Medieval Antwerp

The oldest traces of Antwerp are not found in bricks.Antwerpgrants a view of its distant past to those who dare to look.Discover traces of the medieval city by the river.

The first steps

Antwerp’s oldest memory goes back to the 2nd and 3rd century:that’s when Gallo-Romans settled near Het Steen.After this our archaeological memory stalls… until the 9th century when the Scheldt River physically defined the margraviate Antwerp.An earthen rampart reinforced that border against the Vikings.The city developed behind the ramparts on the right bank. The left bank was foreign territory for centuries.That resonated in the language:people from Antwerp saw ‘those from across the water’ as foreign and hostile.

Het Steen – the first fortress

To defend themselves better, Antwerp’s residents built Het Steen and they dug a wide moat, which they surrounded with a stone fortress wall. The only remains left today are the Steenpoort and a few wall fragments in the Vleeshuisstraat and at Zakstraat number 6. The local population demarcated its terrain with water (ruien), gates and bridges thereby creating a ruien city. You can visit that city… underground. On the 900-year-old path you’ll discover the only remaining medieval Wijngaarde bridge.

Streets and statues

Antwerp’s street layout is a silent witness.The triangular shape of the Grote Markt and the radial street plan, which has largely disappeared, are typical of the Early Middle Ages.Street names with the word “vest” refer to the 13th century when Antwerp’s residents were allowed to confirm their independence within the Duchy of Brabant with defensive moats.The statues at the main entrance of the cathedral are a tangible witness:a tribute to the people who helped spread Christianity.

Jan Crab


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Central Station - copyright Dave Van Laere

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The secret Vlaeykensgang alley dates from 1591 and connects Hoogstraat, Oude Koornmarkt Pelgrimstraat with one another.

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St Anna’s Tunnel – or Underpass, as the locals like to refer to it – was opened in 1933.

Modernism | 20th century - copyright Jan Crab

Modernism | 20th century

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