Ode to Antwerp

Michael Pye on the golden age of the city

<em>The Tower of Babel</em>, painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Antwerp c. 1563 (Wikimedia Commons/Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
The Tower of Babel, painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in Antwerp c. 1563 (Wikimedia Commons/Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

Antwerp, the other port city on the North Sea, is frequently overshadowed by its Dutch big brother, Amsterdam. But long before the latter was dubbed the “Venice of the North,” Venetians—and Germans, Britons, Jews fleeing the Portuguese Inquisition, and others—flocked to Antwerp, the wealthiest European city of the 16th century and a huge beneficiary of the Age of Exploration. Pepper, silver, wool, sugar, salt, books, wine, and diamonds all passed through Antwerp in the complex web of trade spanning the Ottoman and Holy Roman empires, India, the Americas, and Africa. The city’s star burned brightly for a century, and then was snuffed out first by Spanish soldiers in 1576 and then the Calvinists in 1577. In his new book, Europe’s Babylon, Amsterdam-based writer Michael Pye brings Antwerp’s golden age to life in all its scandalous, sparkling glory.

Go beyond the episode:

A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms (1551) by Pieter Aertsen, which comments on a scandalous land deal in Antwerp

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

Subscribe: iTunes • Feedburner • Stitcher • Google Play • Acast

Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)

Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up