that nothing sensible for cash will be sold to him, and the bank will not accept them.
The geographical location of Belgium is very convenient for doing business, as there are 500 million consumers within a radius of 500 km. Antwerp is the second largest port in the EU, and the Liege Cargo Airport ranks 8th in the EU in terms of cargo turnover. From Brussels, the capital of Belgium, you can get by train in 1.5-2 hours to London, Paris, Amsterdam.
In Belgium, English, German, French, and Dutch are spoken.
This is the place. Kingdom. Stability itself. It is natural that the capital of Belgium - Brussels at the same time made the capital of the EU, placed there the headquarters of NATO and a number of other international institutions.
The royal family of Belgium is related to the monarchical houses of all Europe, the standard of living in the country is in the top 20 world rankings, and the medical cluster in Leuven creates technologies that the majority of the world does not even dream of yet.
The north of Belgium is Flanders, where loyalty to the word, restraint, skill, and the Dutch language is in use. South-Wallonia. Here everything is different because the French live here, and even in the north, they are fiery Gauls. And in the east – the Germans. Such a cocktail.
The flaming Gothic of Belgium's ancient cities was not damaged in the Second World War, so there are many stunning places in it: cozy Bruges, restrained Ghent, Mechelen, whose main square takes your breath away, so it is beautiful, Ostend-a city with a chill, bourgeois chic and stunning seafood Belgium cuisine. All of them are truly beautiful, and they have something to love, but Antwerp is something special.
History of Antwerp
Antwerp is the largest city in Flanders and the second largest port in the EU. Now there are a little more than half a million inhabitants (523,000), it is very cozy to live in.
The exact date of the foundation of the city is unknown, but so far, scientists have no evidence that this happened before the VII century. The city developed from the river, and the main point of development was the fair, as in all the old cities of Northern Europe.
The Dutch are by nature traders and navigators, and Antwerp is a seaport; it stands at the mouth of the Scheldt. In ancient times, it was wildly convenient: on the one hand, there is direct and deep access to the sea; on the other hand, the winds and storms of the unfriendly Atlantic are not terrible.
Travelers sailed, countries were discovered, and when the New World was discovered, untold treasures poured into Europe. And they poured through the Northern ports, moving in the influence of Venice and the Mediterranean in general.
By the middle of the XVI century, the population of Antwerp exceeded 100 thousand inhabitants – for those times, it was a huge and very rich city. It was the commercial capital of Northern Europe.
It was then that the town hall of fabulous beauty appeared in the city, built in just 4 years (1561-1565) according to the project of the local architect Cornelis Flores. The pace of construction for those times is incredible.
The town hall square – the central square of the city-is carefully restored and preserved in its original form. It is difficult to imagine what impression it made on the guests of the city in the distant XVI century. They must have been speechless. Now its splendor is mesmerizing. On the square, there is a monument to the Roman soldier Silvius Brabo. But this urban legend deserves special attention.
About Sylvius and the name of the city
There is a version that at the dawn of Christianity on the banks of the Scheldt, in the castle of Sten, lived the giant Antigonus.
He took payment from the sailors, and if someone did not agree to pay, he cut off their hand. And there is a version that he ate some of them.
Well, that's great. At all times, the giants were rarely in dispute; usually, people paid tribute and were glad that they did not eat them.
Finally, there was a guy named Sylvius Brabo, a Roman soldier. He challenged the giant to battle, killed him, cut off his hand, and threw it into the river, thus entering the history of Antwerp and giving the name to the city.
In honor of this remarkable story, in the square in front of the town hall, there is a monument to Sylvius, joyfully running with the hand of Antigonus, apparently to the river – throw.
But legends are legends, and Castle Stan is absolutely real. Not only does it still stand on the banks of the Scheldt in the same place where it stood in the XIII century (the castle was built in 1200), but it was also restored in the XIV by order of Charles V. In the town hall is kept the decree of the King on the restoration with seals, coats of arms and other attributes of the royal will. Careful preservation and thoroughness in construction – this is all Flanders.
You can go to the castle, you can sit on the wall, look at the gulls and the Scheldt, drink a glass of beer, or eat ice cream.
The Town Hall and the square in front of it are admirable, no doubt. But what really strikes the imagination, of course, is the main cathedral of Antwerp.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp was founded in 1352, and the first stage of construction fell in the same XVI century. In 1521, the Cathedral was opened to the parishioners.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp was the tallest building in Europe exactly until the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, i.e., several hundred years ago.
This is the flaming Gothic in its super-concentrated form. It was designed by Jean and Peter Amelie, but, of course, they understood that they had no chance to see their creation.
At the base of the Cathedral, to the right of the entrance, there is a wonderful bas-relief-a monument to the builders-which immortalized hundreds of craftsmen who took part in the construction.
In the Cathedral, there are 4 huge epic paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and many works by his contemporaries and fellow countrymen: Otto van Veen, Jacob de Backer, and Martin de Vos.
If you ever get a chance to have a Belgium visa and travel to this magnificent country don't ever forget to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp.
Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens-he's like Castle Stan, the real spirit of this city. Powerful, free, incredibly, and multi-faceted talented.
