Admire UNESCO World Heritage sites in Antwerp
Antwerp is a city with a rich history. You can tell by the many beautiful historical buildings in town, among other things. Some of these buildings have also been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We want to highlight Antwerp’s UNESCO pearls.
1/ Cathedral of Our Lady
The Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, the largest Gothic structure in the Low Countries, is undoubtedly a monument to be proud of! This magnificent cathedral has towered high above the city on the Scheldt for centuries. As such, it has rightly been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1999 as part of the “Belfries in Belgium and France” site.
The cathedral tower is truly impressive: at 123 meters high, it is the city’s belfry. It used to function as a watchtower and warn the people in case of fire with the help of a large storm bell.
But Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp has two towers, a large north tower, and a small south tower. Clearly, they originally wanted to erect two identical towers. So why didn’t that happen? They tried to expand the cathedral in the sixteenth century, so they stopped work on the south tower. Unfortunately, the plans to enlarge the cathedral were halted by a great fire in 1533. A lot of resources went into its repair. In the period that followed, Antwerp found itself in tricky religious waters. As a result, a larger cathedral did not eventually materialize, and the south tower also never reached its full height.
You can visit the cathedral every day. As a resident of the province of Antwerp, you can enter for free, while tourists pay 12 euros. If you ask us, a small price for a visit to a great building. You can also join guided tours of the cathedral. Ask for more info at the front desk or visit www.dekathedraal.be.
2/ The City Hall of Antwerp
The city hall of Antwerp is also part of the group inscription “Belfries in Belgium and France” because the north tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady served as the city hall’s belfry.
Antwerp City Hall is an imposing building even without its “own” belfry tower. It was built in the “golden” sixteenth century when Antwerp was an important international trade metropolis and enjoyed a cultural heyday. The city could pump a lot of money into building the city hall. You can see that in the beautiful Renaissance facade full of details that refer to Antwerp’s past. On the left, you see the Brabant Lion, the coat of arms of the Duchy of Brabant that Antwerp was once part of. In the center is the coat of arms of Philip II, who ruled Antwerp for almost half a century. And on the right, you can see the coat of arms of the Marquisate of Antwerp, which was part of the Roman Empire of the German Nations in the 11th century.
Above the coats of arms is a niche with a statue of Mary, patroness of the city. She stands above the figures of Justice and Prudentia, the symbols of justice and prudence, virtues a city government must surely adhere to.
3/ Museum Plantin-Moretus
In 2005, the Museum Plantin-Moretus became the first museum listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its incredibly well-preserved historic printing house from the 16th century. Indeed, the museum has unique printing equipment, including the two oldest printing presses in the world and more than 90 typefaces with 20,000 lead letters. Christopher Plantin collected books, and today the collection numbers as many as 30,000, including illustrated manuscripts and other gems of European printing. Kiliaan, Dodoens, Ortelius, and Luther all have their place in the house.
To step inside the Plantin-Moretus Museum is to learn about book printing and travel through time. This is because you will find yourself in the former home and studio of the Plantin-Moretus publishing family. It is a beautiful city palace with gold leather on the walls, portraits of Rubens, and an impressive library.
The courtyard with a garden is worth mentioning, where you will discover popular plants from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and experience the city’s silence.
4/ The Beguinage of Antwerp
The Beguinage of Antwerp is a hidden spot in Antwerp’s university district. It has 47 cute little houses, a small church, and a beautiful courtyard garden. It is the old home of Antwerp’s beguines, women who united from the 12th century onward to live an independent life without having to take a monastic vow.
In 1998, 13 Flemish beguinages were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Unfortunately, the Antwerp beguinage is not among them. The Antwerp beguinage is missing from the UNESCO World Heritage List due to poorly executed restorations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Houses were then embellished, among other things, with stepped gables that damaged the authentic character of the beguinage. Then, in the 1960s, apartment blocks were built on the Italiëlei that are clearly visible from the beguinage. An eyesore for UNESCO.
Still, it must be said: the beguinage with its courtyard garden is an oasis of calm in the busy environment of the student district that testify to the fascinating tradition of the beguines. Not a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but still absolutely worth a visit.