Yesterday, we really wanted to indulge ourselves in Art Nouveau architecture on our day off. We had plans to go to Antwerp, and just to make sure we would end up in the right part of Antwerp we Googled for the street names and watched YouTube movies before we selected our target area. The epicenter turned out to be in Zurenborg, Berchem. After watching below video by Kees Nobel, we were pretty sure about that, and so we set off with our cameras. The funny thing is, when you are photographing houses, the owners come out of their houses to talk to you.
One of the house owners that came up to us told us that the main street in this part of Zurenborg, the Cogels-Osy Lei, is named after two noble families, Cogels (bankers) and Osy (also bankers), that were united by a marriage. For some reason, the grounds of the Osy family were to be developed into an area with mainly warehouses, trade, bars and restaurants. In 1873, a train station was built to stimulate the development. Due to a lack of interest however, the area ended up as a residential area for the rich, and the development was carried out by the “Société Anonyme pour la Construction de Maisons Bourgeoises” (Limited Company for the Construction of Bourgeoise Houses).
Well established architects got to design houses for the main street, while the less established designers got to show their capabilities in the surrounding streets. The result is an interesting area with exquisite architecture flaunting the riches of its former inhabitants. If only I could time-travel back to 1900 to inhale the artistic atmosphere that must have buzzing in this area!
I have tried to locate a leaflet, brochure or something the like that can guide you through the streets of Zurenborg, but not much luck there. However, according to most Antwerp-related websites, there is one book that qualifies as a ‘must have’: Op wandel door de belle époque. Cogels-Osylei, Zurenborg, Antwerpen, Berchem (walking through the belle époque) I’ve already ordered the book, I’m afraid…
As the book is in Dutch, I have located a short walk at someone else’s website, that may help you a little. You can find the ‘walk’ here: Zurenborg Walk.
If you want to explore the area by yourself, you best start from Berchem-station (Antwerpen-Oost Station) and include the following streets in your trip:
The day we went to Berchem was a wintery day. But I am sure we’ll go back in summer, when the skies are blue! The area is so very much inspiring and fun to explore. Every house is a piece of art, a gem, and deserves your full attention! And at the end of that sunny day, I’ll sit down at a terrace on Draakplaats (Dragons place) and enjoy a cool Belgian beer!