Three centuries ago the city of Antwerp had in Europe scarcely a rival
in commerce and affluence. To-day Antwerp remains one of the most
populous commercial cities of Belgium, although the period of its
greatest splendour passed with the Spanish persecution under the Duke of
Alva. Not only as a busy port and mart is the city on the Schelde
famous. It has renown as a centre of the arts, as the home of several of
the most illustrious painters of the Flemish school, and as the
birthplace of one of the first academies of painting. As a fortified
town, it has always been of first importance in the defence of Belgium.

The traveller from England, as the Harwich boat steams up Goldsmith’s
“lazy Scheld” at daybreak, in summer-time, sees long grey vistas, on
either side of the estuary, of flat pastures and fertile fields of
grain, spreading away to Bruges to the south, and across the island of
Walcheren, to the north. Flushing comes into sight, its roofs and spires
lit by the rising sun, which quickly lends colour to the landscape, and
reveals a picturesque town, intersected by canals, lined with vessels.
Past islets and sandbanks, upon which sea-birds congregate, the steamer
follows the line of buoys and beacons, until the river, though still
tidal, becomes narrower, and in sixty odd miles from its mouth, washes
the quays of Antwerp.

During this approach to the city by the Schelde an impression is formed
in the mind of the voyager of the ingenious methods of dyke-making,
canal construction, and damming which have so greatly aided in the
prosperity of Holland and Belgium. Antwerp owes its wealth as much to
the toil of the engineer and the agriculturist as to the merchant and
craftsman. Rural Belgium is well populated, except in some parts of the
Ardennes; the farms are tilled with science, the towns and villages of
the Schelde-side are bright and clean, and inhabited by industrious,
thrifty people.

[Illustration: ANTWERP, 1832.


Antwerp probably derives its name from “an t’ werf,” “on the wharf.” Its
position on a deep navigable river was one of the principal causes of
the early commercial supremacy of the city. When Venice, Nuremberg, and
Bruges were declining, the port on the Schelde was in the height of
its repute, and second to Paris in the number of its inhabitants, among
whom but few were poor. In education Antwerp excelled in these fortunate
days, for the schools were admirable, and every burgher’s child could
benefit by the teaching provided by the senate.

Philip II. of Spain, who despised the Flemings and Walloons, and
disliked their loquacity, was received joyously in Antwerp, as
hereditary sovereign of the seventeen Netherlands. The city was gay with
triumphant arches and splendid banners; a gorgeous assemblage of
dignitaries and their servants, with a great troop of soldiers, met the
Spanish sovereign without the gates. His coldness and reserve disturbed
the minds of the citizens. After Philip came the Duke of Alva with his
reign of tyranny, the setting up of the Inquisition in Antwerp, the ruin
of the silk trade, and the vast emigration of the oppressed workers to
other countries, especially to England.

In 1566, William of Orange was in Antwerp, and two years later, as soon
as the prince had left the city, the natives bent to the rule of the
oppressor. The Spaniards, defeated at Brussels, prepared some years
after for an attack upon Antwerp, then the richest city of Belgium. On
a grey wintry morning, the enemy encompassed the walls of the city, the
besieged having been reinforced by an army of Walloons. The fight was
one of the most desperate ever recorded in history. Gaining entrance,
the Spaniards swept up the chief thoroughfares; “the confused mob of
fugitives and conquerors, Spaniards, Walloons, Germans, burghers,”
writes Motley, “struggling, shouting, striking, cursing, dying, swayed
hither and thither like a stormy sea.”

A frightful massacre followed upon the conquest of Antwerp, no less than
eight thousand men, women, and children were put to death by the
ferocious victors.

Merchants were tortured in order to extort from them the hiding-places
of their gold; the poor were killed because they had no store for the
plunderer; and a young bride was torn from the arms of the bridegroom,
and conveyed to a dungeon, where she tried to strangle herself with her
long gold chain. She was stripped of her jewels and dress, beaten, and
flung into the streets, to meet death at the hands of a rabble of
soldiers. Such were the horrors of the capture of Antwerp, to be
followed by the “Spanish Fury,” in which more persons were slain than in
the terrible massacre of St Bartholomew.

The siege of 1830, on 27th October, was one of the most sanguinary
conflicts in modern warfare. Attacked by the implacable General Chassé,
the inhabitants had to face a terrible cannonade. The cathedral was
damaged, the arsenal fired, and the townsfolk crouched in terror in
vaults and cellars, while many of them fled into the open country.

Again in the revolution of 1830, and in 1832, Antwerp was the scene of

From such records of carnage and cruelty, it is a relief to turn the
pages of history till we read of the arts that flourished for so long in
Antwerp. Not only were the wealthy classes of the city cultivated beyond
the standard of many countries of Europe, but the artisans also shared
in the general culture, and cherished respect for art.

Quentin Matsys, whose pictures may be studied in the museum, was one of
the early painters of Antwerp. Rubens and Teniers were both associated
with the city, and their statues stand in the streets. Vandyk is another
famous artist upon the roll of honour of Antwerp, and his image in
marble is in the Rue des Fagots.

Peter Paul Rubens was born in 1577, in Siegen. He was the pupil of
Verhaecht and Van Nort, and afterwards of Otto Van Veen, whom he
assisted in the decoration of Antwerp at the time of the visit of Albert
and Isabella. Rubens travelled in Italy, where he pursued his art
studies, afterwards settling in Antwerp at the beginning of the twelve
years’ truce. Here he painted most of his chief pictures. The works in
the cathedral were finished in 1614.