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Antwerp

23 Apr, 2009

Antwerp: Diamond Capital of Europe

Antwerp

Germanic Frank settlers named Antwerp, Belgium (Antwerpen in Dutch) in the early fourth century, but there is archeological evidence that the city dates to the late third century. Located on the river Scheldt, it changed hands from one monarchy to the next, English, French, and Dutch, until the end of the fifteenth century. At this point, Bruges’ foreign trading houses were moved to Antwerp, and the ancient city suddenly became the economic center for the entire known world. It grew to become the second-largest city in Europe. Governed by bankers, it was controlled by foreigners, and traders from areas such as Venice, Spain, and even Portugal settled there.

This golden age didn’t last, however. After roller-coasting through three separate booms and slumps, the Treaty of Munster in 1648 deemed that the Scheldt be closed to navigation, destroying the trade market until the stipulation expired in 1863. This was relaxed during French rule, and when Napoleon saw the strategic importance of the port city, he decreed that two docks should be built and the city re-fortified. He was right: during World War II, the Germans attempted to bomb the Allied-held port out of existence, but as their missiles tended to hit the city instead, substantial but ineffective damage was done. During reconstruction after the war, the city was modernized throughout.

Today, Antwerp Port is the seventeenth largest in the world, and the docklands are second only to Houston, Texas in petrochemical production. The city Bourse, or exchange market, was built in 1872, one of the oldest still in operation. The city’s art school had an international reputation in the seventeenth century, and its Royal Museum of Fine Arts hold collections from its masters, including Rubens, Jordaens, Van Dyck, and others. More recently, the city’s fashion schools are gaining a cult status. The Antwerp Zoo, one of the oldest in the world, houses more than six thousand animals and is one of the most highly-rated zoos for its outstanding conservation and research. But since its first trading days, there has been a huge gem market. Antwerp is home to the International Gemological Institute and maintains four separate diamond markets. In fact, there is evidence that local traders were responsible for naming the world’s hardest gem. Antwerp remains home to some of the best-rated diamonds in the world.

Antwerp

Antwerp

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