…nor did I see any diamonds (Antwerp is the diamond center of the world – where 70% of the total diamonds globally are traded!), not that I could afford one. Haha. Our guide said there used to be diamond tours but insurance companies got in the way and so on so we had to satisfy ourselves with a small room-full of diagrams and pictures about diamonds. Which of course, I didn’t see. Heck, what’s the point if I can’t see real glittering baubles? I’d rather just stare at the actual diamonds in my rings (snob alert) than at photos.
What I did get to see is the wonderful view overlooking the city from the panorama deck of the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS). Whew. Had to google that one coz the spelling’s rather hard. The MAS has ten floors, with one dedicated to dining and the rest to various exhibits and collections. For museum fanatics, you all know that visiting a museum takes hours, days, even months so no, our group didn’t linger at any of the exhibit halls. And frankly, had I toured the entire building, I wouldn’t have had any energy left for the city tour later on.
|The MAS, with its bright brick-red walls providing a stark contrast against the sky, sits at the docks of Antwerp.|
Even via escalator, it took me some time to reach the top, not to mention overcome my fear of heights – I had to wait for crowds to gather at the elevators before I could hop on since I didn’t want to ride alone. What if I fall and plunge directly to the ground? If there were other people, one of them might at least grab me or halt my fall, right? 😀
But the view made up for my efforts. I’ve always loved being able to look down on stuff, that sort of feeling like you’re flying.
|I think I took this shot behind the glass walls (they had small holes for taking photos but I couldn’t wait for my turn so…)|
Our next stop was the Het Steen, an old stone castle standing on the banks of the Scheldt river which is also Antwerp’s oldest building. The original fortress was built sometime in 693 but it was destroyed by the Vikings and only restored in the early 16th century. I’m not too sure if any of the original structure remains. According to a legend about the city, a giant named Druoon Antigoon lived in this castle and any ship passing through the river had to pay toll to him, or risk getting their hands cut off and thrown into the Scheldt.
|The Het Steen from across the street|
From the Het Steen, we took a short walk to get to the center of the city and one of our first stops was this building which was used as a trading house in the middle ages. That tower signified that this was a very important building as special taxes (or whatever fee they called it) had to be paid to have this thing on your house/building. It lets the owner to see what ships had docked in the ports and thus, allows him first dibs on what is to be traded that day.
After that, it was one magnificent old building after the other. I just took note of the ones that looked really nice to me as there was no way I could remember all of them.
|The Het Stadhuis of Antwerpen, or City Hall, built in the middle of the 16th century, of mixed Italian and Flemish designs.|
|The center alcove has an image of the Madonna, the patron of the city, and in the alcoves beneath her are representations of Wisdom and Justice.|
|Beautiful guild halls at the Grote Markt (Market Square or Plaza – each city has one so don’t be surprised to see this term everywhere)|
|Picturesque side-street off the Grote Markt|
|Practically every street corner has an image of Mary, being patron of the city. This is one of the most beautiful around the square.|
The great Flemish master Peter Paul Ruben’s house (plus an old zoo established back in 1843) was not part of our itinerary but luckily, the highlight of our trip was the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal or the Cathedral of Our Lady (pardon my Dutch – I am literally copying the Dutch names off google), where four of his most famous works are permanently on display.
The structure itself is not that old, “just” mid-14th century and built where an old chapel had stood in the same spot from the 9th to the 12th centuries and then an old church in the 13th century, compared to other churches in Europe. But it does have a grand setting. It almost felt like a museum, and rightly so – the Museum of Fine Arts left some of its painting/sculpture collection in the side chapels of the cathedral for an exhibit that should have ended back in 2009. So aside from the paintings that are part of the cathedral, you get to see other art from the 16th century as well.
|Wait till you see a close up of the altar…|
|a silver antepedium made by the silversmith Jan Pieter Antoon Verschuylen in the mid-19th century, portraying the birth of Mary|
I just love old churches because past Catholics have always been generous and proof of this generosity are the grand churches from the middle ages (for a more local flavor, look at the 15th-16th century churches we have in the Philippines – the San Agustin in Intramuros, the various ones in Ilocos and Bohol which you can also read about in my blog). No expenses spared!
|Confessionals made of oak, and each cubicle is separate by a carved statue of one of the 12 apostles or 12 women representing various virtues, circa 1700. Not sure if these are still in use though.|
|A very ornate oak pulpit, 1737, by MIchiel van der Voort|
|Devotional statue of Mary with Jesus on her arm, around 16th century, on the left side of the Cathedral|
Practically every inch of the Cathedral is an artwok in itself, and not even the cupola (domed ceiling) was spared. From this perspective, it looked as if it was opening up to heaven (funny because that was also what it said on the tourist guide, hahaha!).
|Assumption of the Virgin by Cornelis Schut, 1647|
|An old retable depicting the life of St. Joseph, late 19th century. I think this is the only retable I have come across so far in Europe.|
Let’s move on to the rest of the Rubens paintings (before you get tired of all the artwork I am showing), shall we?
|The Raising of the Cross|
This triptych (an artwork divided into three panels) of the Raising of the Cross was done by Rubens around 1609-1610, and was originally part of the altar of the St. Walburgis Church. It was one of two paintings taken from the Cathedral by the French but returned in 1815. It hangs on the left side (right of the altar).
|The Descent From the Cross|
This one, painted 1611-1614, shows eight people lowering Christ from the cross after his death. You can see Mary with her outstretched hands and John in the striking red robes.
Both triptychs and the Assumption of Mary have reversed panels depicting various events but these are not visible.
I missed taking a photo of the fourth Rubens masterpiece in the Cathedral, a triptych depicting the Resurrection of Christ, so I just grabbed this one from the official website:
For those of you who haven’t read or seen the Dog of Flanders (the book or the anime shown back in the mid-90s in Japan and the Philippines; it had various adaptations as well, both in film and other anime), the Cathedral figured prominently in the novel, where Nello and Patrasche tragically died of hunger and cold one winter night, underneath Ruben’s Raising of the Cross. Rubens was Nello’s idol and being an aspiring artist himself, the boy had wanted to see the paintings inside the Cathedral but didn’t have money to enter.
Anyhow, the story was so popular in Japan (but not in Belgium, the story being of English origin) that Toyota donated this marker located outside the Cathedral. A statue of Nello and Patrasche stands in the suburb of Hoboken, Antwerp.
Okay, I’m a sucker for anything made of lace (as you can probably tell by the number of lace items in my wardrobe, and indeed my good old wedding gown) so I was really looking to buy the famed lace of Belgium. Antwerp being one of my last city tours, I decided to shop around the city square (and on a side note, I haven’t had a lot of luck in the shopping department coz they all close at 6PM – which I could never beat since I always get back from the touristy things past 8PM).
|Fortunately, there’s a lace store a few steps from the Cathedral.|
|I so wanted to buy this doll – so pretty. But then, I never liked dolls.|
A funny thing happened to me in this shop. You see, I’ve been reading tips from tourist websites and they said to ask the proprietors if the lace sold are made in Belgium since some are clearly marked as made elsewhere and when I politely asked the lady at the counter where the laces are made, she said, “They are proudly made here in Belgium. Not made in China that’s why they’re expensive.” I didn’t even mention China! Hahaha! So I ended up buying a couple of pillowcases from her. The shop even sold antique lace (circa 18th century) enclosed in silver lockets but they were oh so expensive – the cheapest one I saw was 90 euros! And the lace wasn’t even bigger than a one-peso coin. 😦
Still pending are my blog posts of our trip to Ghent, Mechelen, Bruges, Brussels and Paris so stay tuned!