The old castle Het Steen has stood on the Antwerp waterfront since the 11th century. The oldest building in Antwerp, it was originally a fortress on the River Scheldt. It was partly rebuilt by Emperor Charles V in the 16th century, and given a neo-gothic makeover in the 19th century.
When the River Scheldt was straightened, the buildings around Het Steen were demolished, leaving just this isolated monument. It was once home to a Museum of Shipping filled with model ships and sea charts.
An open competition was organised in 2016 to renovate and extend the building. Some 31 architecture firms entered their ideas. The Brussels firm NoArchitecten was appointed to carry out the €9 million project. They came up with a plan to replace a 1950s extension at the back of Het Steen with a sober modern style that uses pale brick, wood and glass. Not everyone in Antwerp approved. The new building is occupied by a visitor centre, souvenir shop and cruise terminal.
The restored rooms are now occupied by an interactive experience called The Antwerp Story. But the modern extension is free to visit. It’s worth climbing to the upper levels and roof terrace for unexpected views of the river and the spires of Antwerp.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.