Het Steen: Antwerp's oldest building is today's gateway to visit the city

Castles of Belgium

In the old city centre of Antwerp, tourists and residents can come across a medieval fortress located on the Scheldt harbour: "Het Steen". In Dutch, "het Steen" means "the rock" and it is the surviving structure built between 1200 and 1225 as a gateway to the Dukes of Brabant castle (demolished in the 19th century). ​ As the first stone fortress of Antwerp, it is Antwerp's oldest building and also used to be its oldest urban centre.

Het Steen gained its current name around 1520, under Charles V, whose ​ empire "on which the sun never sets" included the Burgundian Low Countries with Antwerp. The rebuilding led to its being known first as "'s Heeren Steen": the King's stone castle. Later, it became simply as "Het Steen" (the stone castle). The Dutch word "steen" also means "fortress" or "palace", as in ​ Ghent's "Gravensteen".

The first documented mention of the Antwerp castle dates back to the 12th century. However, the same place also hosted other castles. The first one may have been built after the Viking incursions in the early Middle Ages. In 879, the Normans invaded Flanders and the Margraviate of Antwerp came into being around 974.

At the entrance bridge to the castle, there is a statue of a giant and two humans. It depicts a Flemish folkloric character: the giant Lange Wapper who used to terrorise the city's inhabitants in medieval times.

River access

The fortress made it possible to control access to the Scheldt, the river on whose bank it stands. It was used as a prison between 1303 and 1827. Historic houses and the oldest church of the city were demolished in the 19th century, when the quays were straightened to stop the silting up of the Scheldt. The remaining building contained a shipping museum, with some old canal barges displayed on the landing outside.

In 1890 Het Steen became the Archeology museum and in 1952, an annexe was added to house the Antwerp Maritime History museum, which in 2011 moved to the Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS). A memorial to the Canadian soldiers in World War II has also been added.

Today, after a controversial enlargement, Het Steen works as the gateway for anyone visiting Antwerp. It houses a visitor centre, a cruise terminal and the "Antwerp Story", an interactive museum dedicated to the city and port. Tourists can climb the roof terrace and get an unexpected view of the river and the old town.



Belgium has the largest number of castles per square metre in the world. There are more than 3000 castles, beating even France. Some regions have an average of two castles per village. This week we present some of the most remarkable. 


Castle Het Steen, sculpture Lange Wapper, Antwerp, Belgium © BELGA PHOTO



Get updates in your mailbox

By clicking "Subscribe" I confirm I have read and agree to the Privacy Policy.

About belganewsagency.eu

Belga News Agency delivers dependable, rapid and high-quality information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from Belgium and abroad to all Belgian media. The information covers all sectors, from politics, economics and finance to social affairs, sports and culture, not to mention entertainment and lifestyle.

Every day, our journalists and press photographers produce hundreds of photos and news stories, dozens of online information items, plus audio and video bulletins, all in both national languages. Since the end of March 2022 English has been added as a language.

For public institutions, businesses and various organisations that need reliable information, Belga News Agency also offers a comprehensive range of corporate services to meet all their communication needs.


Arduinkaai 29 1000 Brussels