A March 2004 trip
to Antwerp by billmoy
Quote: The Flemish city of Antwerp is going all out in 2004 to "rediscover" the life and times of one of its most famous citizens, Peter Paul Rubens. The city is called Antwerpen in Flemish, and Anvers in French.
The patron saint of Antwerp is the Virgin Mary. This fact is celebrated by hundreds of devotional Madonna shrines and sculptures carved into the sides of buildings throughout the city.
Kids and animal lovers will enjoy a visit to the Antwerp Zoo (Dierentuin), conveniently located just east of Centraal Station.
Antwerp is a world-renowned center for diamonds. If this is what you are looking for, walk through the diamond district southwest of Centraal Station around Pelikaanstraat for the most widespread variety of diamond and jewelry shopping.
Almost all museums are closed Mondays, while they are open and usually have free admission on Fridays.
Note that even though the Centraal Station (the one next to the Antwerp Zoo) is the most centrally located train station, many trains bypass that station in favor of the Berchem station, which is a bit southeast. It is, however, easy to catch a connection train between the Berchem and Centraal stations. Once the Eurostar link is established in Antwerp, Centraal will regain its prominence as the main terminal in town. Centraal Station is a grand station of glass and iron designed by Louis Delacenserie in 1895, while Berchem looks like a provincial suburban pit stop.
If you enjoyed this article, please take a look at my journals on BRUSSELS, GHENT and MECHELEN.
I was assigned the Scottish Room on the second floor (the English Room is on the first floor, the French Room is in the attic suite, and Claude’s reception and residence are on the ground floor). The Scottish Room is in essence a string of separate rooms (bedroom, bathroom, and toilet stall). The bedroom has a moodily dark and masculine look, though its centerpiece is the luxurious canopy bed. The heater gives the impression of a cozy fireplace, and the room has varied touches like tartan wallpaper, old wooden chairs, manly portraits, fluffy pillows, a sculpture of a monkey holding a skull (I am not kidding), old books, lots of lamps, etc. Modern touches include cable TV, a radio/CD player, and a little refrigerator with a complimentary selection of beverages. There is a bowl of fruit and some chocolates on the side too. And this is only the bedroom! The spacious bathroom, which is next door but not connected to the bedroom, is like a set piece in a museum. This resembles a ladies boudoir, with flowery wallpaper, pinkish furniture, plush bathrobes, paintings of Victorian ladies. The freestanding bathtub has a hand-held showerhead, but be careful lest you get the lady in the painting wet. It was odd to take a bath in this museum-like setting. The toilet stall is down the stairs from the rest of the Scottish Room.
Claude is a fit host, as he helps you up the stairs with your luggage (there is no elevator) and brings you heavy trays of breakfast (included with your room rate) to your front door. What a breakfast it is! The scent of the scrumptious croissants, fresh bread and jam, ham and cheese, fresh orange juice, tea or coffee should awaken you if you are not already up. It is not an easy task to finish the entire tray, but your stomach will enjoy trying.
It was a unique experience at this mansion-like setting, sort of like staying at the home of a dear rich Belgian aunt. Obviously this is a B & B and not a full-service hotel, and it is a bit removed from the old town center (the walk from the central train station is at lease 30 minutes, but a ride on a local tram, bus or taxi will cut that down). However, I thoroughly enjoyed the cozy accommodations and the generous hospitality of the host. Note that credit cards are not accepted as payment here, and the artworks are supposedly for sale if the price is right.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 8, 2004
Charles Rogier XI
Karel Rogierstraat 11
After passing through the curtain, the interior of the restaurant is marked by a playful layout of fluorescent light fixtures. They are more for show, as the overall lighting effect is rather subdued and is complimented by candles at each table. The walls are tastefully decorated with various artworks. The minimalist gold and black bar area has shelves of liquors and glasses all attractively displayed for the patrons to see. With such a fine bar, the list of liquors is naturally a good one. The youthful and handsome wait staff members all seem like natural fits at this establishment.
Diners are treated to a complimentary plate of olives and potato chips (not fries), along with a flavorfully crusty multigrain roll. The menu features International fusion cuisine with a heavy accent on the French side. The rack of lamb was quite tender and juicy, artistically presented with asparagus spears and a tangy parmesan cheese sauce. I enjoyed a glass of Duvel with my meal, a fine Belgian beer that seemed to be a good match with the lamb. You can choose entrees like lobster or steak. I saved room for dessert, which was a generous serving of vanilla creme brulee. The bowl is low and flat, so there is a lot of surface area if you like that crisp caramelized glazing.
