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The Sinjoren of Antwerp.
'Sinjoren' is the name that is sometimes used for the Antwerpians. It is not a nickname. Antwerpians are proud to be called 'Sinjoren'. The word is clearly derived from the Spanish word 'Senor', and refers to the leading Spanish noble-men who ruled the city during the 17th century. Not everyone may call himself 'Sinjoor'. You must have been born in the medieval center of Antwerp, and also your father and grand-father must have been born there.
old is Antwerp ?
Excavations have shown that there was certainly habitation on the bend in the river as long ago as the Gallo-Roman period (2nd or 3rd century A.D.). Like many Flemish cities Antwerp grew up around two settlements : the ‘aanwerp’ or ‘alluvial mound’ from which the city probably derives its name, and Caloes, 500 meters further south. A fortification was built on the mound around the seventh century. Christianization also began in that period. In the ninth century, when Antwerp became part of Lorraine, that ‘castellum’ was destroyed by the Norman's.
The present-day Steen still comprises remains of its tenth-century replacement. At the end of the tenth century Antwerp became a margraviate (a border province) of the Holy Roman Empire. The border was the River Scheldt. The County of Flanders lay on the other side. In the twelfth century Saint Norbertus founded St. Michael’s Abbey on Caloes. The canons of the little church that had stood there then moved to the northern nucleus and founded a new parish there around a Chapel of Our Lady - the first forerunner of the Cathedral.
The city, which was now part of the Duchy of Brabant, continued to expand in concentric circles with successive bulwarks which are still identifiable in the street pattern. A first economic boom followed in the first half of the fourteenth century. Antwerp became the most important trading and financial centre in Western Europe; its reputation was based largely on its seaport and wool market.
In 1356 the city was annexed to the County of Flanders and lost very many privileges, partly to Bruges’ advantage. Fifty years later the political and economic tide turned again and the run-up to the Golden Age began, when Antwerp became a metropolis of world class at every level : a kind of sixteenth-century Manhattan. It was this centre of trade and culture which Florentijn Lodovico Guicciardini described as ‘the loveliest city in the world’. The most famous names from that age are : the painters Quinten Metsys and Bruegel, the printer Plantijn, the humanists and scientists Lipsius, Mercator, Dodoens and Ortelius.
However, in the second half of that century
the city was the focus of the politico-religious struggle between the
Protestant North and Catholic Spain and as such it was stricken by a series
of calamitous events: the iconoclasm (1566), the Spanish Fury (1576) and
finally the Fall of Antwerp
(1585). After the Fall the city again
came under the rule of Philip II and the Northern Netherlands closed off
the Scheldt. From an economic point of view this was a disaster. To make
matters worse, it was not only the Protestants who fled the city but also
the commercial and intellectual elite. Of the city’s 100.000 inhabitants in
1570, by 1590 no more than about 40.000 remained.
There is little of cheer to recount about Antwerp between 1650 and the nineteenth century. The Scheldt remained closed to traffic and the metropolis became a provincial town. Under Austrian rule (1715-1792) Joseph II tried to free the river by military force, but the plan misfired. In 1795, under French occupation, it succeeded but this time the ships encountered an English blockade. This was hardly surprising since Napoleon regarded the Port of Antwerp as ‘a pistol pointed at the heart of England’. Whilst it is true that Antwerp owes the beginnings of a modern port to that 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. There were even plans to pull down the Cathedral.
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. Then Antwerp’s third great hey-day could begin. Apart from interruptions during the two world wars, Antwerp has experienced steady economic growth in the twentieth century. This gave rise to a new cultural high point and international prestige in 1993 when Antwerp was nominated Cultural Capital of Europe : the recognition of historical and modern-day riches in which you too can share.