On our Jewish Antwerp Tour we will take you on a journey into the multifaceted soul of Belgium’s second city and biggest port, a city with startling architectural and cultural contrasts. Antwerp is a city of art, with an urban landscape composed by Neo-Renaissance villas, medieval castles and Art nouveau residences.
Known as the world capital of diamonds and one of Europe’s fashion and entertainment meccas, it’s also the city of one of the biggest painters of the 16th century, Rubens, the leader of a group of Flemish painters. No wonder Antwerp’s population is as diverse as its spirit, and the Jews have a very special place in this city.
A large majority of Antwerp’s Jewish population makes a living from the diamond industry. Antwerp’s Jewish district is surely one of the world’s main hubs for the production of diamonds. The peak of our journey into Antwerp’s Jewish Heritage will be precisely in Pelikaanstraat and the diamond district, also known as “Pelikan”, “Yiddish Town” or Shtetl, a Yiddish term for village or small town, due to the city’s high concentration of Hassidic Jews.
Our Jewish Antwerp Tour will take you back in time, to the beginnings of Antwerp’s Jewish heritage, in the 13th century, when Ashkenazi Jews arrived in waves from central Europe, France and England. Sephardic Jews arrived in the 15th century, after their expulsion by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.
When Belgium became independent in 1830, Judaism was officially recognized. After 1880, a wave of immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe led to a significant increase in Antwerp’s Jewish population, which rose again in the 1930s with the arrival of German refugees.
During WWII, despite Belgium’s active resistance movement, and the Belgian authorities’ reluctance to collaborate with the Nazi regime, more than 25,000 Belgian Jews were deported.
Among the six Ashkenazi synagogues nowadays present in the city, the most famous is Romi Goldmuntz, thanks to its outstanding chazzan (cantor), Benjamin Muller. Antwerp also hosts a Sephardic and a Portuguese-rite Israelite Synagogue (Beth HaKnesset Portuguese).
Pelikan is studded with kosher eateries: we’ll make sure you try the excellent Blue Lagoon, Benelux’s one and only kosher Chinese restaurant, and that you taste some of the excellent kosher cakes and pastries at Kleinblatt and Steinmetz.
After leaving Europe’s liveliest Shtetl, a world where time stood still, you will be ready to dive into Antwerp’s vibrant cobbled lanes filled with cafés, bars and clubs.
You will admire Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, Belgium’s finest Gothic cathedral with its elegant, 123m-high spire. If you are an art lover, Rubenshuis is a must-see: built as a home and studio for the celebrated painter Pieter Paul Rubens, it hosts around a dozen of Rubens’ world famous canvases and an impressive collection of the 17th-century art.
Works by Rubens can be found also in the Museum Plantin-Moretus, but the highlights of the collection are the world's oldest printing press, priceless manuscripts and original type sets that earned this museum a Unesco World Heritage status.
Take a stroll on the picturesque Grote Markt (market square), Antwerp’s medieval heart, dominated by a stately Italo-Flemish Renaissance-style Stadhuis (city hall).
And don’t worry, you will have time to indulge yourself with some delicious Belgian chocolate and the finest of Flemish home cuisine.
Discover with us a unique symbiosis of tradition and modernity on our Jewish Antwerp Tour!