The intermittent 15 year period that Antwerp was part of the Dutch Kingdom was also a period that River Scheldt was open to both navigation and trade after a long period that had put the city’s economy into a state of a coma. The short period of resurrection ended with the Belgian revolution. Antwerpians had to wait until River Scheldt finally reopened for good in 1863 saving the city from the asphyxiation of the long lasting trade restrictions.
Between 1863 and 1890 the available length of the city’s quays expands six-fold. In that same period the volume of exports from the port of Antwerp also grows six-fold. New records for imports and transit freight were set by the day. The port of Antwerp became once more a European trading hub with leading international trading firms establishing their branches in a new peaceful environment. Exports were dominated by iron and steel products: exports of iron and steel quadrupled to 1.3 million tonnes. Also in this period the Red Star Line starts operating. Eventually the shipping company carries some two million emigrants from Antwerp to America.
After two long centuries the thriving port of the city became once more the vessel that carried Antwerp to a new age of prosperity. The explosive growth of maritime activity in Antwerp’s port which in only few years time managed to surpass its Dutch counterparts was reflected in the rise of every economic indexes but was mostly evident in the impressive increase of the population. From 73.500 people in 1830 to 173.600 in 1879. The old walls are demolished to make way for the city’s expansion, several new docks and grand new buildings like the Flemish Theatre, the Hendrik Conscience Public Library and the Museum Plantin-Moretus are constructed.
The city is booming again. A new international fair, the Exposition Internationale d’Anvers is inaugurated in May of 1894 attracting more than 3 million guests by the end of the same year. A few years later, in 1902 the electric tram would complete its first route carrying Antwerp in the new electric age. Three years later Antwerpen-Centraal railway station opens its gates for passengers.
Just before World War I the city’s population had been catapulted to more than 350.000 people. Although the Belgian government and King Albert I wanted to refrain from any warfare between French and Germans and had announced that the Belgians would remain neutral, the country’s critical geographical position would bring war at its doorstep. On the morning of August 4 1914 the German army invaded Belgium after the Belgian government’s refusal to allow the passage of the German troops headed for France. After the two first battles in Liege on August 5 and at Halen on August 12 the Belgian army was ordered to retreat to Antwerp which was protected by a series of 95 km long defensive fortifications known as the National Redoubt built from 1859 to 1914 in order to make the city impenetrable.
On the night of 25 to 26 August, the city was bombed for the first time by a German Zeppelin airship. On 28 of September the German artillery began a heavy bombardment of the city with more than 160 heavy guns and four super heavy 42cm howitzers that after 11 days of constant pounding managed to blow the city’s defenses into dust. The guns caused severe damage to many of Antwerp’s buildings and forced the Belgian army to retreat even further. The Germans would occupy Antwerp until the end of the war in 1918.
In 1920 Antwerp officially entered the post-war era with the first global event after the horrific days of the war, the 7th Summer Olympics, as the host city. With the wounds of the collision still open, the nations that lost the war Hungary, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire were banned from competing. Many stadiums like the Palais de Glace d’Anvers and the Olympisch Stadion were built especially for the event while other venues such as the Antwerp Zoo and Nachtegalen Park were incorporated in the ensemble of the Olympic venues for various Olympic sports.
In 1923 the first Airport of Antwerp opened its first runway and a pilot’s school was established. Five years later following a centuries-long tradition the first diamond stock-market worldwide, the Antwerpsche Diamantkring would make Antwerp the official diamond capital of the world.
The Jewish population, part of Antwerp’s life since the 13th century grew significantly in the first half of the 20th century reaching the number 50.000 on the eve of WWII. During the late 1930’s there were in Antwerp three distinct Jewish communities, five synagogues and twenty eight Jewish schools.
The Nazis invaded Belgium on 10th of May of 1940. On the 19th of May, two days after the fall of Brussels, Antwerp had fallen as well. Food rationing, rampant inflation, tight censorship of all printed material, prohibition of any opposing radio broadcasts and constantly increasing repression became a daily routine of Belgian citizens who hadn’t joined the pro-Nazi or collaborationist side.
Although the majority of the Jewish population of the city tried to flee to non-occupied countries, about 25.000 of them wouldn’t succeed. The fact that contrary to what happened in Eastern Europe, the German occupation forces did not start their anti-Jewish persecutions immediately, would lead many of them back to Antwerp. In October of 1940 however that policy changed. More than 65% of the city’s Jews perished in the Holocaust, the synagogues were looted and burnt, most Jewish-owned shops were destroyed.
