20 Fun Facts About Antwerp, Belgium

by Janis on May 18, 2015

We will be visiting Antwerp, Belgium during an upcoming trip to Europe.

As part of our trip planning research, we learned some interesting facts about Belgium’s most populous city located on the Scheldt River about about 25 miles north of Brussels.

Antwerp, Belgium is located on the Scheldt River. Photo by Jules Grandgagnage.

20 Fun Facts About Antwerp, Belgium

1. While the country of Belgium has three different official languages including Dutch, French and German, the official language of the Antwerp province is Dutch, as in all Flemish provinces.

2. The name Antwerp is Anvers in French and Antwerpen in Dutch.

The Statue of Brabo and the giant’s hand is located in the middle of the ‘Grote Markt.’ The statue was made by sculptor Jef Lambeaux in 1887. Photo by Ph.viny.

3. A statue outside the Antwerp Town Hall celebrates the legend of how the city of got its name. A mythical giant named Antigoon lived by Scheldt river and demanded a toll from all those who crossed the river. If anyone refused to pay, Antigoon would sever one of their hands and throw it into the river. One day, Brabo, a brave young soldier, cut off the giant’s hand and tossed it in the river. Hence the name Antwerpen was derived from Dutch words that mean “to throw a hand.”

4. Another theory was that the name of Antwerp was derived from “anda” (at) and “werpum” (wharf.) The name Antwerp literally means “at the wharf” (aan het werf).

5. Antwerp hosted the 1920 Summer Olympics, the first games after WWI, and the only Olympic games to be hosted in Belgium. The streets of Antwerp were used for the road cycling events, while the boxing and wrestling events were staged at the Antwerp Zoo.

6. Founded in 1843, the Antwerp Zoo is one of the world’s oldest and houses more than 6,000 animals.

7. Between 80 and 90 percent of the world’s rough diamonds, and 50 percent of its cut diamonds are traded in Antwerp each year, earning the city the “The World’s Capital of Diamonds” moniker The Diamond District covers nearly a mile of city streets. Visitors to DiamondLand, a vast diamond showroom, can watch the stones being cut and polished, and buy their favorites from a 15,000 piece collection.

8. Gin, the juniper-flavored liquor, is said to have evolved from the jenever or “Dutch Courage that British soldiers drank to calm their nerves before battle in 1585 when fighting in Antwerp against the Spanish during the Eighty Years’ War.  Today in Antwerp, the De Vagant cafe and liquor store serves more than 200 varieties of jenever including sweet raspberry and crisp apple flavors.

Photo by Arminius from nl

9. The port of Antwerp is 50 miles inland from the North Sea at the upper end of the tidal estuary of the Scheldt River. The location of Antwerp’s port makes it easy for goods to move to central Europe via rail, road or river barge connections.  As a result, the port of Antwerp has become one of Europe’s second largest sea port by total freight shipped. Cruise ships and river boats also dock at the port.

10. The massive Antwerpen-Centraal (Antwerp Central) is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations. Opened in 1905 and designed by Louis Delacenserie, it has two neo-baroque faí§ades, a large metal and glass dome that’s nearly 200 feet high, and a gilt and marble interior.

Antwerp’s cathedral has a 400 foot spire. Photo by Fuss.

11. Antwerp’s Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral, The Cathedral of Our Lady, features a 400 foot spire and dates back to 1352. The cathedral contains famous paintings of Peter Paul Rubens including The Raising of the Cross, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and The Descent from the Cross.

12. Rubens is buried in The Church of St. James, with one of his paintings above his tomb.

Antwerp as it looked between 1890 and 1900.

Antwerp as it looked between 1890 and 1900.

13. Located on the Wapper Street in Antwerp, Rubenshuis was the home and studio of artist Peter Paul Rubens until he died in 1640. Now a museum, you can tour around famous painter’s house and gardens.

14. Located on both sides of the Scheldt River, the city of Antwerp is connected by three tunnels under the river. The Kennedy Tunnel was opened to road traffic in May, 1969, and was named after John F. Kennedy, the thirty-fifth President of the United States.

15. Antwerp’s 26-story Boerentoren high rise was built in 1932. Also known as Farmers’ Tower or the KBC Tower, it is Europe’s oldest skyscraper.

16. The world’s first printed newspaper was published in Antwerp nearly 400 years ago.

17. Antwerp is home to world known is the home of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, one of the oldest in Europe that attracts many art scholars for fashion, visual arts and even jewelry design. The art school has a cult status as one of the most important fashion academies in Europe.

18. “A Dog of Flanders“ is a novel about a boy and his dog that is set in Antwerp. The book was written by a British author Marie de la Ramee in 1872. There is a tribute statue of a boy and his dog located in Hoboken, a suburb near Antwerp.

19. Cookies called Antwerpse Handjes, literally “Antwerp Hands” are one of the city’s most famous foods, symbolizing the Antwerp trademark and folklore.

20. Antwerp’s Lotto Arena is the home of the Antwerp Giants professional basketball team, part of the Belgium Basketball League. Brandon Ubel, the team’s tallest player, is from the Kansas City area.

What fun fact can you add about Antwerp? Please share in comments below. 

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