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Antwerp - Holidays & Travel Review


Antwerp Central Station clockIn a hurry to buy diamonds? A quick route is from St Pancras by Eurostar in 2 1/2 hours to Brussels with onward trains to Antwerp every few minutes at no extra fare. 

Antwerp Central station itself is built like a cathedral, and even the station clock is set like a piece of jewellery.

Out of the station, just turn left and every shop under the railway arches and across the road is selling diamonds. At least 200 yards of diamond-shopping displays all the way.

The stores are open every day, Sunday to Friday, but never on Saturday. 

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Eurostar - - ticket to Brussels also includes onward train to anywhere in Belgium.

Must see:

Museum of Fine Arts: Tram 4 or 8 from Groenplaats.
City Hall, Guild Houses and Brabo Fountain in Grote Markt, with Tourist Information Office at no. 13.
Steen Castle - on waterfront close to Grote Markt - housing a Maritime Museum.
The Meir - the main shopping street.
Fashion Museum - Opened in 2002 in a renovated historical building, which also houses Flanders Fashion Institute, the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Special for Rubens

Every August a market  in the Grote Markt  honours 
Rubens. Traders dress in period costume, turning the market into a replica of one of his works. Check exact date.

More information: Tourism Flanders-Brussels, Flanders House, 1a Cavendish Square, London W1G 0LD. Tel: London W1G OLD. Tel: live operator 0207 307 7738.  Brochure line: 0800 954 5245. 
 Also check Tourism Antwerp .

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Here's the historic quarter of Antwerp that's built entirely on rocks. In Hoveniersstraat around the corner, four diamond exchanges operate in the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, where over 1000 companies are clustered in a network of diamond cutting shops and jewellery stores.

Diamondland is Antwerp's largest showroom, where you can see craftsmen busily cutting, polishing and setting. If you want to know still more, take a right out of Central Station, and a one-minute walk brings you to the Diamond Museum, to dazzle your eyes in a treasure chamber of sparklers.

This area is thick with hotels and eating places in all price ranges. Only two minutes from the station is a tightly packed zone of Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants from Indonesian and Japanese to Thai, Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, the lot. 

Any season is great for an Antwerp short break. If you're an art lover looking for a specific reason to visit, the city is teeming with reminders of how to learn more about Antwerp's world-famed 17th-century master painter, Peter Paul Rubens. 

You can find how Rubens influenced the image and evolution of the city, and the history of art itself. Many contemporary or later painters were inspired by Rubens' baroque style.

If you prefer wandering around at your own pace, rather than taking a guided tour, the tourist office makes it easy by publishing a walking-trail booklet. 

Follow in the footsteps of Rubens and you'll better understand the versatility and genius that made him one of the most impressive figures of baroque painting. The walks focus especially on all the Rubens links around the medieval city centre. You'll really get to know the town which the artist knew so well.

Start by taking tram 2, 3 or 15 to Groenplaats. In most of Antwerp's medieval centre the walker is king. Trams run underground like subways, and then pop out where they don't spoil the scenery. It's worth learning the system, saving you the long wait from calling a cab.

Rubens, with the Cathedral spire overlooking GroenplaatsGroenplaats centres on a bronze statue of Rubens, dressed as a diplomat. Pigeons find it a handy perching place, while watching for crumbs from tourists who picnic in the square when the sun is shining.

Overlooking the scene is the slender 400-ft spire of the Cathedral. Just a minute's walk along a cobbled street lined with eating places of all flavours and cuisines brings you to Handschoenmarkt where traders sold furs and gloves in Rubens' day.

That's the main entrance into the Cathedral, where four works by Rubens are hung. 'The Raising of the Cross' and 'The Descent from the Cross' established him as the top painter of northwestern Europe. 

Commissions and contracts poured in from wealthy patrons who hung their walls with paintings from eye level to the ceiling. Other churches in Antwerp also wanted a Rubens, and several still have them. The palatial facade of the Rubens House

But during the French Revolution the best art-works were looted and found new homes in France. Those that were kept in Paris returned to Antwerp after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The remainder stayed in France, including Lille, while others were sold off to England, America or elsewhere.

Rubens doubled as a shrewd business man, and became very rich through his production line techniques. A typical contract was for 39 ceiling paintings. Young van Dyck was his chief assistant to supervise the apprentices who did the easy bits.

The house that Rubens bought in the richest part of town was enlarged into an Italian-style palace that doubled as the production studio. With so much wealth, Rubens became a collector himself of books, coins, cameos, drawings, sculptures and paintings. His library was among the largest in Antwerp.

Although the entire contents were sold off after his death, the inventory has enabled the interior of the Rubens House to be re-created in the original style. Don't miss it!

Another must-see is the Plantin-Moretus Printing Museum on the Friday Market. Dating from the same period as the Rubens House, the mansion combined a publishing and printing business with elegant living, a rich art collection and books and manuscripts. 

It features the only completely equipped office and 16th-century printing presses in the world, and has UNESCO World Heritage status.

Antwerp town hall, and a popular statue that depicts the legend of the city's nameRubens was a close friend of the publisher, illustrated some of the firm's books, designed title pages and controlled engravings of his own paintings. The mass production of prints added to Rubens' income, and established a form of copyright protection.

You can't see all of Antwerp in a day. Reckon at least a long weekend to get the full flavour of the world capital of rocks and Rubens. 


Read what else to see in Belgium

BELGIUM - Flanders in a nutshell

BRUGES - fast track to the Middle Ages

BRUSSELS - visiting a Grande Place 

FLANDERS - Visit Ypres for Flanders Fields

GHENT - A central base for Belgium's art cities

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Matt's Old Masters: Titian, Rubens, Velasquez, Hogarth by Matthew Collings - Brings to life the work and styles of four great masters in their historical context.

Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides) - Covers all four of the great art cities of Flanders, listing out the Top Ten sights, museums, restaurants, chocolate shops etc in each city.

Flemish Cities Explored: Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Mechelen, Leuven and Ostend (Pallas for Pleasure)  by Anthony Blunt - Excellent choice for anyone who wants to stay longer in Belgium, and explore the highlights in detail on foot.

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