The success of the allies on D-Day on June of 1944 and the quick advance of their forces towards Germany created a pressing need for a port that could serve the huge demand of supplies as close to the front line as possible. Antwerp’s port, with a capacity to handle more than 1000 ships at a time was clearly a perfect candidate as Winston Churchill emphasized in his letters to his chiefs-of-staff from September 8th 1944. On the 4th of September of 1944 the British 11th Armored Division with the help of the Belgium Resistance managed to crush the German resistance and end the German occupation of Antwerp.
Taking the city of Antwerp alone wasn’t enough however to secure the supply line of the allies and the unobstructed passage of their ships. The Scheldt estuary was still under German control. In the so-called Battle of the Scheldt the Canadian First Army managed to clear the estuary after five weeks of numerous amphibious assaults and difficult fighting. The success of the campaign to liberate Antwerp and its port came with a heavy cost in human lives, with the allies counting nearly 13.000 dead and wounded in battle.
After the devastating war the wounded city entered a period of fervent reconstruction of all damaged buildings and infrastructure with the expansion and modernization of its port becoming the project with the highest priority, especially after 1955. Modern day Antwerp is an extrovert metropolis of more than half a million permanent residents and more than 1.200.000 in the wider metropolitan region, out of which more than 30% has a migrant background. The largest group of foreign residents comes from Morocco while the Jewish community continues to have a strong presence especially that of Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox Jews which is one of the largest in the world outside Israel.
Antwerp’s economy is still fueled to a great extent by the activity of its port, one of the largest (in tonnage) in the world. Diamond industry, tourism and trade also play a vital role in the city’s growth and prosperity. With a modern railway system, an international airport and modern multi-lane motorways connecting it to the rest of the country and Europe, Antwerp is even more today what it always was. A North-European hub of commerce; a leading vibrant metropolis of the Flemish region.
The golden days would be violently disrupted by the religious conflicts between the Calvinist & Lutheran Reformists of the Seventeen provinces & the Catholic Spanish Crown. The Iconoclastic fury in 1566 in which hundreds of churches were stripped of statuary & other religious decoration by the Calvinist Protestant crowds and in which the destruction of the Church of Our Lady of Antwerp was the ‘’signature event’’ , inflicted the immediate response of the fervent enemy of the Protestant movement King Philip II of Spain & the inception of the Eighty Years’ War in 1567.
On the beginning of March of 1567, Jan Marnix, a Calvinist noble from Brussels with a group of about thousand rebels tried to seize the control of his native city and its fort, seat of the Habsburg Governor-general Margaret of Parma. After their failure the rebels turned their focus to Antwerp but just before they reached the city they run into the bulk of the Spanish professional army. The irregular troops of the Calvinist rebels were no match to the professional army and although they offered to surrender and pay a large ransom in exchange for their safety, they were regarded as rebels and slaughtered without mercy. William of Orange (the future leader of the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish) who had been appointed by Margaret to resolve the situation in Antwerp in late 1566 did not allow the Protestants of the city to come to the rebels aid in order to avoid further bloodshed. A few days later he would resign of his official duties and would be declared an outlaw by the Habsburgs.
As a first strike of the devastating war the trade between Antwerp & the Spanish port of Bilbao was terminated when at the same time an army of Spanish soldiers led by the Duke of Alba sent by the King of Spain, occupied the city. The Imperial army launched a campaign of repression & execution of suspected heretics in order to intimidate the public.
In November of 1576 the unpaid Spanish troops mutinied by savagely sacking the city of Antwerp for 3 days, an event that became known as the Spanish fury marking the city’s fall from grace and its descent in a declining spiral. During the horrible events of the Sack of Antwerp hundreds of houses were burned to the ground and more than 17.000 Antwerpers , men, women and children were murdered.
Although Antwerp joined the protestant Union of Utrecht in 1579 and became the capital of the Dutch Revolt. William the Silent decides to recruit the pro-Protestant Prince of France Duke of Anjou to take over the United Provinces as a new sovereign but Holland refuses to accept him and William becomes the target of severe criticism. However Francis would try to take advantage of the situation and take all the powers of a monarch by taking over Antwerp with his French troops. His effort to deceive the city’s authorities in believing he intended to have a peaceful ceremonial entrance did not work, the city gates closed immediately after his entry trapping him and his troops who became an easy target for the prepared defenders. Antwerp was saved from another foreign occupation in the last hour with the Duke of Anjou barely escaping alive.
