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Antwerp (Municipality, Province of Antwerp, Belgium)

Antwerpen, Anvers

Last modified: 2020-01-30 by ivan sache
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Flag of Antwerp - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 September 2001


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Presentation of Antwerp

The municipality of Antwerp (in Dutch, Antwerpen; in French, Anvers; 446,203 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 20,451 ha, therefore the third largest Belgian municipality by its area after Tournai and Couvin;

Source: municipal website

) is the capital of the Province of Antwerp and the economic capital of Flanders. The municipality of Antwerp has been composed since 1983 of the nine districts of Antwerp (168,049 inh.; 8,730 ha), Berchem (40,062 inh.; 579 ha), Berendrecht-Zandvliet-Lillo (9,583 inh.; 5,266 ha), Borgerhout (41,779 inh.; 393 ha), Deurne (69,585 inh.; 1,306 ha), Ekeren (22,326 inh.; 807 ha), Hoboken (34,542 inh.; 1,067 ha), Merksem (41,004 inh.; 828 ha) and Wilrijk (38,319 inh.; 1,361 ha). The districts are former municipalities merged in 1983, except Berendrecht-Zandvliet-Lillo, made of three former municipalities incorporated to the municipality of Antwerp in 1958.

Antwerp emerged in the upper Middle Ages, around 650, probably on two ancient Roman sites settled in the 2nd-3rd centuries on the right bank of a curve of the Scheldt. Destroyed by the Northmen in 836, the two settlements were rebuilt. Incorporated into the German Empire by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, Antwerp became the fortified capital of a Margravate (a border province assigned to a Count, from Germanic, mark, "a border", and graf, "a count") with a stone fort (the "Steen") watching the Scheldt that formed the border with the County of Flanders. Granted civil rights by the Duke of Brabant in 1221 as one of the four "good towns" of Brabant, Antwerp was then a busy, safe port of call for English and German traders; during the Flemish troubles, the wool warehouse of Flanders was transferred to Antwerp. In 1357, the Count of Flanders Louis van Male annexated the town for a short period but did not interfere with trade.

In the 15th century, the merchants of the Hanseatic League left Bruges, whose access to the sea was less and less practicable because of silting, and moved to Antwerp. Maximilian of Habsburg granted several privileges to the town, which had supported him during the troubles that had followed the death of the last Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold. Antwerp attracted even more merchants from Bruges and Ghent after the opening of the Western Scheldt by tidal storms, which formed a shorter link to the North Sea. Antwerp became the economic center of Western Europe and ranked among the wealthy towns of the time (Paris, London, Venice and Naples) its port being used by merchants from England, Upper Germany and Portugal, who made of Antwerp their port of call for pepper and the other exotic spices. The Scottish wool and the English cloth were worked in Antwerp and exported to the Indies by the Portuguese, who traded spices for German ore.
Within one century, the population of the town increased from 10,000 to 100,000. The boom in trade required new business techniques, such as the endorsable bills of exchange with assignation. Invented in Antwerp around 1500, these bills are the origin of the paper money developed in Scotland and England in the 17th century. The Antwerp traders also invented modern discount and maritime insurance. All these novelties required a specialized institution, the Stock Exchange ("Beurse", named after the manor of the Van der Beurze family at Bruges, which housed a similar institution), set up in 1531. The Florentine trader Lodovico Guiccardini (1521-1589), who spent most of his life in Antwerp, described it as "the most beautiful town in the world".

Antwerp was hit by a social and economic crisis around 1550. When the Low Countries rebelled against King of Spain Philip II, Antwerp took the Calvinist party. The town was sacked on 4 November 1576 by the unpaid Spanish soldiers, killing 8,000; the event, known as the "Spanish Fury", encouraged even more the rebellion against Philip II all over the Low Countries. After the capitulation of the town in 1585, thousands of merchants, craftsmen, scientists and scholars emigrated to Holland, so that Antwerp kept only 40,000 inhabitants in 1590. The Scheldt was locked and Antwerp, no longer a sea port, was progressively superseded by Amsterdam as the economic capital of Western Europe. Still a significant business place, Antwerp welcomed hardly ten vessels per year. Activity resumed during the French rule, since Napoléon planned to use Antwerp as a bridgehead against Britain ("a gun pointed to the heart of England"), but the revamping of the port was stopped by the continental blockade.

The 16th-17th centuries were a period of artistic blossoming in Antwerp. The painters, born in Antwerp or elsewhere, who joined the Guild of Saint Luke, are known under the collective name of the "Antwerp School", founded in 1491 by Quentin Matsys (1466-1530), a painter from Leuven; the most famous of them are Joachim Patinir (1480-1524), Frans Floris (~1520-1570), Pieter Brueghel the Elder (~1525-1569), Pieter Brueghel the Younger (~1564-1636), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Frans Snyders (1579-1657), Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) and David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690).
The French printer Christophe Plantin (1520-1589) settled at Antwerp in 1549 and opened his own printing house in 1555 (Officina Plantiniana, today the Plantin-Moretus Museum); Plantin produced there his masterpeice, the Biblia Polyglotta, aka Biblia Regia (1568-1572), a Bible in five languages (Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Syriac and Aramaic) financed by Philip II.