Hippodroom is not a cheap place to dine, and you can easily run up a healthy tab with an expensive dessert or a few drinks. It is, however, a fantastic restaurant for a romantic dinner splurge or a casual evening with your good friends. It feels hip yet cozy at the same time. In the warmer months, there is an outdoor patio. The restaurant is open seven days a week.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 8, 2004
Leopold de Waelplaats 10
The dining area that is part of Brouwers’ old home is very formal and masculine in style with richly decorated dark wood furniture and tablecloths. The adjacent room is a bright courtyard-styled space with rustically painted walls, curved cream-colored chairs and green potted plants. The bar area and dining area in front has another style, falling somewhere between the other two rooms. I suppose you can choose which room you would want to sit in, depending with whom you are dining with. The wait staff all seems gracefully slender for some reason.
The menu seems almost as eclectic as the interior spaces. I had a soup of the day, which was a hearty chicory broth ladled into a bowl right before my eyes by the server. Think pea soup, but a bit less murky. The veggie pasta features linguini swimming in a beautiful medley of vegetables (peppers, squash, mushrooms) and a hearty pesto sauce. Once my tongue adjusted to the very warm plate of pasta, my taste buds enjoyed this dish quite a lot. One can settle for light fare like sandwiches and salads or go all out with adventurous entrees like rabbit, venison or just plain ol’ steak. Vegetarians will find favor with several selections on the diverse menu. The dessert menu includes favorites like tiramisu and chocolate mousse. Service here is a bit casual, so do not come if you are in a big hurry. Just relax and enjoy your food (and you very likely will).
The bathroom facilities are located in the basement, led to by a seemingly steep staircase, so watch your step. The flag in front of the restaurant proclaims it is a gay-friendly establishment.
Adriaan is located on a short street about two blocks south of Groenplaats. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, with a three-hour siesta between sessions. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 231 60 35
The place is loaded even in the middle of the afternoon, where one can enjoy a beer on tap, a smoke or a snack. The bar area is comfortable and one can appreciate the variety of different glasses designated for all the specific Belgian beers. My colleague and I each had a cool and frothy glass of De Koninck "bolleke", a traditional light brown ale that has become perhaps the lager of choice in Antwerp after being around for about 200 years or so. This brew gets its name from its special drinking glass, a rounded shape that is vaguely like an inflated balloon. It is a very comforting feeling to drink a good local beer served in its proper glass and resting on its matching beer coaster too. All I needed was to hear some lively conversation about soccer (in a language I can understand of course) and I would be in a slice of European heaven.
The two levels of seating are bustling areas for hanging around your friends or just hanging around. The interior features wooden beams that give the place a pleasantly old-fashioned atmosphere. The establishment is not that big, but it is not that small either. There are a few brochures and newspapers for your perusal if you are trying to killing some time.
The pub frequently features live jazz musicians on stage in the evenings. One can imagine the crowds that will pack into De Muze during these times. This is a spot that I would not mind returning to.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
32 3 226 01 26
Attraction | "Kathedraal (Our Lady’s Cathedral)"
Its delicate Gothic tower (403 feet high) is the dominant pinnacle of the skyline and is recognized as the elegant symbol of the city. Designed by Peeter Appelmans but finished about a century later, the tower is faced with clocks and contains a carillon with 47 chimes. Upon close inspection, this tower was to be one of a pair, but the second one to the south was not completed and looks quite stubby except for a cross and dark pointed steeple capping it.
The cool white interiors of the Kathedraal are illuminated by two significant triptychs by Peter Paul Rubens. The one in the north transept is the "Raising of the Cross". The one in the south transept is the "Descent from the Cross". Both the former (painted in 1610) and the latter (1612) have the subjects depicted with sweeping emotions, muscular bodies, bold colors, and dynamic diagonal compositions that involve and educate the audience. Try to also look at the "back" of the side panels of the triptychs, which are more subdued but still very fine art. When compared with these paintings, nearby artworks by inferior artists pale in comparison. Rubens also painted the "Assumption" (1626), majestically stationed above the high altar, and the "Resurrection" (1612), which is located within one of the side chapels. Critics generally agree that Descent is the best of Rubens on display within the Kathedraal.
Visitors usually dash towards the Rubens works, but the vast interiors have other merits as well. The Baroque wooden pulpit in the central nave, by the sculptor Michel van der Voort, is inspiring and richly carved although its depiction of the female figures representing the four continents is now seen as archaic although quite reasonable for its time in 1713. Many other artworks were lost or stolen over the years, which is hard to believe considering the abundance of art still remaining.