However Antwerp would soon be overrun by the massive army of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma (more than 60.000 men) sent by Philip II of Spain to recapture the Seventeen Provinces. The siege of Antwerp began on July 1584 and lasted until August 1585 when the city finally capitulated. This time the Spanish troops would try to dampen some of the horrors of the recent past and somehow atone for the sins of the Spanish fury of 1576. They would behave as a true Imperial army not a pack of bloodthirsty wolves.
Out of more than 100.000 inhabitants before the siege, only 40.000 remained after the carnage of the Spanish fury and the siege that had lasted for 18 months. The remaining Protestant citizens were given four years to settle their affairs before quitting the city. Most of them headed north commencing the Dutch Golden Age. Amsterdam would be the new economic Mecca. Antwerp’s cloth market that was largely depended on English traders, was completely ruined after the latter’s hesitation to risk a visit to a city that had been turned into a war zone.
By 1582 all trade transactions of Antwerp with the English had ceased. The new commercial ties of the English with cities like Amsterdam that were eager to replace Antwerp as the epicenter of northern European trade led to the deposition of Antwerp from its role as the economic, financial and cultural capital of Netherlands. The large Jewish population formed during Antwerp’s golden age, a main pillar of the city’s economic growth starts fleeing for safer destinations along with the thousands of persecuted Protestant citizens. The ten southern provinces of Netherlands returned to Habsburg/Spanish rule and Antwerp found itself isolated from international trade after the blockade of Scheldt River by the Seven Northern Provinces which tried to deal a blow to the Spanish economy. Antwerp’s extensive banking network was sidelined by the ingenious Genoese.
The end of the Eighty Years’ War & the Treaty of Münster as part of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 recognized the independent existence of the United Provinces of the rebelled North as the independent state of Dutch Republic & officially closed River Scheldt to navigation. This was an impediment Antwerp’s economy couldn’t cope with, resulting to a prolonged decline that would last well until the 1800’s. Napoleon’s attempt to revitalize Antwerp’s port with the construction of new docks & the deepening of the Scheldt ended with his defeat in Waterloo & the creation of the United Kingdom of Netherlands in 1815. Antwerp was part of the United Kingdom of Netherlands for just 15 years. In 1830 the new Kingdom of Belgium formed after the Belgian Revolution of the same year, gained the control of the city with the Belgian insurgents capturing it for the first time. Soon after the Dutch King William I with his army, in his effort to halt the Belgian secession advanced deep into Belgian territory, defeating the Belgians in several battles and capturing Antwerp.
The Belgian government turned to the French for military support and soon the Dutch retreated. By November of 1832 the last Dutch stronghold in Belgium was the citadel of Antwerp. In its effort to hold, the Dutch garrison started the bombardment of the city, killing hundreds of civilians. Finally, after 24 days of constant battering by a French army ten times their size, the Dutch commander David Hendrik Chassé and his 5000 troops surrendered Antwerp to the French. It wasn’t until 1839 that the Dutch accepted the decision of the London conference and Belgian independence by signing the Treaty of London.
Several printing presses start operating by the first half of the 16th century, the city’s prospering guilds construct impressive new houses built in late-Gothic style and the monumental Cathedral of Our Lady is finally completed in 1521 after nearly 170 years of construction works becoming the largest Gothic church in the Low Countries. Het Steen, is completely rebuilt (1520) by Emperor Charles V and is renamed into “s Heeren Steen” (the King’s stone castle). A few years later (1527) St. Andrew’s Church is also consecrated.
In 1531 the new Exchange building , the Handelsbeurs is completed in order to accommodate the explosive expansion of the city’s trade activities. Until then the traders used to sell their products at public squares and were mostly concentrated in the courtyard of ‘Den Rhijn’ warehouse for years.
In 1540 the first plan for a new grand Gothic town hall that would replace the old medieval edifice was first drafted. Religious tension and the threat of an imminent war between Catholics and Protestants halted the project until 1560 when new plans this time in the modern Renaissance style were developed. At last in 1561 a glorious new Stadhuis (City Hall) that would inspire a series of architectural projects in the Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere, was set in motion on the western side of the city’s Great Market Square (Grote Markt). In 1565 it was ready for use. In 1549 Charles V Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain, issues an edict that re-organizes the Burgundian Netherlands in the so-called Seventeen Provinces that were to remain united and inherited by one heir. Six years later his will would materialize with his son Philip II of Spain taking the helm of the realm.