Diamond cutting also emerged at Antwerp in the same period, in spite of not having been invented there but at Bruges in the 15th century by the goldsmith Louis de Berquem. The Antwerp diamond cutters were so famous that King of France François I prefered them to the Paris cutters. Several diamond cutters emigrated to Holland at the end of the 16th century and Amsterdam superseded Antwerp as the world's capital of diamond. Most raw diamonds arrived in Europe via Amsterdam, a few of them being then shipped to Antwerp for cutting. Activity resumed in the early 20th century after the discovery of the South African diamonds and several villages close to Antwerp became "diamond villages", with small workshops or home workers. Diamond industry was hit by the 1929 crisis; in 1939, several diamond cutters of Jewish origin left Antwerp for the USA, England or Portugal.
Some 500 cutters could transfer their material to London, where they formed the"Correspondence Office for the Diamond Industry"; they carefully listed the material that had remained in Antwerp so that several diamonds could be given back to their spoliated owners after the liberation of Belgium, allowing a quick restart of the cutting industry. The industrials and the Antwerp authorities have founded the Hoge Raad voor Diamant (Higher Council for Diamant) to preserve the technologic and deontologic level of the Antwerp diamond cutting industry. The "Diamondland" showroom was inaugurated in 1983.
The WTA womens' tennis tournament of Antwerp, inaugurated in 2002, is subtitled "Diamond Games". A player able to win three times the competition within five years should be awarded the "Diamond Racket", a 4-kg golden racket set with 1,700 diamonds (estimated value, 1 million €). After having won the 2002 and 2003 tournaments, Venus Williams was expected to win the trophy, but Amélie Mauresmo defeated her in the final in 2005, won the 2006 and 2007 tournaments and therefore the trophy. In 2007, she defeated in the final Kim Clijsters, winner in 2004 who played her last competition in Belgium and was paid a well-deserved tribute after the final. Justine Hénin won the 2008 tournament, which was her last victory on the WTA tour before her retirement.

During the Belgian uprising of 1830, the Dutch blocked the port and rearmed the citadel. The Scheldt was reopened to navigation only in 1839 and the Dutch imposed a toll, which was purchased by the Belgian state (1/3) and the twenty largest maritime nations (2/3) only in 1863. In 1874, the port was increased and the town was revamped, with the suppression of several historic boroughs.
Antwerp was the heart of the resistance to the German invasion in August- September 1914 but capitulated on 9 October 1914. The port, increased again during the interbellum, was liberated, without much destruction, together with the town, by the Allied helped by the local Resistance, on 4 September 1944. In spite of huge bombings by V1 and V2 that claimed more than 3,700 civils, the port could be used for the resupplying of the allied forces fighting in Germany.
After the liberation of Belgium, the port of Antwerp was increased again, being today the second European port after Rotterdam and the fourth world's port. Some 15,000 sea ships and 64,000 river ships call in Antwerp every year, for an overall traffic of 183 million tons (2007). The port is the direct or indirect source of income of 140,000. Originally built on the right bank of the Scheldt, like the historical town of Antwerp, the port progressively increased, northwards to the Dutch border, and westwards, on the left bank of the Scheldt, especially around the towns of Kallo and Doen, parts of the municipality of Beveren.

The 7th Summer Olympic Games were organized at Antwerp in 1920, as a replacement of those scheduled at Berlin in 1916. The opening ceremony took place on 14 August, with the first hosting of the Olympic flag and the first oath taking, by the Belgian fencer and waterpoloist Victor Boi (but no Olympic flame, which appeared at Amsterdam in 1928). The "Flying Finn" Paavo Nurmi (1897-1973) started his Olympic career at Antwerp, winning the 10,000 m and the individual and team cross-country; Nurmi would subsequently (1924 and 1928) increase his medal record to nine gold medals and three silver medals. His team mate Hannes Kohlemainen (1899-1966), the first "Flying Finn", won the marathon.

Ivan Sache, 25 August 2008


Flag of Antwerp

The flag of Antwerp is horizontally divided red-white-red (1:3:1).
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted by the Municipal Council on 13 November 1984, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 5 March 1985 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 8 June 1986 in the Belgian official gazette.
The colous of the flag are taken from the municipal arms.

