1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Antwerp (city)

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13690271911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2 — Antwerp (city)

ANTWERP (Fr. Anvers), capital of the above province, an important city on the right bank of the Scheldt, Belgium’s chief centre of commerce and a strong fortified position.

Modern Antwerp is a finely laid out city with a succession of broad avenues which mark the position of the first enceinte. There are long streets and terraces of fine houses belonging to the merchants and manufacturers of the city which amply testify to its prosperity, and recall the 16th century distich that Antwerp was noted for its moneyed men (“Antwerpia nummis”). Despite the ravages of war and internal disturbances it still preserves some memorials of its early grandeur, notably its fine cathedral. This church was begun in the 14th century, but not finished till 1518. Its tower of over 400 ft. is a conspicuous object to be seen from afar over the surrounding flat country. A second tower which formed part of the original plan has never been erected. The proportions of the interior are noble, and in the church are hung three of the masterpieces of Rubens, viz. “The Descent from the Cross,” “The Elevation of the Cross,” and “The Assumption.” Another fine church in Antwerp is that of St James, far more ornate than the cathedral, and containing the tomb of Rubens, who devoted himself to its embellishment. The Bourse or exchange, which claims to be the first distinguished by the former name in Europe, is a fine new building finished in 1872, on the site of the old Bourse erected in 1531 and destroyed by fire in 1858. Fire has destroyed several other old buildings in the city, notably in 1891 the house of the Hansa League on the northern quays. A curious museum is the Maison Plantin, the house of the great printer C. Plantin (q.v.) and his successor Moretus, which stands exactly as it did in the time of the latter. The new picture gallery close to the southern quays is a fine building divided into ancient and modern sections. The collection of old masters is very fine, containing many splendid examples of Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian and the chief Dutch masters. Antwerp, famous in the middle ages and at the present time for its commercial enterprise, enjoyed in the 17th century a celebrity not less distinct or glorious in art for its school of painting, which included Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens, the two Teniers and many others.

Commerce.—Since 1863, when Antwerp was opened to the trade of the outer world by the purchase of the Dutch right to levy toll, its position has completely changed, and no place in Europe has made greater progress in this period than the ancient city on the Scheldt. The following figures for the years 1904 and 1905 show that its trade is still rapidly increasing:—

Year. Exports. Imports.
Tonnage. Value. Tonnage. Value.

The growth of its commerce in recent times may be measured by a comparison of the following figures. In 1888, 4272 ships entered the port and 4302 sailed from it. In 1905, 6095 entered the port and 6065 sailed from it—an increase of nearly 50%. In 1888 the total tonnage was 7,800,000; in 1905 it had risen to 19,662,000. These figures explain how and why Antwerp has outgrown its dock accommodation. The eight principal basins or docks already existing in 1908 were (1) the Little or Bonaparte dock; (2) the Great dock, also constructed in Napoleon’s time; (3) the Kattendijk, built in 1860 and enlarged in 1881; (4) the Wood dock; (5) the Campine dock, used especially for minerals; (6) the Asia dock, which is in direct communication with the Meuse by a canal as well as with the Scheldt; (7) the Lefebvre dock; and (8) the America dock, which was only opened in 1905. Two new docks, called “intercalary” because they would fit into whatever scheme might be adopted for the rectification of the course of the Scheldt, were still to be constructed, leading out of the Lefebvre dock and covering 70 acres. With the completion of the new maritime lock, ships drawing 30 ft. of water would be able to enter these new docks and also the Lefebvre and America docks. In connexion with the projected grande coupure (that is, a cutting through the neck of the loop in the river Scheldt immediately below Antwerp), the importance of these four docks would be greatly increased because they would then flank the new main channel of the river. When the Belgian Chambers voted in February 1906 the sums necessary for the improvement of the harbour of Antwerp no definite scheme was sanctioned, the question being referred to a special mixed commission. The improvements at Antwerp are not confined to the construction of new docks. The quays flanking the Scheldt are 31/2 m. in length. They are constructed of granite, and no expense has been spared in equipping them with hydraulic cranes, warehouses, &c.

Fortifications.—Besides being the chief commercial port of Belgium, Antwerp is the greatest fortress of that country. Nothing, however, remains of the former enceinte or even of the famous old citadel defended by General Chassé in 1832, except the Steen, which has been restored and contains a museum of arms and antiquities. After the establishment of Belgian independence Antwerp was defended only by the citadel and an enceinte of about 21/2 m. round the city. No change occurred till 1859, when the system of Belgian defence was radically altered by the dismantlement of seventeen of the twenty-two fortresses constructed under Wellington’s supervision in 1815–1818. At Antwerp the old citadel and enceinte were removed. A new enceinte 8 m. in length was constructed, and the villages of Berchem and Borgerhout, now parishes of Antwerp, were absorbed within the city. This enceinte still exists, and is a fine work of art. It is protected by a broad wet ditch (plans in article Fortification), and in the caponiers are the magazines and store chambers of the fortress. The enceinte is pierced by nineteen openings or gateways, but of these seven are not used by the public. As soon as the enceinte was finished eight detached forts from 2 to 21/2 m. distant from the enceinte were constructed. They begin on the north near Wyneghem and the zone of inundation, and terminate on the south at Hoboken. In 1870 Fort Merxem and the redoubts of Berendrecht and Oorderen were built for the defence of the area to be inundated north of Antwerp. In 1878, in consequence of the increased range of artillery and the more destructive power of explosives, it was recognized that the fortifications of Antwerp were becoming useless and out of date. It was therefore decided to change it from a fortress to a fortified position by constructing an outer line of forts and batteries at a distance varying from 6 to 9 m. from the enceinte. This second line was to consist of fifteen forts, large and small. Up to 1898 only five had been constructed, but in that and the two following years five more were finished, leaving another five to complete the line. A mixed commission selected the points at which they were to be placed. With the completion of this work, which in 1908 was being rapidly pushed on, Antwerp might be regarded as one of the best fortified positions in Europe, and so long as its communications by sea are preserved intact it will be practically impregnable.

