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:
- Michael Pye’s Europe’s Babylon: The Rise and Fall of Antwerp’s Golden Age
- See the shadows of the age with a visit to today’s Antwerp
- A beginner’s guide to Belgian beer styles
- Get to know genever, the Low Countries’ answer to gin and whiskey
- Antwerp’s golden age of fashion came in 1986, with the Antwerp Six
A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms (1551) by Pieter Aertsen, which comments on a scandalous land deal in Antwerp
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