Seaports of the World
° Antwerp ° Brussels ° Ghent ° Ostend ° Zeebrugge
Beginning in 57 B.C.E., Julius Caesar extended the power of Rome into the region of Europe that is now Belgium. The people he encountered there were the Belgae, one of the various Celtic tribes of early Gaul, and the Romans dubbed their new province Gallia Belgica.
Like most of Europe, Belgium came under the rule of the empire of the day . . . from Charlemagne (768) to Burgundy (1400s) to Spain (1500s). By 1565, a powerful League of Nobility, under the leadership of William of Orange and Count Egmont (governor of Flanders), had joined in opposution to Spain. By 1576, William's power in the north was virtually unchallenged, and he came to terms with the Spanish.
In 1648, with the Treaty of Munster, the much-weakened Spanish not only recognized the independence of the United Provinces, but also agreed to close the Scheldt to navigation. As a result, Antwerp and Ghent, like Bruges before them, lost their predominance as the region's centers of trade. For the next several centuries, the Dutch port of Amsterdam would play that role. With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the country rose up in revolt against the Austrians, and in 1790 independence was declared in the form of the United States of Belgium. With the rise of Napoleon, French rule over Belgium became more constructive, including the revitalization of industry and (with the opening of the Scheldt) the partial recovery of Antwerp. With Napoleon's fall, the great Allied powers decreed that Belgium would become a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, ruled by the pro-Dutch William of Orange.
By 1830 the Belgians' patience had run out. Revolution erupted in Brussels and quickly spread across the country. William made a brief effort to regain control, but within a few months he withdrew. On 20 January, 1831, after centuries of external rule, Belgium was recognized as an independent nation.
Although the open North Sea is about 60 km away from Antwerp, the river is so large that sea-going vessels and sail to deliver their products in the vast port area of the city.
At the end of the tenth century Antwerp became a border province of the Holy Roman Empire. The border was the River Scheldt.
In spite of political and economic strife imposed by struggles between Protestant North and Catholic Spain, the city flourished culturally until the mid-seventeenth century wth painters such as Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens and Teniers.
Antwerp owes the beginnings of a modern port to the French period (1792-1815). At the same time the city’s cultural heritage fell prey to art plundering and destruction on a scale rarely seen before.
After the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo (1815), there followed a short-lived reunification with the Northern Netherlands and an equally short period of prosperity which ended with the Belgian Revolution (1830) and once again the closure of the Scheldt. It was reopened, this time definitively, in 1863, and enlarged with an artificial dock . . . the so-called Napoleon dock. Until then, the harbor was situated right at the entrance to the city alongside the riverbanks.
Apart from interruptions during the two world wars, Antwerp experienced steady economic growth into the twentieth century.