With the volume of world trade becoming bigger by the day the size of the ships was only natural to increase as well. The size of larger ships started to become a problem especially during the periods of the low tide of the Scheldt when dozens of ships were being forced to wait for weeks before they could load and unload their cargo. The solution would be given by an entrepreneur named Gilbert Schoonbeke, who offered to fund the construction of a new section of the city (Nieuwstad), north of the ancient star-shaped wall and moat of the existing city. The swampy 25 hectares area was placed within the walls with a construction that took place in the early 1550’s and was completed in 1555. New deeper canals were dug up creating new waterways that could easily facilitate big caravels and galleons up to 200 tonnes each. The new piers needed new hands, the new hands needed something to drink. Sixteen new breweries were built in the Nieuwstad from 1552 to 1556. The Waterhuis, the new aqueduct built by Schoonbeke in 1554 fueled the new neighborhood with the much needed fresh water. In 1560 the imposing Oostershuis, the seat of the German Hanseatic League is erected. Nieuwstad‘s urbanization would be the largest project of the mid 16th century in the European continent.
Mary of Burgundy, inherited the immense empire in 1477 at the age of 19 but she could not inherit the trust of the Flemish cities. Bruges and Ghent saw their chance to regain lost privileges and revolted. It did not take long for Antwerp to follow in their footsteps. In an attempt to nip this rebellion in the bud as soon as possible, the wealthy Burgundy sent a large professional army to force the rebellious Antwerpers to their knees. In the historic battle that became known as the Quaeye Werelt revolt reasserted the Burgundian control of Brabant. Today the historic reenactment of the battle of the Quaeye Wereldt has grown into the largest medieval festival in the low countries.
As Bruges loses its direct connection to the sea, businesses, merchants & population move in the new trading & financial hub multiplying Antwerp’s size & importance. After the 1450’s the city enters its Golden Age. The Guild of Saint Luke, a city guild for painters and other artists that would become a vessel of Renaissance spirit in the European continent and was first established in 1382 in Antwerp, gained its first special privileges by the city in 1442. It would give rise to new artistic movements like the Antwerp School which produced a series of painting masterpieces, new literary and humanistic societies like the Violieren rhetoric school and drama society.
The age of exploration favored international trade & Antwerp was among the cities of Northern Europe that would be benefited the most. Antwerp became the sugar capital of Europe importing the product from Spanish & Portuguese plantations, refining it & shipping it to Germany and other European countries. Hundreds of ships unloaded cargoes of spices like pepper & cinnamon day in day out & American silver poured from the Spanish ships coming from Seville.
The bulk of money from trade creates a surplus which in its turn helps money-lenders & financiers. Big banks are formed that loan huge amounts to governments like the English & new economical instruments as the stakeholder ship or the stock market, are established for the first time. The city is at its peak. By 1560 Antwerp is the 2nd largest city north of the Alps & the richest of all accounting for the 40% of all world trade. The thriving city becomes the epitome of European Renaissance with architecture & arts following the steps of the booming economy.
The increasing importance of Antwerp became evident in the first amendment of the Charter of Kortenberg in 1332, when the city’s representation was increased by a second member of the 16 in total (Brussels and Leuven had 3). The city’s favorable position for maritime trade had already been recorded from the year 1070 when it was the only one from the Duchy of Brabant referred to in a document recording the toll tariff of the cities of Flanders conducting trade transactions in London and Koblenz on the Rhine. It’s main exporting industry, the cloth production would profit even more with the growing tension in the Anglo-Flemish relations in the first half of the 14th century.(Flanders was England’s main source of linen after the outbreak of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France). Things would drastically change when John III, Duke of Brabant died in 1355 in Brussels after previously having lost his two surviving sons that were destined to inherit his realm. His daughter Joanna became Duchess of Brabant tickling the expansionist views of Louis II of Flanders who had married her younger sister Margaret and considered himself Duke of Brabant by the right of his wife. In 1356 Louis II’s forces overrun the Duchy of Brabant forcing Joanna to cede Antwerp along with Mechelen (Malines in French) to Flanders.
