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  ANTWERP : The Zurenborg District
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FROM FARMLAND TO FANTASY

In the middle of the 19th century the population boom in Antwerp made an enlargement of the city necessary. In 1866 Edouard Osy and John Cogels inherited farmland from their father Baron Jean Osy, situated in the Zurenborg area, outside of Antwerp. This district was cut off from the city by the railway line Antwerp-Rosendaal. In 1876 a new railway station for goods was constructed there. Osy and Cogels realized that the area had a lot of potential for development and sold it to the 'S.A pour la construction du quartier Est d'Anvers (= company for the development of the eastern quarter of Antwerp). This company wanted to build new industry here, but already in 1882 the original plan was changed. Apparently, it would be more financially rewarding to build new houses here. 

A new company, financed with capital form the Antwerp catholic gentry and bourgeoisie started to urbanize the district and between 1892 and 1900 hundreds of houses were build and offered for rent. By the end of the 19th century the main avenue was named 'COGELS-OSY' Lei and it became the heart of the new 'rich area' of Antwerp.Other street names are : Transvaalstraat (named after the visit of Paul Kruger to Antwerp), Dageraadplaats, Velodroomstraat.There are also several streets which refer to the Battle of Waterloo: e.g. Waterloostraat.

The ZURENBORG District (a.k.a The Cogels-Osy Lei): PRECIOUS or PRETENTIOUS ?
Zurenborg is the name of a district, consisting of a few streets in the Antwerp suburb of Berchem. The district is situated near the railway station of Berchem. What you can see here is absolutely unique in Belgium, or perhaps in Europe. An incredible mixture of architectural styles unfolds itself before the eyes of the visitor. Nowhere else can such a panoply of neo-styles be admired (or ridiculed, according to some). The district is not really very large, so the best way to visit it is by taking a stroll through the different streets. In Belgium the district is also sometimes referred to as the 'COGELS-OSY lei.', which is the name of its main street.

The multitude of architectural styles and decorations is breathtaking. One can find a house in neo-gothic style standing right next to a house in Art Nouveau style (a.k.a JUGENDSTIL). All the houses were built at the time when all over Belgium the neo-styles were very popular (neo-classicist, neo-gothic, neo-renaissance, etc...). It somehow showed that Belgium (as a relatively new state) rediscovered its ancient glory of the 15th and 16th century when it was one of the most important European commercial centers. One style, however, was new: the ART NOUVEAU style. This style was developed out of the gothic and pre-rafaelite styles. In Belgium it was perfected by the architect Victor Horta. Some of the most beautiful art nouveau constructions in Belgium are the houses of Horta in Brussels. But, whereas Victor Horta created an entirely new house-concept, the art nouveau decorations in the Zurenborg district in Antwerp were only there to impress the passers-by. The inside of the houses in Zurenborg is very often completely traditional and even old-fashioned.

This is the reason why the Zurenborg district has always divided the opinion of the critics : precious or pretentious ? In the 1950's and 1960's the entire area was considered to be out of fashion and was therefore often ridiculed. A lot of houses escaped demolition. In the 1970's a change came about. The collection of neo-styles was again more appreciated and seen for what is really was: a perfect example of the mentality and taste of a certain epoch, in this case the 'fin de siècle' (end of the century) of the 19th century.


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