Antwerp: Europe's Latter-Day and Modern-Day Gem

Antwerp is one of the most charming and culturally fascinating cities in Europe, ans its dimensions and geography make it ideally suited for visitors with only a few days to spare. Located 45 kilometres north of Brussels, it is the capital of Flanders, Belgium's second largest metropolis and Europe's third largest port.

It is a place of contrasts. The cobble stone streets and expansive square of its old city, which is dominated by the cathedral standing majestically on the east side of the Schelde-river, tell of Antwerp's 16th century heydey, when it was a European commercial centre second in importance only to Paris. Then, it dominated the pepper, silver, textiles and eventually diamond trades.

Much of the vast wealth generated at the time was poured into beautifying Antwerp, which housed a thriving artistic community. Among the local members of the Flemish Baroque School were Jacob Jordaens, Anthony van Dyck, and most famously Peter Paul Rubens, whose house and studio can still be visited.

Home to one of the world's most celebrated design schools, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, in 1986 the Antwerp Six burst on to the world fashion scene, changing the world of couture and cementing the city's well deserved reputation as a haven for innovation, quality and the avant-garde. Some of that group, like Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, remain headquartered in its popular fashion quarter.

It is said that there are 2.500 taverns in Antwerp, or one for every 200 inhabitants, and the city also is the club-going capital of Belgium. But Antwerp is also a culinary centre, with hundreds of restaurants reflecting both its local and cosmopolitan character.

For many Antwerp is most a closely associated with the gemstone trade, and today some 85 percent of the diamonds traded worldwide each year pass through its Diamond District, which is a one-square kilometer area housing four diamond exchanges, 1.500 of the world's most important diamond companies, and thousands of dealers and manufacturers from about 160 countries.

For more information about Antwerp, visit the city's official tourist website at www.visitantwerpen.be.

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