Two subsidiary or minor problems remained over. (1) The much-discussed removal of the existing enceinte in order to give Antwerp further growing space. If it were removed there arose the further question, should a new enceinte be made at the first line of outer forts, or should an enceinte be dispensed with? An enceinte following the line of those forts would be 30 m. in length. Then if the city grew up to this extended enceinte the outer forts would be too near. To screen the city from bombardment they would have to be carried 3 m. further out, and the whole Belgian army would scarcely furnish an adequate garrison for this extended position. A new enceinte, or more correctly a rampart of a less permanent character, connecting the eight forts of the inner line and extending from Wyneghem to a little south of Hoboken, was decided upon in 1908. (2) The second problem was the position on the left bank of the Scheldt. All the defences enumerated are on the right bank. On the left bank the two old forts Isabelle and Marie alone defend the Scheldt. It is assumed (probably rightly) that no enemy could get round to this side in sufficient strength to deliver any attack that the existing forts could not easily repel. The more interesting question connected with the left bank is whether it does not provide, as Napoleon thought, the most natural outlet for the expansion of Antwerp. Proposals to connect the two banks by a tunnel under the Scheldt have been made from time to time in a fitful manner, but nothing whatever had been done by 1908 to realize what appears to be a natural and easy project.

Population.—The following statistics show the growth of population in and since the 19th century. In 1800 the population was computed not to exceed 40,000. At the census of 1846 the total was 88,487; of 1851, 95,501; of 1880, 169,100; of 1900, 272,830; and of 1904, 291,949. To these figures ought to be added the populations (1904) of Borgerhout (43,391) and Berchem (26,383), as they are part of the city, which would give Antwerp a total population of 361,723.

History.—The suggested origin of the name Antwerp from Hand-werpen (hand-throwing), because a mythical robber chief indulged in the practice of cutting off his prisoners’ hands and throwing them into the Scheldt, appeared to Motley rather far-fetched, but it is less reasonable to trace it, as he inclines to do, from an t werf (on the wharf), seeing that the form Andhunerbo existed in the 6th century on the separation of Austrasia and Neustria. Moreover, hand-cutting was not an uncommon practice in Europe. It was perpetuated from a savage past in the custom of cutting off the right hand of a man who died without heir, and sending it as proof of main-morte to the feudal lord. Moreover, the two hands and a castle, which form the arms of Antwerp, will not be dismissed as providing no proof by any one acquainted with the scrupulous care that heralds displayed in the golden age of chivalry before assigning or recognizing the armorial bearings of any claimant.

In the 4th century Antwerp is mentioned as one of the places in the second Germany, and in the 11th century Godfrey of Bouillon was for some years best known as marquis of Antwerp. Antwerp was the headquarters of Edward III. during his early negotiations with van Artevelde, and his son Lionel, earl of Cambridge, was born there in 1338.

It was not, however, till after the closing of the Zwyn and the decay of Bruges that Antwerp became of importance. At the end of the 15th century the foreign trading gilds or houses were transferred from Bruges to Antwerp, and the building assigned to the English nation is specifically mentioned in 1510. In 1560, a year which marked the highest point of its prosperity, six nations, viz. the Spaniards, the Danes and the Hansa together, the Italians, the English, the Portuguese and the Germans, were named at Antwerp, and over 1000 foreign merchants were resident in the city. Guicciardini, the Venetian envoy, describes the activity of the port, into which 500 ships sometimes passed in a day, and as evidence of the extent of its land trade he mentioned that 2000 carts entered the city each week. Venice had fallen from its first place in European commerce, but still it was active and prosperous. Its envoy, in explaining the importance of Antwerp, states that there was as much business done there in a fortnight as in Venice throughout the year.

The religious troubles that marked the second half of the 16th century broke out in Antwerp as in every other part of Belgium excepting Liége. In 1576 the Spanish soldiery plundered the town during what was called “the Spanish Fury,” and 6000 citizens were massacred. Eight hundred houses were burnt down, and over two millions sterling of damage was wrought in the town on that occasion.

In 1585 a severe blow was struck at the prosperity of Antwerp when Parma captured it after a long siege and sent all its Protestant citizens into exile. The recognition of the independence of the United Provinces by the treaty of Münster in 1648 carried with it the death-blow to Antwerp’s prosperity as a place of trade, for one of its clauses stipulated that the Scheldt should be closed to navigation. This impediment remained in force until 1863, although the provisions were relaxed during French rule from 1795 to 1814, and also during the time Belgium formed part of the kingdom of the Netherlands (1815 to 1830). Antwerp had reached the lowest point of its fortunes in 1800, and its population had sunk under 40,000, when Napoleon, realizing its strategical importance, assigned two millions for the construction of two docks and a mole.

One other incident in the chequered history of Antwerp deserves mention. In 1830 the city was captured by the Belgian insurgents, but the citadel continued to be held by a Dutch garrison under General Chassé. For a time this officer subjected the town to a periodical bombardment which inflicted much damage, and at the end of 1832 the citadel itself was besieged by a French army. During this attack the town was further injured. In December 1832, after a gallant defence, Chassé made an honourable surrender.

See J. L. Motley’s Rise of the Dutch Republic; C. Scribanii, Origines Antwerpiensium; Gens, Hist. de la ville d’Anvers; Mertens and Torfs, Geschiedenis van Antwerp; Génard, Anvers à travers les âges; Annuaire statistique de la Belgique.  (D. C. B.)