It became immediately clear that Louis wanted to break Antwerp’s recent rise and make the city dependent on Flanders and Bruges. Many products that until 1358 passed through the port of Antwerp which had until then obtained their extremely profitable stapelrechten (rights as first seller) passed to Mechelen starting a rivalry that would last well into the 20th century. Antwerp’s role as a regional trading center was limited in the annual fairs which to a great extent were controlled by the merchants of Bruges as branches of their own markets. The gains of Bruges translated into economic and demographic stagnation for Antwerp, despite the increasing popularity of its fairs to English, Venetian, Dutch and South German merchants.
In less than 50 years however the political & economic tide would turn this time in favor of Antwerp. In 1406 the city gets reabsorbed by the Duchy of Brabant & starts booming while the rival port of Bruges starts silting up. In 1430 a new tectonic change would place Antwerp and the Duchy of Brabant under the rule of the Burgundian Prince Philip the Good who inherited the title upon the death of his cousin Philip I (he had reigned as Duke of Brabant since 1427). 50 years later at the death of the Burgundian Duke Charles the Bold the Duchy passed to the Austrian House of Habsburg through Charles’ daughter Mary of Burgundy after her marriage to Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg, son of Emperor Frederick III.
As a Margraviate (border province) & boundary of the Holy Roman Empire, Antwerp would see its defense walls become bigger and stronger. In 1076 the German King & future Emperor Henry IV in a move that would elevate its importance, decided to seize the lands of the Duchy of Lower Lorraine from the hands of the appointed heir Godfrey of Bouillon and offer them to his two-year old son Conrad II. It was a double wager for the Emperor who chose to have the direct control of the buffer duchy until his son would come of age. That way the Emperor would test the leadership quality of his son and the vassal prince’s loyalty in him.
In the same time the neighboring West Frankish Duchy of Flanders emerged as one of the strongest in feudal Europe. Its towns Ypres, Ghent and Bruges experienced a phenomenal economic growth based on trade & cloth production. Bruges, a city that would often referred to as ‘Venice of the North’ became the capital of the Duchy in 1093 & a trade terminus for ships coming from all parts of Europe.
After the death of the marquis of Antwerp Godfrey of Bouillon in the First crusade , the Margraviate of Antwerp & the Duchy of Lower Lorraine were united once again in 1106. Between 1182 and 1184 Godfrey III, Count of Louvain, Margrave of Antwerp, and Duke of Lower Lorraine participates in a crusader campaign in Jerusalem while Emperor Frederick Barbarossa grants him the title Duke of Brabant in a feudal promotion that would be mostly enjoyed by his son Henry I , who in 1190 becomes Duke of Brabant and Antwerp’s ruler.
The city started to develop in concentric cycles, protected by defensive moats/canals that surrounded the typical medieval pattern of its narrow streets, a layout still identifiable in the weaving of its historic center. New guildhalls like the Vleeshuis (Meat House) are built in order to facilitate commerce. In September of 1312, a few days before his death, John II, Duke of Brabant would sign the establishment of an assembly that could control the decisions of the duke, in an effort to bequeath a duchy of solid peaceful ties between his heir and son John III and his subjects. The so-called Charter of Kortenberg would be the first truly democratic effort in northern feudal Europe, a charter more liberal in nature than its somewhat more famous Magna Carta that had been signed by the English King in the beginning of the 13th century.
The 9th century brought a raid of Viking warriors who destroyed the existing fortified settlement built by the Franks. The Norsemen (Vikings) took over the control of the left bank of the River, something that would resonate in the local dialect from then on. (the dialect identified ‘those from across the water’ as foreign and hostile. To better defend themselves, the residents of the settlement built the first stone structures, a defensive stone wall and the first ever version of Het Steen, the stone castle that was further protected by a wide dug moat.
In 950 AD Emperor Otto I , the king who defined the formation of the Holy Roman Empire, built a new castle in Antwerp mostly for the protection against the Vikings, making it one of the strongest in the wider area. The settlement grew quickly under the protection of the castle & in 1008 it acquired its first city rights. Carolingian Antwerp entered the feudal era as part of the Duchy of Lower Lorraine of the Eastern Frankish Kingdom operating as a border region that neighbored the Western Frankish Kingdom and its newly established County of Flanders on the other side of River Scheldt.
