Tag Archives: Belgium

12 June 2013 Antwerp, Belgium: Pulling Back the Curtain

The Stadhus or City Hall of Antwerp is one of the most dramatic structures in this beautiful city. Built between 1561 and 1565 in a pleasingly off-kilter mix of Renaissance with Flemish and Italian influences, and decorated originally with female figures representing Justice, Prudence, and the Virgin Mary today it is festooned with flags of the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, and any number of other organizations.

In an ancient form of flattery,the Green Gate in Gdansk, Poland is obviously modeled after the same building,

According to folklore, and as celebrated by the statue in front of the town hall, Antwerp got its name from a mythical giant called Antigoon who lived near the river Scheldt.

He exacted a toll from those crossing the river, and for those who refused, he severed one of their hands and threw it into the river Scheldt.

Eventually, the giant was slain by a young hero named Brabo, who cut off the giant’s own hand and flung it into the river.

Hence the name Antwerpen, from the Dutch hand werpen, roughly translated as To throw a hand.

There are other theories for the name, including the meaning “On the Wharf” or “At the Wharf” but I prefer to give a hand to Antigoon.

Out front of the City Hall on the Grote Markt (Great Market Squareis a statue of Brabo and Antigoon, and no tour (or tourist) can come to town without pausing there.

But very few get to pull back the curtain and see the interior of the City Hall.

On our visit to Antwerp this time, we had a private appointment to enter the huge building, and it was a trip back in time. Here is some of what I saw:

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Antwerp City Hall with the statue of Brabo

ALL PHOTOS Copyright 2013, Corey Sandler. If you would like to obtain a copy of these or any other photos from my collection, please contact me by e-mail, at: corey@sandlerbooks.com

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A side street off the Great Market Square

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Inside the main hall of Antwerp City Hall

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11 June 2013 Ypres, Belgium: Where Everything New is Old Again

Belgium has a grand history, not all of it glorious. Much of Flanders, including the once-great city of Ypres. was flattened in World War I or World War II.

Oostende, where Silver Cloud docked this morning, was leveled by Allied air raids against the German occupiers in World War II and was rebuilt–but the result is mostly a city of the 1950s and 1960s, which is not my favorite architectural period.

The trick in Oostende is to look carefully between the featureless box buildings for the relatively few surviving old facades.

In Ypres, the city was reduced to rubble by shelling in the awful Great War. But here, the core of the medieval city was painstakingly recreated. It is quite easy to forget that the spectacular Gothic structures–some from the 15th century–were reconstructed less than 100 years ago.

And there is beautiful Bruges, one of the most magnificent cities of the world. It is very much a veritcal town; visitors who keep their eyes at street level miss half of the sights.

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Oostende is a place where you need to look between to see history. The Belgian port was heavily bombed in World War II by the Allies, and also by the retreating German forces. It was not rebuilt in its old style, and so you must instead look for vestiges sandwiched between modern (and undistinguished) structures of the 1950s and later.

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Parking lot in Oostende outside the Central Station. Trains run to Bruges and Ghent. There’s also a coastal tram that does north and south to the Netherlands and France.

I made a visit to Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium. These were the almost indescribaly horrific killing fields of World War I.

Just as one example, more than 400,000 soldiers were killed in 100 days in fighting over a few miles of mud near the insignificant village of Passchendaele (now known as Passendale). 

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Part of the Tyne Cot cemetery near Passendale, where more than 11,500 soldiers from Commonweath nations are buried.

After the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, when German forces unleased a lethal barrage of explosive and gas weapons, the Canadian doctor John McCare wrote a poem that has lived on as a truly evocative memorial to World War I. The poem was, “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow,

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.


Ypres itself is an astounding place. About five million British and Commonwealth soldiers pased through Ypres on their way to the Salient–a wrinkle in the front line that the Allies were determined to straighten while the German Forces were trying to encircle and cut off the troops who were there.

The city, home of some great structures that date back to the 14th and 15th century, was almost completely destroyed by German shelling. And yet, today, it is there to be seen.

It is hard not to forget that nearly everything in Ypres has been reconstructed in the last hundred years. Some buildings were not completed until the late 1960s. And even today, hundreds of tons of century-old weapons are still being found in the fields of Flanders; every few years an unfortunate farmer or a misguided collector becomes yet another victim of the truly misnamed Great War.

Here are parts of Ypers today.

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