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ANTWERPEN : DE 'GROTE MARKT'
Not as big as the 'Grand'Place' of Brussels, but certainly as beautiful is the 'Grote Markt' (= Town Square) of Antwerp. Here is still the heart of the old city. The Grote Markt is beautifully surrounded by the Town Hall and the so-called houses of the Guilds or corporations. In the background the tower of Our Lady's Cathedral completes the magnificent view.
The houses of the Guilds are unfortunately not the original ones. A large part of the Grote Markt burned down in 1576. Most of the houses were rebuilt afterwards by Hans Vredeman, the town architect, in Flemish Renaissance style. In the 19th century the houses were again renovated. The house number 7 is one of the most beautiful. It was the house of the guild of Archers and is crowned by the statue of St. George. The house number 25 , a reconstruction of a house that used to stand at the 'Meir' is situated on the spot were an Inn used to stand. This Inn was mentioned in the medieval play of 'Marieken van Nieumwhegen'. Nowadays the Grote Markt is one of the most pleasant squares in the city (certainly since traffic has been banned from it). During beautiful warm summer days most people choose this spot to enjoy a refreshing beer from one of the many terraces.
In the middle of the 'Grote Markt' stands the Brabo fountain. The statue was made by sculptor Jef Lambeaux in 1887. According to a legend, a terrible giant, called Druoon Antigoon, lived on the banks of the river Scheldt in ancient times. Whenever sailors on the Scheldt river refused to pay toll to the giant, he punished them by cutting off their hand. A Roman soldier, Silvius Brabo, managed to kill the giant. Brabo cut off the hand of the giant and threw the hand away in the river.
ANTWERPEN : DE 'GROENPLAATS'
The town square 'Grote Markt' is the most beautiful square of the city of Antwerp as well as the historical heart of it. The most popular square, however, is certainly the 'Groenplaats' (= Green Square). The square used to be a parking lot. But recently, the parking has been built underground, and the Groenplaats is rapidly finding back its charm of old.On warm afternoons the square can be really packed with people (tourists as wells as Antwerpians) who all enjoy a good beer (or something else) on the numerous terraces.
The right side of the square is dominated by the late 19th century imposing building of the Hilton Hotel. It used to be the 'Grand Bazar', one of the leading Belgian department stores. Behind the Hilton Hotel is now a pleasant and spacious covered The Groenplaats is dominated by Our Lady's Cathedral. In medieval times the cemetery of the cathedral was located here. Around the square are numerous restaurants and cafés where many famous artists spent their time. In the middle of the Groenplaats the statue of Rubens can be seen. It was made in 1843 by sculptor Geefs. Very beautiful is the facade of the 'Karbonkelhuis' at number 33. This former 'diamond house' is an example of the Renaissance style. The name of the house is derived from the diamond head decoration at the ground floor.
Much like in most other cities in Belgium, the contrast in architectural styles is not absent at the Groenplaats. The Gothic tower of the Cathedral finds a 20th century answer in the 'Boerentoren'. This tower is the seat of the Kredietbank, one of the important Belgian banks. It was built in 1930 in art deco style. It is 97 m high and is considered by most as the first 'skyscraper' in Europe. The Antwerpians call it the 'Boerentoren' (= farmers tower) because the farmers were the most important clients of the Kredietbank in the first half of the 20th century.
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