The Steen is all that remains of a much bigger castle that was built over the site of a 6th c fortress in Oude Werf, the oldest part of Antwerp.
The castle was built around 1200 and was the first building to be built of stone (steen in Dutch) and was the home of the Burgrave of Antwerp. The complex included a church, courthouse and several other buildings, all of which were protected by a defensive wall surrounding it.
Around 1520 the castle was thoroughly renovated by Charles V and you don’t need to have gone to Specsavers to see where the old and newer stone joins up.
Up unto the 1820s it was used as a prison, but later that century a decision was made to demolish most of the castle and Oude Werf district to prevent the Scheldt silting up. The port was vital to Antwerp, and so the river was widened and new quays built. It must have been a difficult decision to make as it involved knocking down over five hundred historic buildings, and even the Steen was only saved from the chop by a single vote.
All that was left was the impressive entrance gate and the burgrave’s house, which in 1890 was turned into an archaeological museum. In 1952 it then became the Maritime Museum until it was transferred to the MAS in 2010/11. When I was here it was an educational centre, but it was still possible to visit a number of old vessels, and there are plans to open up a new Maritime Museum in the old harbour which should open by 2023. As for the Steen, it’s planned to have a new visitor centre and cruise terminal opened by 2020.
Near to the Steen’s entrance is a statue of Lange Wapper, a giant who took great pleasure in upsetting people especially drunks, women and even children. Unlike Antigoon though he wasn’t a true giant but someone who could make himself grow tall whenever he chose, and he could even make himself tall enough to peer in through the castle’s upper windows.
The bronze statue, which doesn’t quite reach up that far, was made in 1963 by Albert Poels.