Introduction Known world wide as the diamond city, Antwerp is not only an important business centre in Europe, but it also a great stop for travelers exploring Belgium, as it contains many attractions that will engage and inspire those that take the time to discover them. From museums that house implements that inevitably made our modern civilization possible, to the home of one of the world’s greatest masters of the visual arts, Antwerp will prove to be more than where shiny rocks go to be sold to jewelry merchants from around the world.
Want to view one of the most important artifacts of human civilization? Then visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum, which used to be home to a printing company that started up in the 16th century. While words were being put to paper for more than a hundred years prior to the founding of this business, the oldest surviving printing press in the world can be found here, thus making this institution worthy of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In addition to the machine and its complete set of dies, a number of rare books can be viewed here as well, including a bible printed in five different languages.
If seeing that ancient version of the Christianity’s Holy Book has got you in the mood to see an amazing church, then head over to the Cathedral of Our Lady. Its massive spire soars 404 feet above the surrounding landscape, making it the tallest church in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) region.
Having drawn praise from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and from French Emperor Napoleon over the course of its history, it is a gorgeous piece of architecture that has stood the test of time. More delights await within, as three paintings from Peter Paul Reubens, Belgian artist extraordinaire, hang upon its interior walls.
If you love what you see from Belgium’s most famous visual artist, head over to Rubenshuis, which used to serve as his home and studio. Here, many of the works for which he was famous were created by him and his students, a deal of which hang on the walls of a house restored to the period in which Reubens lived in it. Also noteworthy is the interior courtyard, where a garden patterned after those found in Italian style villas can be found.
Other Attractions Cogels Osylei, which is Antwerp’s most famous street when it comes to architecture, almost ceased to exist in the 1960’s, when plans to demolish them to build a modern housing development were scrapped in the face of protests from the community. Thanks for their efforts, a spectacular series of homes built in the Art Nouveau and fin-de-siècle style still stand today, giving photographers and architecture geeks a chance to appreciate some of the best looking residential structures in Western Europe. While the Antwerp diamond district isn’t the hub of precious stones that it once was before the forces of globalization stole away most of the workshops where the uncut gems were cleaned up prior to being sold, enough of these facilities remain to make a visit here worthwhile. In addition to these workshops, there are countless jewelery stores that bargain hunters can trawl though, and the Antwerp Diamond Exchange still sets prices for this precious stone for those trading on financial markets, etching this city’s place on the list of the world’s most important centres for commerce. Before departing the city to destinations far and wide, take some time to appreciate the beauty of Antwerp Central Train Station. This Neo-Baroque creation was built over ten years, with the ribbon being cut in 1905. With sweeping tile floors, an arched glass roof, and a centrepiece clock that will have you mesmerized at the painstaking detail of their design, chances are good that this will be the finest transit terminal of any kind that you will ever pass through in the life long course of your travels.