The geographic area we identify today as the Low Countries & is divided in the modern era between Belgium, Netherlands & Luxembourg shows archaeological traces of human presence that date back to the Neolithic period. Julius Caesar arrived in the area with his armies in 57 BC where he conducted a series of battles that aimed in the subjugation of the local tribes. Those tribes belonged to the group called Belgae who were praised by Caesar for their bravery and were described by him as a people with lots of similarities with the Germanic tribes, with whom they were constantly at war with. According to his descriptions these people were indeed Germanic tribes who had migrated in the region defined at the time as Northern Gaul , long before the Roman invasion. Their culture and language is considered today as Celtic (as in nearer to the rest of Gauls) and not Germanic. The clear geographic boundary between the two especially after the Roman conquest, being the River Rhine.
The populations who lived in the region of Antwerp were the Menapii who lived west of the River Scheldt , the Eburones to the east and to the south of the Scheldt and the Dyle, the Nervii. Antwerp’s region was at the center of the territory occupied by these three tribes. Basic economic activities were based on agriculture and fishing, given the proximity of the Scheldt. During the Roman period, Antwerp was part of the Civitas Tungrorum administrative subdivision with the town of Tongeren serving as its capital.
After the year 150 AD for a period of about 100 years there is evidence of a Gallo-Roman settlement in the centre of Antwerp where Willem Ogierplaats lies today. As in most parts of Western Europe, the area of Antwerp came under the control of various Germanic tribes that succeeded the Gallo-Romans in the wider region after 250 AD.
The Germanic Franks were the first ones to raise a fort on a height just south of the delta of the River Scheldt around the 7th century which was also the period of the Christianization of the region by Saint Eloi and Saint Amand. The first documents mentioning the toponym of Antwerp from the 7th are connected with the evangelization of the region by the two saints. A donation charter of 726 mentions a church of Saints Peter and Paul within a first enclosure, qualified as a castrum.
Speculations about the origin of the name Antwerp, vary, starting from the Latin ‘’ante verpia’’ (before deposition) referring to the river Scheldt’s redirection in the 7th century, to a popular folklore legend about a slain giant. According to the legend the giant’s amputated hand was thrown in the river by a Roman soldier who managed to free the ships passing from the site, from the high tolls they were forced to pay as a fee for their safe passage to the giant. The Dutch words ‘hand werpen’ (throwing hand) were according to the tradition combined to create the name of the city. The story of the Roman soldier Silvius Brabo (the word Brabant, see Landgraviate of Brabant and later the Duchy of Brabant probably refers to that mythical origin) is commemorated today in a statue situated in the Grote Markt, in front of Antwerp’s City Hall. Most Dutch historians today identify the origin of the Antwerp to the words “Aan ‘t werp” (at the warp) which is a reference to the existence of a man made hill at the geo-location of the city at the time.
A delicious blend of 21st century luxury and 16th century architecture awaits you at Hotel Matelote. Experience a captivating union of past and present. Situated in the Haarstraat, this unique hotel has the best location in Antwerp only some footsteps away from the famous Grand Place with its stunning town hall, the Antwerp Cathedral, the River Scheldt. Right in the very middle of the heart of downtown Antwerp, home of Fashion, home of Diamonds, home of Culture, Port of Antwerp City by the water. A short walk to the Grand Place, the Fashion Museum, the Rubens House, the MAS. Only 1,5 km from the Central Station, 6 km from Antwerp Airport.
Very close to the Cathedral of Our Lady lies another historic landmark of the city. Carolus Borromeus Church was built after the invasion of the Spanish army in 1584 as the flagship church of the Counter-Reformation. It was originally known as St. Ignatius church, named after the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola. The building itself was constructed by a Jesuit who based its design in the Jesuits’ main church in Rome, the Chiesa del Gesù. Peter Paul Rubens contributed in the formation of the facade, the tower, and much of the interior which was designed to look like a Baroque banqueting hall, providing a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
The opulent decoration gave the church the nickname “the marble temple.”On July 18, 1718, lightning struck and 39 ceiling paintings by Rubens were tragically lost in the subsequent fire. Most of the original marble was also destroyed. However, the apse of the main altar and the Mary Chapel were spared and they provide visitors with an idea of the church’s former splendor. One of the church’s most unique features is the interchangeable painting above the altar, which uses an original mechanism which is still in working order. The baroque masterpiece was sold by the Jesuits in 1733 and was later closed until it re-opened in 1803 as a parish church dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo. The intricate wood carvings, the monumental pulpit, the amazing paintings and its sumptuous Baroque architecture form an ensemble that is definitely worth a visit.