Brussels may be famous for her secret corners and hidden gems, but Antwerp has a few surprises up her sleeve, too. Like Meir, Antwerp’s pedestrianised main shopping lane connecting the Central Station with the KBC Tower and Grote Markt, lining up all the usual high street suspects. If you can take your eyes off the latest accessories and fashions you will discover grand buildings of various architectural styles, some dating back to 16th century.
But even if temptation is hard to resist, there’s still more than what meets the eye. For example, you walk in Urban Outfitters because the window looks attractive but you forget to rummage through trendy tops, bottoms and homeware because this marble staircase beckons you upstairs…
Which actually is part of the historical Stadsfeestzaal (City Festival Hall), originally built in 1908 to bring under one roof a multitude of large scale festivities. The Hall was designed in grand style fit for a king, complete with marble staircases, opulent gilded decoration and this impressive glass-vault. Beside festivals and exhibitions it housed different markets. It was precisely during a christmas market, in 2000, that a huge fire burned down everything, leaving just the iron skeleton standing. Fortunately, the building had been classified as a historical monument safeguarding it from demolition. Reconstruction started soon after the fire, following the original designs to the letter. The only -essential- difference is that the hall became a shopping centre, complete with modern fixtures and a champagne bar.
Antwerp, 26-28 October 2013