Antwerp Steen Castle
Het Steen Castle (The Stone) The original name was simply: “Antwerp Castle” (Antwerpse Burcht).
- Address: Steenplein 1
- Build: 1200 - 1225
- Restored: 1953-1958
What you see today when you are looking at “the Stone” are the leftovers
of Antwerp’s oldest building. It is just a small part from what it used
Antwerp Steen Castle was an important military asset. The position gave control of the access to the river. At the end of the 19th century, a big part of the Castle has been destroyed to make room for the development of the harbor.
The original castle was not that close to the river – it was taken down and reconstructed a few meters further (and a neo-gothic wing added). On old pictures, you can still see rows of old original houses between the river and the castle.
Look above the entrance of the Steen Castle gate.There you
will see a statue of Semini, a Scandinavian God for youth and fertility.
Originally, this statue had a big phallus but Jesuits got rid of it in
the 17th century.
- Female citizens would come here to touch the little statue to ask for fertility and easy pregnancies.
The giant in front of The Steen Castle is the Lange Wapper, a mythical demon known in many folklore tales in the Antwerp area.
- Around 650 AD: The first fortifications of the Steen Castle are build in clay - no leftovers have survived from that period.
- 9th Century: </b>First stone fortifications are erected by emperor Otto 1.
When you are on the ‘Steenplein’ look on the right hand side of the main gate - the small dark wall is a leftover from the 9th century.
Why did a city need a fortified building?
Several reasons can be found. Originally Otto 1 had it build as a protection against the Vikings. By doing this, he more or less founded a new city and is there for one of the real founders of Antwerp.
- Until 1200 it is the home of the Duke of Antwerp. It was at this time that the name changed to Lords’ Stone (s Heerensteen).
- Between 1200 and 1225: Additional fortifications are added to the Steen Castle.
You can easily see the color difference between the original Middle Age grey stone (chalk stone) and the 16th century lighter sand stone.
- In 1302: the building looses its military function and becomes a prison for nearly 600 years.
- 16th century: an important reconstruction makes the castle higher and bigger. As a prison, it still needed to be fortified to protect the ones that worked in the Lords’ Stone against the angry civilians that regularly attacked the castle to destroy torture equipment and/or take the law in their own hands.
This was not the noblest time of existence of the Steen Castle.
Captivity itself was not treated as punishment by itself - the prison was where you awaited your punishment.
Very popular punishment available was; chopping of hands, heads and/or burning and quartering.
As TV was not invented yet the torture served the double function of punishment and public entertainment for the masses.
Rich & Poor
The prison’s regime was not a very honest one. The rich were logged in the right wing and the poor in the left wing of the castle.
The right wing accommodation catering to the rich was like a 4 star hotel. You could even book a room with a nice view on the river. Anybody with a ‘legal problem’ who could afford to pay for special treatment would stay in the right wing.
For the poor it was a miserable place without any sanitary comfort, food or water. While they often died after horrible tortures or from diseases, the rich were drinking the most exquisite wines and enjoying a panoramic view of the river.
- In 1549 a new law comes into being. Emperor Karel V, also the duke of Antwerp, wishes that the castle is not to be destroyed and the flag of Brabant must remain at the top of the tower as a memorial.
He could never have imagined that because of this request, the city of Antwerp would rebuild the castle using the stones from the original.
They first destroyed the biggest part of the Steen for the development of the Antwerp port in late19th century. Only a few walls and a gate were left over.
This cost 300 000 EURO in the 19th century and the result was shown to the public in 1890. The name of the castle was changed to ‘The Stone’ (Het Steen). Ignorance or voluntary! Maybe both. One thing is true. Almost 500 years after the death of the emperor, the standard of Brabant is still on the top of the tower just the way he told!
- In 1890: ‘Het Steen’ becomes the museum of archeology and in 1952 an annex is added to house the museum of the Antwerp maritime history. Here you’ll also find a war memorial to the Canadian soldiers in WWII.
- Today, the maritime museum has moved to a new location: the MAS museum.
Return from Antwerp Steen Castle to Antwerpens Districts