Antwerp in Belgium is located on the right bank of the River Scheldt. It connects with the North Sea through the Westerschelde. Antwerp is a thriving commercial center which has the second busiest harbor in Europe and the sixth busiest harbor in the World. It is the epicenter of the world’s diamond trade accounting for 70% of the trade of polished and nearly finished diamonds. Though this trade has historically been dominated by the Hasidic Jewish community it is now dominated by Indian and Armenian traders. The trade of diamonds constitutes 6 % of Belgium’s total exports and amounts to $ 4 billion a year. The trade takes place in the diamond district located in the old part of town and is concentrated in the 2500 diamond and jewelry shops located around the neo baroque domed railway station. Diamondland is Antwerp’s largest jewelry showroom.
Antwerp in its heyday in the 16th century was one of the busiest and richest cities of Europe. Its might was comparable to that of London and Paris. During this period with its fortified port guaranteeing its continuous wealth due to trade Antwerp saw guilds of traders and craftsmen being established in stone and wood buildings called guild halls which were located around Antwerp’s Grote Market.
Peter Paul Rubens who was the court painter at the Spanish Hapsburg court that presided over Antwerp at this time built an imposing mansion in the city center. The then Hapsburg ruler Charles V who was the commander of the Low Countries actively encouraged and aided the growth of Antwerp. However, this prosperous period was followed by a period marked by religious strife caused due to protests by the protestant populations who revolted against their Roman Catholic rulers. A series of events which included a horrific massacre of 8000 inhabitants of Antwerp saw the Protestants flee to the north of the country.
At the end of the thirty year war in 1648, the city of Antwerp continued to remain Roman Catholic under the rule of the Spanish Netherlands. At this time the port of Antwerp was bared to non Dutch ships and this era saw the demise of Antwerp’s port as the city of Amsterdam came into prominence. The eighteenth century saw a succession of different nationalities seize control of Antwerp as the Spanish rule gave way to the Austrian rule which was in turn replaced by the French occupation under Napoleon. When Napoleon was defeated in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo,Belgium was incorporated into the Kingdom of Netherlands which was composed of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.
The twentieth century then saw Belgium being occupied twice by the Germans during the course of the two World Wars until the city was liberated by the Allies in 1944 after much bombardment.
Today the port of Antwerp is one of the world’s largest cargo ports which handles a lot of the traffic from the Oil refineries of Europe.
Climate and Weather
The best time to visit Antwerp is the between the months of May and September. The summer temperatures can go up sometimes to as high as 25°C (77°F). Antwerp sees a fairly mild winter with temperatures ranging between 3°C (32°F) to 6°C (43°F).
The main languages spoken in Antwerp are Dutch and French but English is also widely understood and spoken.
Belgium is a part of the European Union having joined the Union as one of the first few member states in the alliance. The Euro is widely accepted as legal tender.
Antwerp is served by the Antwerp International Airport which is located in the district of Deurne. The airport is located at a distance of four km south east of the city center. A single carrier serves the airport which is VLM. This airline flies to London and Manchester. The flight time to London is an hour with the airline flying into London’s City Airport. There exists a bus service from the airport to near the Centraal railway station. The Bus operates on the hour from 5.30 am to 11 pm.
It is far easier to fly into Brussels Zaventem airport and then connect to Antwerp. Due to the geography of Belgium there are no domestic flights in the country. The best connection to Antwerp from Zaventem airport is via the Airport City Express train. The train runs from the station adjacent to Zaventem and it runs at a frequency of fifteen minutes from 5.30 am to 11 pm. There exists also the option to go by the SN Brussels Airlines Express bus which leaves the airport at 5.30 am and goes to the bus station near the Centraal Station in Antwerp every hour from 7am to 10 pm.
Antwerp has two main train stations the Centraal Station located at the east of the city center and the Berchem Station which is located to the south east. From Berchem the Thalys trains go to and fro from Paris seven times a day and six times a day to and fro from Amsterdam. Several regional train services connect Antwerp to Brussels and to Lier from Centraal station in downtown Antwerp.
Eurolines bus service connects Antwerp to other major European cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and London. The De Lijn bus service provides domestic bus services between Antwerp and other cities in Belgium.
Antwerp is ringed by a network of highways that lead to cities such as Brussels, Gent and even Breda in the Netherlands. Both sides of the Scheldt River are connected by three tunnels and a fourth tunnel is under construction with the proposed completion scheduled for 2012.