Antwerpen and the importance of its port

Port of Antwerpen

Antwerpen and the importance of its port

Antwerpen and the importance of its port. It is always said that Antwerp would be nothing without the Scheldt, and the Scheldt would be nothing without Antwerp. Thanks to this river, the city enjoys one of the largest commercial ports in the world. However, their importance is not only recent, but their joint history goes back centuries.

Antwerpen Port


Beginnings of the port

It is true that the first historical moment in which the port has been important was in the 12th century. This is due to the fact that the channels of Bruges were becoming muddy and, therefore, the port of that city was no longer useful. For this reason, the port of Antwerp began to be used to the detriment of Bruges and the city enjoyed its first economic boom.

However, it did not last long, as the citizens of Bruges managed to solve their problem with the canals and have their outlet to the North Sea enabled again. In addition, at the beginning of the 14th century, the city is part of the County of Flanders and, in order to prioritize the port of Bruges, Antwerpen loses rights that are granted to Bruges.

Antwerpen. old port
Antwerpen. old port
Next to Steen Castle

First golden age.

We would have to wait until the beginning of the 16th century for the port of Antwerpen and the city itself to experience their first moment of commercial and economic glory. Due to the political turmoil in neighboring Bruges, Antwerpen takes over as the largest port in the area. At that time the city lived its first golden age and became the most important port in Europe and. furthermore, in the richest city on the continent. Citizens from all over Europe come to trade and describe it as “the most beautiful city in Europe”.

All this is thanks to the port of Antwerpen, since it is estimated that 40% of world trade passed through the port of the city. In Antwerpen, at that historical moment, three large industries were traded. The textile industry, which for centuries had been the epicenter of the area, sugar, since Portugal and Spain brought all their sugar from the refineries of the colonies to this port, and species.

Likewise, Antwerpen had a significant number of lenders and financiers who provided economic support to carry out all kinds of transactions. And, in addition, the city had an efficient stock market that attracted bankers from all over Europe. For all these reasons, it is not surprising that the first building dedicated exclusively to this function was built in the city.

Religous and political problems

Although the situation was spectacular for Antwerpen, problems soon came, since at the end of the 16th century the Spanish Netherlands entered a time of upheaval. In August 1566 the Protestant Revolution broke out in the territories governed by Felipe II and when the Eighty Years War. Began two years later, Antwerp began to lose its commercial rights, in addition to the collapse of trade between its port and the port of the Spanish city of Bilbao.

Antwerpen must close its port.


In the year 1808 Napoleon, triumphant in his tour of Europe, reached Antwerpen and when he entered the Meir Palace they say that he said one of his most historic phrases “from here we will conquer England”. Yes, Napoleon, as others had already realized or as Winston Churchill would, that the best place to attack the island would be Antwerpen.

So the French leader got down to work to reform, expand and improve the port to try to achieve this feat. So he financed the construction of a new wharf, which is still called Napoleon’s wharf, a new lock and deepened the Scheldt so that larger ships could have access to the port.

However, the French failed in this endeavor to reach the British shores and when the lands that are now Belgium passed into Dutch hands, the port suffered another break to strengthen the Dutch ports.

From 1863 to the present

Antwerpen, one of the most important ports in Euqropa

The port, which had been in decline since 1830, began its revival from the year 1863 under the reign of Leopold II. At that time, thanks to the support of the Belgian government. Antwerp took off the bailout that the Dutch government had imposed on the port since the country’s independence. Thanks to the construction of new docks, a new lock and, above all, the construction of the Steel Rhine railway line, the city would begin to experience the so-called Second Golden Age of Antwerpen.


During the two World Wars the port again suffered a break. In the First it was a strategic military place for the British and in the Second it was quickly taken over by the Nazis, aware of its importance, and it would not be liberated until September 1944.

Fortunately, the port was not extensively damaged during World War II. So they were quickly able to start trading with it and undertake major works that would expand the capacity of the port. And, therefore, its commercial importance for all of Europe.

From there, two major works are undertaken: the expansion work on the Grote Doorsteek, which would make the docks reach the Dutch border, and the work on the Berendrecht lock, which is the largest work of its kind at the world.

Current figures about the port

Currently the port of Antwerp occupies around 14,000 hectares and the docks are more than 50 kilometers long. Ships of up to 100,000 tons sail through the Scheldt and its port. The port generates direct employment for more than 60,000 people. And it has become the second port in Europe. Only surpassed by Rotterdam, and the fourth worldwide. Likewise, it is the second petrochemical complex, the first being the port of Houston in Texas.

We end the article on the port of Antwerp with a phrase that every Antwerp repeats: “God created the Scheldt and the Scheldt created Antwerp.”