Ivan Sache, 25 August 2008


Coat of arms of Antwerp

According to De Vries [vri95], the arms of Antwerp, "Gules a castle surrounded by two hands of the same", were granted by Royal Decree in 1837. In 1881, a Royal Decree slightly modified the design, adding two salvages as supporters.
The oldest known municipal seals of Antwerp date back to 1239, showing a castle flying flags charged with a hand. Banners charged with a hand are also shown on a seal dated 1302. On the oldest known depiction of the arms of Antwerp, cast on a bell of the cathedral, the hands are no longer placed on flags but on each side of the castle, pointing to the respective corners of the shield (as on the modern arms). An Imperial eagle was added above the castle during the French rule.

The hands recall the popular ertymology of the name of the town. Often written "Handwerpen" until the 17th century, the name of Antwerp was explained as hand werpen, "hand throwing". A nasty giant named Druoon Antigoon once held to ransom the sailors and fishers sailing on the Scheldt, cutting one hand to those who could not pay. A fiercy Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo defeated the giant, killed him, cut him one hand and threw it into the Scheldt as a symbol of liberation. A bronze statue of Brabo throwing the giant's hand is proudly watching the Grote Markt of Antwerp.
The name of Antwerp most probably comes from aanwerp, in Old Dutch "an overhang", recalling the sandy hill on which the early settlement was built. The place was suppressed at the end of the 19th century when the port was revamped.

The official poster of the Antwerp Olympic Games shows in the upper right corner the arms of Antwerp; the two hands are red and each placed on a small yellow flag hoisted over the castle.
Another rendition of the arms of Antwerp (without flags) can be seen, together with the arms of Hamburg on the CitiBank building, Broadway One, New York, which is the former seat of the US Lines and International Mercantile Marine Company.

The arms of Antwerp are shown on the arms and unofficial banner of arms of the Province of Antwerp.

Ivan Sache, 25 August 2008


Flag of Antwerp with the coat of arms

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Flag of Antwerp with the coat of arms - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 August 2008

The legal flag of Antwerp should not bear the municipal arms, but such a flag does exist. The flag with the coat of arms was a matter of dispute between the Mayor of Antwerp, Patrick Janssens and the leader of the extreme-right party Vlaams Belang (VB), quite influential in Antwerp, Filip De Winter.
On 8 March 2005, the Antwerp section of the VB issued a press release, claiming that the Mayor wanted "the flag of Antwerp away from the VB secretariat building". The Mayor said that the use of the municipal arms on this flag was illegal, according to Article 355 of the new municipal code, stating that "no use of the municipal arms shall be permitted without written permission" and prescribing a fine of 25 to 125 €.
On 15 March 2005, another press release by the VB announced that the flag with the arms could be safely used. Accused by the VB to prevent the inhabitants of Antwerp to express their town patriotism, the Mayor answered that there was no problem with the flag, since the coat of arms used was not the official, protected version, but one of the 60 different versions of the arms used here and there. Moreover, the arms are not used on either a commercial or political flag, therefore not contradicting the regulation recalled by the Flemish Minister Paul Van Grembergen in 2001.
The two press releases are illustrated with the same colour photography showing the building of the VB flying the party flag and the flag of Antwerp with the arms.

The "Hotels Belgium Photoguide" website shows a big photo of such a flag, most probably hoisted over a boat. The fly of the flag is tattered but the coat of arms is clearly visible. Compared to the version we show above, the coat of arms shows a supplementary flag over the main tower of the castle. Moreover, the towers have pointed instead of rounded roofs.
The small arms shown in the bottom of the pages of the official website of Antwerp seem to show the coat of arms without the flag and with rounded tower roofs. There is a subtle difference with all other versions: an opened door, meant to symbolize that Antwerp is open to the world. The artistic renditions of the arms may differ, of course. The hands seem to hover above the castle: originally they appeared on flags stuck out from the castle (at an angle).

Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 13 January 2009

I once saw a white, red-lined triangular car pennant with the coat of arms near the staff.

Jan Mertens, 12 March 2003


Former flags of Antwerp

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Former municipal flags of Antwerp, c. 1900 - Images by Ivan Sache, 12 June 2005

Nouveau Larousse Illustré, Dictionnaire Universel Encyclopédique (7 volumes, published in Paris, 1898-1904) [f9rXXa] shows the flags of the main Belgian cities, then based on the traditional colours of the cities.
Two flags are shown for Antwerp, the first vertically divided red-white and the second horizontally divided red-white.

Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02] says that the flag previously used in Antwerp was vertically divided red-white. The official programme for the 1920 Olympics (image) indeed shows this flag. However, the flag then hoisted on top of the stadium gate (photo) matches the presnt-day flag of Antwerp.

Jan Martens & Ivan Sache, 16 September 2011


Pilot flag in the late 19th century

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Antwerp pilot flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 25 March 2019

Album des pavillons nationaux et des marques distinctives des marines de guerre et de commerce (1889) [f9r89] shows the Antwerp pilot flag as red with "9" in white.

Ivan Sache, 25 March 2019