Hidden Belgium: The world’s first stock exchange

Hidden Belgium: The world’s first stock exchange

It’s easy to walk straight past the Handelsbeurs. The entrance lies at the end of a narrow lane near the Meir. For many years the site was closed off for renovation work, but this stunning building where the 16th-century global economy was fired up is now open to the public.

The original Gothic building was constructed in 1531 by the architect Domien de Waghemakere. It was called the Handelsbeurs after the inn Huize ter Buerze in Bruges where foreign merchants had traded in the 15th century.

The merchants resettled in Antwerp in the 16th century, drawn to the city by its dynamic mercantile community as well as the fabulous new stock exchange.

In 1583, the stock exchange burned down. It was rebuilt, but burned to the ground again in 1858. The architect Jos Schudde largely recreated the original building in Gothic style in 1872. It went on to serve as one of Europe’s stock exchanges until 1997 when most of the business was moved to Brussels. By 2003, the building was so dilapidated it was closed down.

But then the city found the funds to renovate the building. It reopened in 2019 with the stonework gleaming like new. Step inside to admire the Moorish arcades, the walls decorated with world maps and the 56 wooden offices where the stockbrokers used to work. Open on Saturday and Sunday.

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. 

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