Belgium

Antwerpen Centraal

Antwerpen Centraal is definitely one of the most beautiful railway stations in Europe, sometimes even called the railway cathedral, for the roof over its waiting hall is crowned by a dome.

Originally it was a terminus station built 1895-1905. The waiting hall building is a real architectural pearl. Still, its construction structure was severely damaged during World War II bombings. A profound refurbishment was needed in the late XX century.  Glass and other roof components were replaced by lighter artificial materials to cope with the structural damage inflicted by the bombs.

Between dreams and reality

Brussels is a meeting place for people of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds. On trips when it is not just fly-in-fly-out the same day, it is worth to ask around what to do in free time. A couple of months ago while in Brussels, a colleague of mine proposed to go to an art museum devoted to the Belgian surrealist René Magritte.

Our Lady of Antwerp

The interior of this huge Gothic cathedral dominating over over old city of Antwerp seems very austere. You will not see there not much gold. But the thirty-four huge stained glass windows, detailed carpentry, and huge paintings displayed in the side naves are real eye-catchers. Already, at first sight, you are under the impression, the Cathedral is an art gallery. You may admire here the works by Rubens as well as other Flemish (or Belgian) masters.

Indeed, until the Reformation and the French revolution, pillars, chapel altars and walls of the Cathedral were decorated by great paintings of Flemish masters. During the religious and revolutionary struggles, many works were destroyed, removed, stolen, or sold. Ultimately, the Flemish authorities could recover works that survived. In 2009, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp returned eight of the most beautiful altarpieces to the Cathedral. Furthermore, from 2009, eight other works, mainly triptychs, are on loan from the Museum and had been integrated into the Cathedral’s current interior.

Walking the streets of historical Ghent

Ghent is a city in Belgium in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking Northern Belgium).  Already in the first Millennium, it was the location of two important abbeys and a trading center. Ghent was inland and maritime port thanks to its sea access through rivers and later artificial canals.

With two Viking invasions of IXth century, Ghent lost for some time its splendor. Later in the Middle Ages, the city revived again and became one of the largest and wealthiest cities of Northern Europe. It was inhabited by more than 60,000 people at its peak. It was mostly to the corn trade. Each ship that went through Ghent was obliged to sell one forth of its cargo in the city-owned corn market. Ghent was also a thriving cloth manufacturing center trading intensively with England and Scotland.

The Grand Place No. 9 & 10

Grand Place, Brussels, on the absolutely must-see list while in Belgium. The probably most beautiful main square in Europe. In the middle of the photo above you may see the houses no. 9 and 10.

No. 9 Grand Place, Le Cygne, or The Swan is known as the butchers’ guildhall. 

No. 10 Grand Place, La Maison des Brasseurs (Brewer’s Guildhall) otherwise is called Maison de l’Arbre d’Or (Golden Tree House).

Beurse. The very roots of exchange trading

The first official exchanges did not emerge from nowhere. In the early middle ages, commodity trading at seasonal fairs was practiced in many European countries from South to North. But only in a few places, the trade was genuinely international. Later on, the so-called entrepot cities emerged where business was thriving all year long. One of the principal harbors that serviced that time the trading routes in Northern Europe was Bruges. (Due to some natural sea movement Bruges lost, however, its position to Antwerp in XVI century). So, merchants from all around Europe met in the city of Bruges to perform their trades.

Quite naturally, the local inns (taverns) were their meeting point. Innkeepers provided food and shelter to foreign merchants, but also warehousing space, commercial credit (even standing surety for their debts) and references. They connected foreigners with buyers or sellers and helped to negotiate deals. One of them was an inn called ‘The Three Purses’.