These defensive structures were built to guard the waterway entrances of Antwerp. In most cases they feature long range artillery and defensive features that could withstand a naval bombardement or assault.
Description – The fort of Liefkenshoek (1579) was erected by the city of Antwerp to defend the Scheldt river access during the Dutch-Spanish war. It was captured by Spanish forces during the beginning of the siege of Antwerp in 1584. Later Dutch forces to the north were able to close the river for both commercial trade and military vessels. Subsequent Spanish (1584-1786) and Austrian rule (1786-1794) aimed to open the river once again but to no avail. During French reign the fort was refitted since Antwerp became the new maritime arsenal (arsenal maritime) in order to allow an invasion of England. The Scheldt river was opened because the revolutionary and later imperial armies controlled The Netherlands as well. The Belgian uprising of 1830 against Dutch rule did not lead to a capture of the fort. Together with the Antwerp citadel, Fortress Lillo and Fort Vlaams Hoofd it remained under Dutch control effectively closing the river once again. In 1839 the treaty of separation handed over Lillo and Liefkenshoek to Belgian rule but The Netherlands retained control over the river Scheldt to this present day. The fort lost its military role at the end of the 19th century; it continued to serve as a hospital (1849-1952). Its name was most likely derived from a now gone small stream or river near the fort.
Construction & Armament – This fort most likely started off as a redoubt constructed in 1577; its counterpart Lillo is located on the right bank of the river Scheldt. Built on a strategic location it was able to secure the river access and possibly served as a landing station for troops garrisoned at nearby defensive works. It features a four-pointed star shape with bastions. Its transition to a fort was carried out between 1577 and 1583. Two ravelins were constructed, one located facing north and an other one facing a southern direction. Since the area around the fort could be inundated it was difficult to capture. One gate allowed access to the fort: it is located facing the river. A powder magazine was placed in the southwestern bastion of the fort in 1808 together with barracks. Later a second larger magazine was erected in 1810. French engineers also built a “cat” (French: cavalier) on the central square of the fort (terreplein) in 1811. Although the fort had a permanent garrison and some civilians living within its walls its predominant military character allow it to be classified as a fort rather than a fortress.
Current condition – The fort of Liefkenshoek lost its military role in 1894. It did not see action during the siege of Antwerp thereafter. German forces occupied the site from 1914 onwards and added several small bunkers (pillboxes). The Belgian army installed two guns on the northeast bastion of the fort during the interbellum. The gate of the fort was rebuilt in 1844 but severely damaged by a German flying bomb impact during the last phases of the Second World War. In 1954 a part of the rampart of the fort was dumped in the moat in order to allow expansion within. In 1980 the municipality of Beveren became owner of the fort and restoration started thereafter. More in-depth information about the military and political significance of this fort and the river Scheldt can be found in specialized literature (in Dutch). The fort can be visited and is in good condition: it became a heritage site in 1985. A tourist information office is present on site; a permanent exposition highlights the history of the fort.
Sources – Own elaboration; Cools, H & Van Meirvenne, R; Van Hooydonk, E.;
Description – Het Steen (the Stone) is the oldest fortress of Antwerp. Oldest archeological evidence indicate the stone walls were built around 982 but the castle itself dates from later dates. During the Middle Ages it remained a seat of power for the Dukes of Brabant. From 1303 onwards it was used as a prison. The fortress had several towers and in the middle the Saint Walburgis church was located. To the east ship could moor at the Werf quay zone. It lost this status during Dutch rule in the first half of the 19th century. Het Steen is the only remain part of the larger fortress that was demolished in 1880 to pave the way for port expansion. For some time it served as a museum.
Construction & Armament – It was constructed by order of Emperor Otto II of Germany (Holy Roman Empire) because the river Scheldt became a border zone of after the split of the empire of Charlemange in 843 (Treaty of Verdun). Together with Ename and Dendermonde it received a fortified castle/town. Archeological evidence prove that there were earlier settlements south of Antwerp dating back to the Vikings. During the reign of Charles V the fortress was refitted. On the castle towers the flag of the duchy of Brabant still flies.
Armament – Medieval Castle
Current condition – Large parts of the former fortress were demolished in 1880 because port expansion demanded straightening of the existing quays. The Walburgis church was torn down and most of the walls were destroyed as well. The remaining buildings were henceforth referrer to as Het Steen. It can be visited free of charge.
