Category Archives: Fortress

A fortress is a fortified position which features both military and civilian occupants. Dimensions may vary.

Het Steen

Het Steen
Het Steen

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

  • Medieval

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.

Sources – Own elaboration;

Citadel of Antwerp

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.

Armament –

  • ?x Cannon

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.

Sources – Own elaboration; Lombaerde, P.