Grand city hotels and spacious bourgeois residences, churches that reinvent ancient architecture or exotic art nouveau façades that make you dream about bourgeois grandeur… 18th and 19th century Antwerp offers a mosaic of elegant architectural styles.
Eighteenth century architecture moved away from lavish Baroque and reflected the language of classical antiquity and French elegance.Pure classicism was very popular in Antwerp.Those who could afford it, adapted their homes.With their strict symmetry and elegant lineation, the façades of De Groote Robijn, the Osterrieth House and the Hofkamer are sublime examples of classicism. Other examples are the Bishop’s Palace, the hotel Van Ertborn and the country cottages of Middelheim and Sorghvliet. The Bourla theatre is Late Classicistic.
In the 19th century, Antwerp’s residents dreamt of the heyday of yore.That inspired architects to neo-styles and eclectic styles.A neo-style is a total concept:it puts previous styles in a consequential 19th-century jacket. Examples include the neo-Baroque Hanzahuis located in the Suikerrui and the neo-Gothic St George’s church. The eclectic style draws from different movements and combines them into a new total concept.Examples include the hall of Antwerp’s Central Station, the façades in the Leysstraat, the old court of justice and the Museum of Fine Arts. During new city developments at the end of the 19th century, Antwerp’s architects drew from both styles freely. On the Vlaamse Kaai you find neo façades next to an eclectic Zuiderpershuis. On the Cogels-Osylei an eclectic style runs rampant - next to the art nouveau buildings that put the Zurenborg district on the map.
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The Antwerp Central Station, also known as Middenstatie (Middle station) or Spoorwegkathedraal (Railroad Cathedral), was first used in 1905. The structure is made up from a steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. Recently, the station was completely renovated and in 2007 a tunnel underneath the station and a part of Antwerp was opened, reverting the station’s status as a terminus where are all trains have to turn back. In 2009, the American magazine Newsweek chose the Antwerp Central Station as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world.
The secret Vlaeykensgang alley dates from 1591 and connects Hoogstraat, Oude Koornmarkt Pelgrimstraat with one another. Walk through the gate at Oude Koornmarkt 16 and you feel as if you have journeyed back in time. In the past this alley was where the shoemakers and the poorest people in the city lived. The shoemakers were also in charge of sounding the alarm bell of the cathedral. These days you can find antiques stores and art galleries here as well as the exclusive restaurant Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The atmosphere is very intimate which is why many people also like to come here to listen to the carillon concerts during the summertime.
St Anna’s Tunnel – or Underpass, as the locals like to refer to it – was opened in 1933. Both on the left and on the right bank, you can still access the tunnel using the authentic wooden escalators which were unique at the opening.
Those who want to discover medieval Antwerp must dare to look beyond façades and buildings.