Description – The Scheldt Battery South was part of the Veiligheidsomwalling. It is unique redoubt located between Redoubt XVIII to the east and the river Scheldt the west. Fort VIII Hoboken is found to the north but was not included in the defensive positions. The battery served as the redoubt equivalent of coastal defenses as its counterpart in the north.
Construction & Armament – This concrete redoubt was constructed between 1910 and 1912. It is considered to have an unique design with elements of the standard redoubts featuring artillery. It is an asymmetrical structure with two cupolas built in front. It had only one flank with 75mm guns installed. A similar design would be applied to the northern Scheldt battery.
Armament – Scheldt Battery
2x 75mm fortress gun
?x 75mm fortress gun
Current condition – This battery was completed when the Great War broke out in 1914 but it is not known if it participated in any defensive actions. It was demolished and converted into an industrial storage site.
Description – The fort of Jean Bart was located northwest of Antwerp on western side of the Borgerweertpolder and the main dyke of the river Scheldt. It was named for the French national hero and corsair from Dunkirk Jean Bart (Jan Baert). The fort never came close to completion. More to the south the fort of Stengel was also under construction.
Construction & Armament – Construction of the fort commenced in 1811. The fort was planned to have a five point star shape but when the project was halted only the outer ramparts were finished. The Scheldt dyke was connected to the outer defensive rampart of this fort.
Current condition – When Dutch rule was installed the fort of Jean Bart was far from completed and in 1814 works were halted together with Fort Stengel. It was argued that these positions, when taken and occupied by enemy forces, could serve as a base of operations to lay siege to Antwerp and block the river Scheldt access. Fort Ferdinand, located on the right bank closer to Antwerp (near Oosterweel), was deemed more suitable for the task at hand.
Description – The citadel of Antwerp was built in the wake of religious wars in the Neterlands. It was commissioned by the Duke of Alva sent by Philip II of Spain to quell any resistance in Antwerp. It served both as a defensive structure as well as a base of operations for Spanish, Austrian, French, Dutch and Belgian forces. It became notorious for the Spanish Fury in 1576 where the city was plundered and many citizens lost their lives. The city hall of Antwerp still commemorates this war crime. In 1832 it became the theater of Dutch resistance during the Belgian war of independence as a French army besieged this fortress under the command of Marshal Gérard. The people of Antwerp had always resented the presence of the citadel and in 1870 King Leopold II of Belgium agreed that it would be sold and leveled. A new district, Antwerp-South (‘t Zuid) was established and it served as the hallmark of the belle epoque era. It became home to the wealthy and influential elite of Antwerp until the Second World War.
Construction & Armament – The fort(ress) was built in 1567 featuring a five pointed star with bastions. It was constructed close to the Scheldt river. In 1572 the citadel was completed and a garrison moved in. In a response to the atrocities committed during the Spanish Fury notables of Antwerp ordered the wall facing the city to be demolished in 1577. But when hostilities continued it one again became a citadel and a distinctive feature of the city. The five bastions were named Toledo, Pacietto, Alva, Duc and Hernando. The citadel featured many buildings (powder magazines, a chapel,…) and was updated several times. The French refitted the citadel since Antwerp became the Arsenal Maritime in order to host an invasion force for England. The lunet of Kiel and Saint Laureis were added. During the Belgian occupation of the fort an extra battery on the terreplein was added.
Current condition – The citadel of Antwerp retained its five pointed star design throughout history. Because of rapid advancements in artillery technology it was rendered obsolete. It could no longer fight off an enemy force attacking the city. People living in Antwerp did not like the presence of the citadel since it became a premier symbol of oppression by central authorities. Next to the 1576 Spanish Fury the city was again attacked by this fort this time on 27th of October 1830 by order of the Dutch general Chassé. Whatever lead to this course of action, Dutch sources claim Belgian rebels did not respect an agreed armistice, the disproportional use of force did and does not warrant these grave atrocities against the civilian population. In 1832 the French Armée du Nord rushed trough Flanders in order to force the remaining Dutch garrison to evacuate the citadel. A siege lasted from November 15th to December 23th and a French victory was the result when the citadel could no longer receive supplies by the river Scheldt. The Belgian Army occupied the site when the French left and ordered repairs. In 1870, after several petitions to the Belgian King by the counsel and citizens of Antwerp, the citadel was sold and leveled. A French monument commemorating the victory in 1832 was refused by the city so it was placed in Tournai (Doornik). Today no traces of the citadel are visible. Recent archeological research has shown there are still remains present.
