Tag: spazieren

A quiet spot in the middle of town: the Antwerp beguinage

Entrance to the beguinage in the Rodestraat
Entrance to the beguinage in the Rodestraat

A beguine is a woman who lives together with fellow sisters inside a beguinage, a little secluded from the world. Like a nun she has vowed to obey the convent’s head-mistress (grootjoffer), to live a life of poverty and chastity . Unlike a nun she can always leave the community she is living in.


The first beguines appeared around the era of the crusades. The many wars in Europe and the crusades themselves had resulted in a surplus of women. For many of them it had become impossible to find a suitable mate. Moreover very often they could not raise the dowry to enter a classical convent. So they started forming groups of women who lived together and performed chores to earn their living.

Among these chores were laundry work, nursing, teaching, lacework and the like. At first the Church authorities regarded them with some mistrust. They feared it might result in a new form of heresy, but gradually the Church accepted these half-nuns. Usually a monk, mainly franciscan or dominican, looked after them and guided them in their religious life.

A view of a street inside the beguinage
A view of a street inside the beguinage

In the twentieth century the number of beguines dropped drastically. Nowadays there are no beguines anymore. At least not in our region. In some German towns like Hamburg e.g. a new beguinage arose, although the religious aspect is not always as important as it used to. These present day beguines do not live in a hierarchically ordered society either.


Almost every town in the Netherlands used to have a beguinage. Some cities had more than one. In its heydays a beguinage could count 150 to 160 beguines which was a bit difficult to manage. So very often they founded a new one.

In 1998 13 Flemish beguinages were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Unfortunately the Antwerp one wasn’t. The Antwerp beguinage used to border the city walls. In World War II the area suffered tremendously from bombings and in the 1960’s blocks of flats were built. The backsides of these blocks now befoul the view from the beguinage.

Still: the beguinage with its interior garden is an oasis in the otherwise busy environment of the students’ quarter. The center of the Antwerp University and the Ossenmarkt with its many bars, lie just around the corner. If you go there, respect the quiet of the place, please.

More information on Flemish beguinages can be found here.

Parks in and around town (1)

A view from the bridge in City Park
Source: Joods Actueel

Like all cities worldwide, Antwerp too has its share of parks. We have a few nice parks in the city itself. Many more are situated in the bordering districts like Merksem, Deurne, Borgerhout, Wilrijk. Up till the end of the 20th century these districts used to be separate villages, but then they fused into Greater Antwerp and became districts.

City Park

One of the most interesting parks in the city itself is Stadspark (City Park) in a triangle bounded by Rubenslei, Quinten Matsijslei and Van Eycklei: three great painters from three different eras. Rubens is the giant of  baroque painting. Quinten Matsijs is a renaissance painter. He founded the Antwerp School and Jan and his brother Hubert Van Eyck are Flemish painters of the gothic period. People all over the world know them for the Ghent Altarpiece.

An overview of the botanical gardens
source: antwerpen.be

The area of the Stadspark also borders on the diamondquarter and the jewish quarters of Antwerp. Up till the end of the 19th century the park was part of the town’s defensive wall. We still call it the ‘Spaanse Vesten’. Water for the moat came via the Herentals Canal (now the Plantin-Moretus Avenue). Part of it was used for the moats. Another part was led into the city to furnish the brewers in the Kammenstraat with fresh water.

Typical for the park is the great many statues that decorate it.

Botanical Garden

Not so far from the Stadspark is the Botanical Garden. It belonged to the old Elisabeth Hospital and borders the Leopoldstraat. The present lay-out with balustrades and glass houses goes back to the early 19th century.

Visitors in the Antwerp Zoo
Source: gardenstyle.be


A third park, probably the most interesting one, is our Zoo. These zoological gardens are among the eldest in Europe. They house a great many different kinds of animals from all over the world. They also harbour some of the eldest trees in the city. The whole complex has been protected as a monument, trees included. At some other time I’ll certainly be back to tell you more about this shiny diamond in our city’s crown.

At a later occasion I’ll also tell you more about the parks in the different districts.

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