Tag: barok

Conscienceplein: start of a new era (2)

The library

Last Thursday I ended by talking about the building on the west side of the Conscienceplein: the sodalities. After the pope had abolished the jesuits in 1773 the buildings and everything in them were publicly sold. The building the sodalities had occupied in the previous years got different functions. It was a workshop, warehouse, dancing hall, public bar (a brewer’s advertisement can still be noticed) and so on. In 1879 the City Council bought the building to house the town’s library.

map Conscienceplein
Map Conscienceplein (source Googlemaps)

In fact there were two: a library of old, valuable books and manuscripts and a library where people could rent the more current type of books. That is why at the end of the 19th century a statue of Hendrik Conscience was placed in the niche of the sodality. Hendrik Conscience at that time was the most important author in Flemish literature, as popular in Flanders as Victor Hugo was in France.

From about 1622 till the French revolutionaries demolished it, a statue of the Holy Virgin has stood in the same niche.

You can find the entrance to the library now in Korte Nieuwstraat. Guided visits are organised and the 19th century ‘Nottebohmzaal’ certainly is worth a visit. These visits start from the green door in the south-west corner of the square. [http://www.consciencebibliotheek.be/en]

The church

The building opposite the sodalities/library is the old jesuits’ church devoted to Saint Carl-Borromeus. It is generally accepted that Rubens had a hand in the decorations of the façade and of the bell-tower which you can find at the back-side along Sint-Kathelijnevest.

It is clear the church is built in the typical jesuitstyle as laid out by the Roman Il Gesù Church. Giving a detailed description here would lead us too far, so have a little patience.

The square

Young people at the iceblock blockades.
Young people at the iceblock blockades. (Source: Mhka).

In the 1960’s this square was the scene of an artistic uprising, joined by many young people in town to put an end to the reign of the Car. Using huge blocks of ice they blocked off the entrance to the square for cars. Musicians, artists, dancers and pedestrians took over the space. The uprising was a success and not only the square, but also the surrounding streets became the very first pedestrian zone in Antwerp. Of course for weddings and funerals car can still enter the square.

Short video fragment (Dutch commentary).

Conscienceplein: start of a new era (1)

The Conscienceplein, situated in front of the Carolus-Borromeüs church, is an interesting place to visit in more than one way. It is an early example of urbanism, has some very interesting examples of baroque architecture and in the latter part of the previous century it became the very first pedestrians only zone in town.

Early Urbanism

A simulation of Antwerp around 1200
A simulation of Antwerp around 1200 seen from the west

Around 1200 the city was surrounded by a series of canals that started in the south with Suikerrui which ran into Kaasrui, then continued to Wijngaardbrug all the way to Koepoortbrug and eventually ended in Koolkaai which ran into the river.

By the 17th century the city had grown and now was defended by a huge wall that ran in a semicircle around town. The present day ‘boulevard’ (Italiëlei, Frankrijklei, Britselei, Amerikalei) is built on the remains of this defensive wall. That meant that the town no longer needed the old ruien-system for defensive reasons. People had been using them as sewers, so they must have stunk very badly when the weather was hot. Therefore the authorities encouraged owners to cover the canal bordering their property. Sometimes the land was given for free.

In come the Jesuits

When you come from City Hall or the cathedral, you enter Conscienceplein from the west. Take a look at the smaller houses on your left (north side). At one time the whole square was full of houses like these. When the jesuits returned to Antwerp in the early 17th century, about half of the population had fled the town and the Spanish authorities. Most of them had gone to Amsterdam, Haarlem and other Dutch cities and taken their trade with them.

A view of the jesuits' lodgings and the sodalities on Conscienceplein
A view of the jesuits’ lodgings (left) and the sodalities (right)

Anyway, many older houses stood empty and the jesuits decided to create their stronghold on Conscienceplein. Unlike other religious orders jesuits do not live in cloisters or abbeys. They lived together in a house like the one you see on the south side of the square. In this part of the buildings the jesuits also opened a college where they trained young men in the classic languages.

Underneath these buildings on the south side of Conscienceplein, the old ‘rui’ still flew, turning to the north to pass underneath the church and flow into what is now the Minderbroedersrui.

The building on the west side housed two ‘sodalities’. These were congregations of lay men (the single ones on the second floor, the married ones on the first floor) devoted to the service of the Holy Mother.

Rubens was a member of the sodality on the first floor, Van Dyck took part on the second floor. Both made nice paintings and decorations for their sodality, but unfortunately the Austrians took them at the moment the jesuit order was abolished in 1773. We must now travel to Vienna to get a glimpse of these works.

To be continued

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