If someone was to ask me what Belgium is famous for, I would have to include Moules et Frites, beer, and maybe chocolate, but I would also have to add town squares to the list. It may sound a bit odd to lump a town square with food and drink, but they go together like Laurel and Hardy or Starsky and Hutch. In fact, I can’t think of anything better than to sit in a Grand Square with a plate of Moules et Frites and a Belgian beer.
The Grand Place in Brussels is probably the best-known square, but Antwerp has a pretty good one too, but as we’re in Flanders we’d better call it the Grote Markt.
The square is triangular in shape, if that makes any sense, and is dominated by its wonderful 16thc City Hall. In front of it is the Brabo Fountain, a famous Antwerp symbol, which requires further explanation.
The fountain symbolises the story of how the city got its name, and it begins with the legend of Antigoon. Antigoon was a giant who used his size to bully ships entering Antwerp into paying extortionate tolls. Those who refused to come up with the spondoolicks were rewarded by having their hand cut off. It then fell upon a (probably mythical) Roman soldier called Silvius Brabo to sort the giant out once and for all. This David and Goliath encounter ended with Antigonus (!) receiving a taste of his own medicine, with his hand being cut off and thrown into the River Scheldt. Antwerp literally means ‘Hand Throw’.
Around the perimeter of the square are some delightful buildings, particularly the Guildhouses. The original buildings were lost in a fire in 1576, but the replacements, with their golden statues, are still quite special.
The Grote Markt is one of those places where you should come early in the morning before Antwerp wakes up, and then return in the evening when it comes alive – and perhaps tuck into some moules et frites and Belgian beer while watching the world go by – and like I said, “what could be better than that?”