Onze Lieve Vrouw Kathedraal
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 213 99 40
One enters the older north section of the house, which served as the living quarters for Rubens and his family. He added the art room, with a design based on the revered Pantheon in Rome, to display antique sculptures and to flaunt his ascending status as a famous artist and wealthy citizen. The pleasingly dark rooms are decorated with tiers of artworks by Rubens and other contemporary artists. Many of the displayed works are specially imported for the current 2004 exhibit. The hordes of visitors are quite considerable during this feature year of Rubens, so be prepared for some artistically claustrophobic moments in crowded hallways and old stairways.
Then wander into the newer south studio section, which was based after designs by Rubens. He had resided in Italy for about eight years, and this design reflected his newfound tastes for Italianate palazzos. It has a lavish Baroque exterior, which contrasts and even overwhelms the more typical Flemish brick facade next door. The two parts definitely look like distinct entities, although Rubens did not wish to seek a completely unified appearance. Walk through the former studio workshop space, from the ground level and the gallery level above. Needless to say, the studio is two levels high so that it could accommodate many of his grandly scaled canvases.
Do not forget to walk through the courtyard garden once you leave the interiors of Rubenshuis. You will pass through the mannerist three-arched portico, which was used as an artistic backdrop in some of Rubens’ works. The garden facades of the Baroque block are studded with a multitude of robust sculptures and reliefs, an effect that overwhelms the intrinsically quiet nature of the older Flemish exteriors and the peaceful garden.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+ 32 3 201 15 77
Rubens was born in 1577 in Siegen (near Cologne), Germany, but he is almost universally regarded as one of Antwerp’s own and finest. He apprenticed under master artists in Antwerp, and after about eight years of studying the masters in Italy, he returned triumphantly in 1608 as the official court painter of Antwerp. His works over the decades symbolized the Flemish school of painting, though with more robust Italianate elements mixed in for heightened effects. Some of the luminous artists groomed by Rubens include Jan Brueghel, Jacob Jordaens, Anthony Van Dyck and Frans Snijders. Although he was most famous as a painter (even the term Rubenesque is derived from his tendency to depict lusciously plump nude females as subjects), Rubens also had some influence on sculpture and local Baroque architecture, especially at his own Rubenshuis.
Many important buildings in Antwerp are marked with red dots on the pavement, signifying that they display works by Rubens or are otherwise somehow related to the life of Rubens. One can "connect the dots" by following a guided tour or by informally wandering the different sites on your own. Some of the most prominent places are the Kathedraal, the Rubenshuis, the Museum Plantin-Moretus and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Museum of Fine Arts), which holds over twenty of his works.
The Sint-Carolus Borromeuskerk (St. Charles Borromeo Church), a Jesuit church with a Baroque facade more typical of Rome rather than Antwerp, was built between 1615 and 1621. The design of the facade, along with various sculptural accents, was influenced by Rubens and today is the most attractive feature of the church. Step back to the edge of the city library on the other side of Hendrik Conscienceplein to fully appreciate this front elevation. Baroque was the style favored by the Counter Reformation movement, which was agreeable with Rubens’ own tastes. Unfortunately a tragic lightning fire in 1718 meant that the 39 ceiling paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck are forever lost.
Rubens died in Antwerp in 1640 and was buried in Sint-Jacobskerk (St. James’ Church), which was constructed from 1491 to 1656 and uses over 100 types of marble. His work "The Virgin and the Saints" (1634) resides over his tomb within the burial chapel. It is in a sense a final autobiographical artistic goodbye, as it depicts himself as St. George, his first wife Isabella Brant as the Virgin Mary, and his second wife Helena Fourment as Mary Magdalene. In fact, Rubens married young Helena at Sint-Jacobskerk in 1630. A statue of Rubens has been prominently located in Groenplaats, a nearby central plaza, since 1840.
Rubenswalks in Antwerp
Attraction | "Museum Plantin-Moretus"
The main drawing room features portraits, some by the ever-present Peter Paul Rubens. As one walks through the historic rooms, you can appreciate the period furniture and wall surfaces along with the historic manuscripts on display under glass cover. The print shop, proofreading room and offices are because of their functions not quite as lavishly decorated, but they have a certain learned atmosphere thanks to interesting displays of old books, prints, and well-preserved equipment. Look for the displays of the Biblia Regia and the Gutenberg Bible. The former was perhaps Plantin’s finest printing achievement, as it consisted of eight volumes and was printed in five languages (Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, Latin and Aramaic). The museum’s priceless copy of the Gutenberg Bible is one of only 13 still in existence.
