Antwerp’s prosperity is intertwined with it being a major European port. Located on the River Scheldt, 53 miles from the North Sea, it is connected by railways and waterways to France, Holland and Germany. While the port continues to be successful today, activities have changed and there are heritage buildings and docks along the river which the City is enhancing by the location of new museums – the Red Star Line Museum and the MAS – and encouraging new uses, restaurants, cycling, running and other activities along the riverside.
Zuiderterras, for example, is a new restaurant overlooking the river at the start of the raised riverside promenade. The original 1886 Zuiderterras building was destroyed in a fire in 1973 and has been replaced with a modern-art deco style building, evocative of ocean liners, designed by Flemish Architect Bob Van Reeth and which has become a catalyst for a city focus on the quays along the river.
A short distance away is a new seafood restaurant, Plateau Royal, with a modern tower taking visitors from the car park to the upper level. Both restaurants are characterised by views of the river, as have the rooftop galleries of the new museums.
There are however over 105 acres of riverside sheds, in a variety of condition but having unique history and character, described as the “Old River Quays” and the “New River Quays”, with the Old Quays being built between 1878 and 1884. Fifty-one cranes handled goods between the sheds and the ships and there is a riverside promenade at rooftop alongside several of the sheds.
The older sheds are about to be refurbished with new roofs. Whereas cities such as Glasgow have more or less destroyed the heritage of their docks along the river, Antwerp is seeking to balance preserving the best of its heritage while creating a new destination within the city. Projects like this take many years, indeed decades, to complete, but Antwerp is gradually moving its plans forward.