You may know Antwerp in north Belgium for its diamonds. In fact 70% of the world’s diamonds hail from Antwerp.
It is a vibrant city (population 470,000+) for shopping, fashion, business, culture (theatre, opera, museums) and nightlife. Now there is a new reason to visit.
Antwerp has developed part of its harbour and port area into the fashionable “Het Eilandje” (The Little Island). The centrepiece is the 60 metres high MAS – Museum Aan De Stroom (Museum on the River MAS www.MAS.be) which cost 33.5 million Euros and opened to the public on 13 May with a four-day long festival of dance, theatre, films, tours and free visits to the 10-storey urban icon. The MAS is a collection of 470,000 pieces in permanent museums plus temporary exhibitions eg diamonds and silver, a gift shop and museum square for open-air events or just to rest and watch the world go by. The harbour museum shows a non-stop 360° panorama film of shipping movements in the harbour via webcams. There are plenty of choices for good food and delicious Belgian beers. Don’t miss Felix Pakhuis and Het Duvels Genot.
I took my sons on 15 May. We saw exhibitions containing collections from the city’s museums: Life and Death – myths, religions and the impressive collection of Paul and Dora Janssen-Arts with relics from Latin America; A World Port (fantastic collection of ships); Metropolis; Power & Prestige and a temporary exhibition “Masterpieces in the MAS" (until 30/12/2012) with classical and modern art. There is also a floor of storage showing collections which do not fit into the other exhibitions. Plenty for everyone to see and find their favourites.
On the 9th floor is a viewing platform giving an impressive 360° roof panorama over Antwerp through 6m high glass with the occasional open circle to give the best quality photos.
The building itself is built from hand-cut Indian red stone and designed as a giant storehouse with stacked containers or boxes to create a spiral tour with constantly changing views from the curved glass panels on each floor adjacent to the different museums. 3,000 aluminium hands, the symbol of Antwerp, adorn the stone. It is a striking design.
Antwerp is the second most important port in Europe, after Rotterdam, and the 13th busiest worldwide, handling an average volume of 160 million tonnes of international maritime cargo. Its location 80km inland offers the most environmentally-friendly means of cargo transport saving on the carbon footprint of truck movements. 14,000 ships and 55,000 barges call at Antwerp every year. The River Scheldt has been deepened to give a 15m draft.
The MAS has been built between Antwerp’s two oldest ports which have been totally renovated. There is an inner harbour in Willemdok with a high class of boats. Bonapartedok next door will be a museum dock for historic ships.
Antwerp on Wikipedia
You can also fly to Antwerp (Deurne) from London City or take the Eurostarto Brussels then change and arrive at the truly impressive Antwerp Centraal Station which is right next to the city zoo and round the corner from the Diamond centre. Have a look at the flash mob video on YouTube which took place in the station in 2009 to “Do-Re-Mi” from “The Sound of Music”. This promoted Belgium’s own search for a Maria to star in their Flemish speaking musical.
Antwerp is over 500 years old. Have you visited yet?
© Antonia Harrison 2011
Visit Living in Belgium for information on what's on, where to go, photos and useful tips for making life in Belgium more interesting.