8 beautiful buildings you should see in Antwerp’s shopping district
When making your way towards Antwerp’s historical city center from Central Station, it is best to walk along Meir, the shopping street of Antwerp. The shopping street Meir excitingly combines fashion with historical facades and buildings. Here are 8 remarkable buildings that you should see in the commercial heart of Antwerp:
1/ Grand Hotel Metropole, Leysstraat 27
There are two magnificent corner buildings at the entrance to Leysstraat. The city government had them designed simultaneously at the beginning of the twentieth century by two skilled architects: Frans van Dijk and Ernest Dieltiens. They had to ensure that the buildings on both sides of the street formed a beautiful, imposing whole.
Frans van Dijk’s building on the southern corner of Leysstraat used to be known as the “Grand Hotel Métropole.” The building flaunts large windows and generous balconies. It also has an impressive domed roof with a lantern tower. The neo-Baroque facade showcases lavish decorations and sculptures. There are statues of allegorical female figures, such as a woman with a garland of flowers representing spring and a woman with sunflowers symbolizing summer. By the way, the facade features different types of stone, such as pearly white natural stone, bluestone, and red granite. Worth taking a closer look at!
2/ ‘t Visschers Huizeken (Fisherman’s cottage), Leysstraat 15
A house with a ship’s bow protruding from the facade? It’s obvious: this is where a fishmonger once had his store. The building of ‘t Visschers Huizeken is part of three buildings (nos. 7, 9-13, and 15) erected by the City of Antwerp in the early twentieth century on the newly constructed Leysstraat. Intended as a model project, the three buildings have a richly decorated facade.
On the facade of ‘t Visschers Huizeken are gilded ornaments and references to the sea and fishing:
- A Neptune’s head
- Balcony spouts in the shape of fish heads
- Reliefs with dolphins and scallops
- Child figures with fish
- A seagull that just caught a fish
An extraordinary building that you cannot just walk past.
3/ Osterriethhuis, Meir 85
The Osterrieth House is considered one of Antwerp’s most beautiful old patrician houses. It is an outstanding example of the Rococo style in our region, characterized by shell motifs and an iron railing. The history of the Osterrieth House dates back to the sixteenth century when it was the residence of wealthy merchants. In the nineteenth century, the Osterrieth family moved in. Léonie Osterrieth (1843 – 1918) turned the gigantic townhouse into a center for musicians and explorers. After her death, the house remained uninhabited for a long time and fell into disrepair.
After World War II, it was reborn when The Bank of Paris and the Netherlands (later BNP Paribas, Dexia, and Belfius) purchased and restored it. In 2013, Belfius sold the monumental building to Athelean, a real estate investor with properties in well-known shopping streets in Brussels and Ghent. Today, the Osterrieth House is home to Odette Lunettes’ Flagship Store.
4/ Palace on the Meir, Meir 50
Right in the commercial heart of Antwerp, there’s an actual royal palace! A wealthy entrepreneur had it built in 1745. After that, several aristocratic families lived there. In 1812, Napoleon annexed the building to the French crown estate and redecorated it in his imperial empire style. He eventually never stayed there – by the time the palace was completed, Napoleon was in exile. In the following Dutch era, King William I did stay there regularly.
In 1831, the palace on the Meir was the center of festivities for the Joyous Entry of King Leopold I. The monarch stayed there regularly and received important foreign guests like Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill at the palace. King Leopold II had the palace decorated and built a large hall of mirrors, among other things. King Albert I stayed there briefly during World War I.
In the 1960s, the royal household no longer deemed the palace suitable. King Baudouin, therefore, donated it “to the people.” Read the Ministry of Culture. Today, everyone can go there for a fascinating visit, a lunch in style, or delicious chocolates. It is the home of The Chocolate Line, an extraordinary chocolate store where you can see the chocolatiers at work.
5/ Stadsfeestzaal (City Celebration Hall), Meir 78
This imposing Stadsfeestzaal (city celebration hall) saw the light of day at the beginning of the twentieth century. All kinds of events took place here: from concerts to meetings and political gatherings, as well as markets and fairs. Activities such as the book fair, the Christmas market, school graduations, and student parties (TDs) also took place in the City Celebration Hall.
In 2000, a fierce fire destroyed the entire interior and rear of the building. Only the front facade remained intact. After a thorough renovation, the Stadsfeestzaal reopened in 2007 as a shopping center with 40 stores. Visitors can marvel at the splendor of the old ballroom: the beautiful glass dome with gold leaf, the imposing stone staircase, restored mosaics and reliefs on the walls, and a warm oak parquet floor.
6/ Zara, Meir 58
In 1898, the “Imperial Continental Gas Association” built the current Zara building. Antwerp residents used to go there to pay their gas bill or buy a gas stove. There were also workshops and a warehouse of the gas company at the back of the building.
Four statues have adorned the facade of the building since its construction. They take us through the “history of light”. On the far left, you see a prehistoric person holding a torch. Next to it, a woman from Roman antiquity has an oil lamp. A third image is a medieval man holding a lantern, and the rightmost woman holds a gas basin in both hands. You want to have seen that, right?
7/ House of Maria Pypelincx, mother of Rubens, Meir 54
At Meir 54 you will find a beautiful mansion from the nineteenth century, clad in plaster and exaggerated gold decoration. But it is mainly the decoration on top of the roof that surprises people. There you’ll see a group of statues. The bust at the very top is none other than the famous painter Pieter Paul Rubens. The inscription says that Rubens’ parents lived in this house in the sixteenth century.
The story goes that this once was the home of Maria Pijpelincx, Rubens’ mother. She is said to have lived there for 12 years, and Rubens also spent part of his younger years there. He was 10 when his father Jan Rubens died, and his mother, Maria Pypelinckx, settled with her three children in a large house on the Meir, one of the city’s main streets.
8/ Madonna and Child, corner of Meir and Lange Klarenstraat
On the Meir, you will find one of the typical statues of Mary that define the Antwerp street scene. The oldest Marys date back to the seventeenth century, the time of Counter-Reformation and Baroque. The Jesuits, the primary shapers of the Counter-Reformation in Antwerp, placed Marian veneration at the center of their policy. Mary had been the patron saint of Antwerp since 1124, so residents were only too happy to place statues of Mary on their facades to protect their streets or neighborhoods. The lanterns underneath ensured that people who went out to the pub late at night got home safely.
The Mary statue on the Meir is among the most worth seeing in Antwerp. Surrounded by a large gilded halo, Mary appears to be showing her Child to the passerby, but that was never the intention. Initially, the statue stood in the Jesuits’ convict (boarding school) and was part of three figures. In it, Mary reached out to her Son to Aloysius of Gonzaga, the patron saint for young people studying. When the Jesuit order was abolished in 1773, the statue came into private ownership but remained in its place. It moved in 1814 without the kneeling Aloysius. First to the corner of Meir-Twaalfmaandenstraat and, in 1872, to its present site.
Exploring Antwerp with a guide from Walking in Antwerp
If the beautiful facades on the Meir have inspired you and you are curious about Antwerp’s rich history and culture, then our walking tour ‘Highlights of Antwerp’ is for you. This 2-hour guided tour starts in the historic center of Antwerp and ends at the imposing Central Station. Along the way, you pass the main tourist attractions of Antwerp and discover all kinds of interesting facts. The guide will only cover some facades from this post briefly, because the walking tour is a general introduction to the city that can appeal to any visitor. Book your tour today at Walking in Antwerp and explore the city with an enthusiastic local guide!