Description – The fort of Laar (Laer) was built on the left bank of the river Scheldt. It was located next to the Borgerweertpolder and the village of Zwijndrecht. It secured the strategic Verbrandendijk road to the west.
Construction & Armament – Construction started in 1638 by Spanish forces aiming to secure the left bank.The fort features a square shape and features earth works. It was surrounded by a wet moat.
Armament – ?
Commander – ?
Current condition – The fort of Laer fell in disrepair during Austrian rule. On the Ferraris map of 1778 the fort is marked but seems to be in bad condition. In 1811 French forces constructed Fort Stengel a bit more to the east in order to secure the Borgerweertpolder and the Verbrandendijk road.
Description – The fort of Stengel was located west of Antwerp and controlled the entire Borgerweertpolder area. The road from Vlaams Hoofd to Zwijndrecht was secured by this fort but additional information is scarce. Based on its location it is to be considered a coastal defense fort. To the north one finds the construction site of Fort Jean Bart.
Construction & Armament – The fort was built in 1811 featuring earth works (palisades). Based on maps and drawings it featured a half star-like shape. The design is based on a horn work and a small square shaped reduit. It featured a wet moat and the surrounding area could be inundated when needed.
Current condition – Some sources indicate that the fort was ordered to be demolished on 9th December 1816 while under Dutch rule. It was argued that an enemy advancing on Antwerp could capture the fort and use it as a base of operations. Other sources indicate that the fort continued to exist until around 1865. It was leveled presumably because the forts of Zwijndrecht, Kruibeke and Saint Mary were constructed or refitted. No known remains of this fort still exist today.
Description – The lunet of Kiel was built in support of the citadel of Antwerp. It was located southwest of Antwerp on a short distance away from the river Scheldt.
Construction & Armament – This lunet constructed in 1817 featured a wet moat. The facing ramparts measure 100m while the flanks measure 40m. These ramparts add up to a roughly spearhead design just as its counterpart lunet Saint Laureis. It had only one entrance to the northeast. The lunet is considered a fort in some sources because it features a crenelated wall facing the citadel. Since it is not known whether there was a garrison stationed on a permanent basis it is currently classified as an older redoubt.
Current condition – The lunet of Kiel was considered an integral part of the citadel and it retained this status. During the siege of 1832 it was bombarded by French forces until the citadel surrendered on the 23th of December. The Belgian Army occupied the site but the citadel was ordered to be abandoned from 1870 onward. Most of the structures are presumed to be destroyed but some trances may still be found because the construction of the Antwerp South railway station did not employ deep digging. Aerial photos suggest the shape of the lunet can still be discerned; the former night club Zillion is located on this site.
Description – The lunet of Hoboken was built on a dyke of the river Scheldt. Located southwest of the city of Antwerp it guarded river traffic but was originally built to secure the Borgerweertpolder.
Construction & Armament – This lunet featured a wet moat and four ramparts. These ramparts add up to a roughly triangular design. It had only one entrance to the northeast. The lunet is not considered a fort since it is not known whether there was a garrison stationed on a permanent basis. It can be considered an older redoubt.
Current condition – The lunet of Hoboken shows up on several maps dating back to the siege of Antwerp in 1584. It might be possibly still considered a defensive work in 1851 as it secured the Hoboken polder area. It lost its military role when the Brialmont forts of 1859 were erected; Fort Hoboken and Kruibeke secured the southern river Scheldt access to Antwerp. Most of the site is presumed to be destroyed since part of the port of Antwerp expanded in this area since the 1890’s. Today one finds an industrial site (Antwerp Blue Gate).
Sources – Own elaboration; Gils, R., Cannaerts, J.
Description – The redoubt of Saint Francis (Sint Fransiscus) was located on the left bank of the river Scheldt. It was named for the saint or patron. This redoubt fort was constructed in 1584 by the Spanish forces who laid siege to Antwerp.
Construction & Armament – The fort was built using timber and earth works. It was built on a location where the dyke of the Borgerweert polder was broken; this offered a strategic location during the siege.
Current condition – It is not known if remains of this redoubt still exist. A part of the industries of the port of Antwerp are located here. Today the protected nature and environment site of Blokkersdijk takes up most of the nearby terrain.
Sources – Own elaboration; Gils, R.; Van Meirvenne, R.