Other displays of books and documents may be a bit dry except to the most erudite academics, but it is always fascinating to see maps of the old world and how they differ from the current reality. The Rubens collections here include letters, title page designs, book illustrations, prints and drawings by him or related to his visions.
The bookcases that line the walls of the libraries shelve over 25,000 rare books. The second floor houses the type foundry and displays of metal printing types. Take a peek in the peacefully typical Flemish-style inner courtyard, decorated with busts of the family and with leaded stained glass windows.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 221 14 50
Attraction | "Grote Markt and Stadhuis"
The Stadhuis (City Hall) forms the western boundary of the Grote Markt. The Stadhuis was designed by Cornelius Floris and others in 1564. After being damaged during the Spanish Fury of 1576, it was reconstructed by Pauwel Luydincx in 1579. The imposing facade is 282 feet long and its design incorporates a blend of Flemish and Italian Renaissance features. A statue of the Virgin Mary has occupied the top niche of the facade since 1587, the first of hundreds of Madonna figures to have appeared all over the city.
In the center of the cobblestoned Grote Markt stands the Brabofontein, a bronze fountain designed by local sculptor Jef Lambeaux in 1887. It illustrates the defining moment of the supposed origins of Antwerp, with Silvius Brabo about to toss the severed hand of the giant Druon Antigonus. This colorful legend has it that Brabo, a Roman warrior, chopped off the giant’s hand and tossed it into the Scheldt River after the giant had wreaked havoc with ships along the waterway. The word handwerpen means "to throw a hand", hence the odd birth of the city name Antwerpen. When the fountain is running, one of the waterspouts squirts out of the severed hand, which seems a bit curious and leads one to imagine what if the water were dyed red.
The Handschoenmarkt is a smaller triangular plaza just south of the Grote Markt. It is this plaza that the Kathedraal faces. It is almost a bit of a shame that the Grote Markt and the Handschoenmarkt were not combined to create one "Super Grote Markt", but then that is what gives the old city center of Antwerp some of its intimate charm.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
Attraction | "Innovative architecture in Het Zuid"
The Zuiderpershuis was designed by Emiel Dieltiens in 1881. This distinctively blocky building actually contained a hydraulic power station. It now houses the Centre for World Cultures. The Liberaal Volkshuis (Liberal People’s House) has the unusual nickname "Help U Zelve". The facade of the former political hall is beautifully decorated with mosaics, wrought iron Art Nouveau elements, and is topped by an unusual split pediment. The architect was Emiel van Averbeke, who was known as Antwerp’s version of the great Victor Horta although he was virtually unknown outside of Belgium. Jan van Asperen also received credit on this 1898 project.
Perhaps the funkiest building in Antwerp is the Woonhuizen (De Vijf Werelddelen), the "Five Continents" house located near the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Museum of Fine Arts). Designed by Frans Smet-Verhas in 1901, this attractive Art Nouveau building is elevated to cult status by the white wooden ship’s bow protruding from its corner. This is a corner balcony taken to an extreme, as the architect designed the building for a shipbuilder.
The Wijk Zurenborg district is in the southeast Berchem area, so it is actually not in Het Zuid. This enclave does deserve special mention as its several blocks around the tree-lined Cogels-Osylei contain an eclectic assortment of town houses with Art Nouveau or Belle Epoque tendencies. Frans Smet-Verhas strikes again with the Battle of Waterloo residence, featuring a mosaic mural below its cornice (its address is appropriately Waterloostraat 11). Jules Hofman designed a Sunflower House, while Emiel Dieltiens and Jos Bascourt also have designs here.
The boldest design along the east bank of the Scheldt River is the Huis Van Roosmalen by local architect Bob van Reeth of the firm AWG (Architecten Werk Groep). Completed in 1988, it features alternating horizontal black and white striping and has references to maritime structures and to the architecture of Adolf Loos of Vienna. The Zuiderterras (1991), a cafe pavilion featuring a cube and a cylinder along the Scheldt River, was also designed by van Reeth.
The latest project to join this list is the Justitiepaleis (Palace of Justice) by British legend Richard Rogers. Although still under construction, this monumental complex with the series of silvery and slivery sails on its roof already has become a fixture of the skyline of Het Zuid.
Architecture in Het Zuid