In his youth, having become an artist and received a brilliant education in Italy at that time, Rubens worked for some time at the court of the Duke of Mantua (Northern Italy), but in 1602, Rubens received a letter from his brother and came to Antwerp on the family business.
Imagine a young but an already well-known artist with a foreign diploma – and here are mountains of gold and customer-burghers. In general, he stayed in Flanders forever.
He must have been scolding the terrible climate of Flanders.
Perhaps, during periods of creative downturns, he threatened to "leave this swamp of yours and go to hell back to Italy."
Perhaps sometimes he would exclaim with pathos, "Oh, golden fetters, how I hate you."
But the fact remains: Rubens lived in Antwerp, he had a workshop, a workshop, and a school, he was incredibly successful, very popular, and accepted by all the local aristocracy.
On the second large square in front of the luxury Hilton Hotel there is a monument to Rubens, and nearby his own house, of course, carefully preserved and restored.
It is very cozy and has a wonderful courtyard. Nearby is the Church of St. James, their family church. The Rubens family tomb is also located there.
Antwerp diamond district and diamond exchange
In the Middle Ages, in the commercial cities of Flanders in general and in Antwerp in particular, everything was ruled by workshops and guilds. Antwerp was generally a commercial capital. Can you imagine how many goods were being sold there?
And so the local smart guys figured it out, so they came up with an exchange, but it was the middle of the XV century, something around 1460.
The meaning of the exchange is that standards are introduced into the trade turnover. Here, for example, is grain. Or coffee. Or diamonds.
The standard product is sorted by quality and then sold at the current exchange price. At the same time, the goods are stored in a warehouse, and the deal is made by business guys in the exchange building on paper.
Comfortable? Of course! The buyer, having paid, goes directly to the port and takes what he bought.
With diamonds, this trick is not only convenient, but it is also safe: the product is expensive and compact, it is dangerous to carry it on the streets. And here is the beauty: all the participants of the exchange know each other, and if someone new appears, then a well-known person should bring him and recommend him.
These principles – only their own and only on the recommendation-are still in effect, and the exchange itself occupies an entire block, bounded on one side by the Jewish Quarter, on the other by China-town and Radisson, and the gold and diamond shops start from the Central Station.
There are more than 1,500 companies operating on this Diamond Exchange. And these firms sell more than 50% of all diamonds in the world.
This city has the best stones and the best prices. And all why? Because reputation is more expensive than immediate profit. Once you leave the closed diamond dealers club, you can't go back to it. So the local merchants keep the brand.
Not the least role is played by the Royal School of Art, where much attention is paid to jewelry art both as a discipline and as a science.
In this place, you can take powerful masterclasses from the hereditary jewelers of Flanders, but most importantly-then there is a chance to get an internship on the stock exchange and, perhaps, even get a job offer. This is a great chance for beginners.
Antiques and art
So as not to get up twice. The center of bohemian life in Belgium (and partly in the EU) is flighty Brussels.
Artists, directors, sculptors, and other art people hang out there. Here are the offices of the funds that finance the arts and the main workshops and studios.
But the sale of all this is already in Antwerp.
The city hosts more than 400 auctions annually. Some of them are devoted to modern art and some - to antiques. The prices are impressive. But the turnover is high: Antwerp has a high reputation among collectors, and people from all over the world come here to replenish the collections.
Those who take the first steps but treat the topic as an investment and want to develop in this direction can invite a specialist from the Academy or contact the Museum of Modern Art experts.
They will help you choose a successful niche and form a collection platform.
Where to eat in Antwerp?
Everything is simple here. Flanders are not super-cooks, and the main pride of the national Belgium cuisine is raclette. Well, yes, potato casserole. And French fries. They are terribly proud that they invented French fries.
Therefore, any national food in Antwerp is doomed to success.
There are trendy Mexican, Italian, French, Moroccan, Thai, and Chinese restaurants.
There are steakhouses and fish houses. There are pastry shops and coffee shops.
The Belgian people are not fools to eat, so you will not stay hungry.
As in Germany, there is a lot of Turkish fast food, cheap and of excellent quality.
In general, Belgium has very strict rules for licensing public catering, fines for violation of space, so you do not have to worry about compliance with quality standards. But whether it will be delicious – it is better to look at the reviews.
On the street, you can always grab Belgian waffles - a local specialty. They are served with cream, strawberries, chocolate, pieces of fruit – with all sorts of things.
And on Sundays, twice a month, a fair of local sweets, roasted chestnuts, baked apples with honey on a stick, and other street food is held near Rubens.
In general, you can talk about Antwerp endlessly.
But to avoid chocolate is simply criminal.
In Europe, chocolate appeared with the New World opening, and Antwerp was then the commercial capital of Europe. Well, of course: Antwerp chocolate quickly became very popular in the XV century.
But hard chocolate was invented not so long ago. This invention belongs, of course, to the Dutchman Conrad van Guten (and we remember that the Dutch are the Flemings as well).
The main Belgian firms – not brands, but family chocolate firms-have been operating since then.
Do not spare a day. Make a tour of the confectionery and chocolate shops of the city. This is going to be great! And in the end, buy home gifts and gifts. This is a traditional gift from Belgium, and every shop will make you a wonderful gift box.