Explore #1 of the 3 Eurovirgins and a Europro Tour
The Chambre De Commerce (or CDC to its friends) has long been top of my list of European sites that I’ve most wanted to visit. So when it came to planning my debut Urbex trip to Europe in the most excellent company of Darren Smith of Desolate Nation, Richie Gowen of Richard Gowen Photography and Rebecca Litchfield of Rebecca Litchfield Photography, I was pretty much adamant that the CDC had to be our first port of call. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to relax and enjoy the other sites if we still had the CDC to do, with the nagging uncertainty of whether or not we would be able to gain access.
The Chambre De Commerce stock market of Antwerp opened in 1531. At the end of the fifteenth century nearby Bruges was an important international trading hub, and Antwerp took the role as a trading centre of Bruges.
The first building, in late-Gothic style followed a design by Domien de Waghemakere, and comprised a rectangular open space, enclosed by a covered colonnade. This design greatly inspired Sir Thomas Gresham when he founded the London Stock Exchange in 1565, and was echoed by later Stock Exchanges in Rotterdam (1595) and Amsterdam (1611). It is claimed that when it first opened “every nation” had a more or less permanent place in the CDC.
After a fire in 1583 it was rebuilt to the original plans, and the open interior space was enclosed in 1853 with a roof designed by Charles Marcellis and modelled on London’s Crystal Palace.
The CDC, with roof added.
After a second fire again destroyed the building in 1858, Antwerp City Council held a design competition, in which the old concept had to be preserved. The current building was designed by architect Joseph Schadde and was completed in 1872. It is described as being a curious combination of neo-Gothic style and revolutionary techniques, especially the metal construction for the interior.
The Antwerp Stock Market closed in 1997, when its functions were taken over by the Brussels Stock Exchange. The building has remained empty and neglected ever since. Long-standing plans to convert the CDC and a neighbouring building into a “semi-public function space”, restaurant, and 5-star Marriott hotel have stalled due to funding problems.
We left Norfolk after work, and I made the long drive from Norwich to Antwerp, picking up Rebecca en route. Despite a missed turning which accidentally added 25 mins to our journey time we still made the ferry in reasonable time, and once safely onboard we did our best to avoid the hordes of screaming French schoolchildren, and enjoyed a midnight feast of these wonderful cupcakes made by Darren’s very talented wife Emma of Emm’s cup n’n cakes.
We arrived in Calais at about 2am local time, and as the others tried (and failed) to keep their eyes open I gunned it down the motorway.
We rolled in to Antwerp shortly before 4am. It was a surreal experience being directed around the semi-deserted cobbled city-centre streets by Rebecca’s inexplicably Aussie-voiced sat nav Bruce (as I named him). Our antipodean electronic companion was a constant source of amusement over the next three days, with such gems as: “After the next exit keep left, then keep left”, “…then exit on to the motorway: it’s time to cruise!”, “You’ve reached your destination, wind up the windows, put your sunnies and flip flops on, and don’t let the seagulls eat your chips!”. You probably had to be there. 😉
Before too long we had gained access and were in. My heart raced, and I couldn’t help but laugh quietly in wonder and delight as we entered the cathedralesque beauty of the central courtyard. It was still almost pitch-dark inside, so we made our way up onto the first floor balcony, hunkered down, and listened to the sounds of dawn approaching as we marvelled at the beautiful silhouetted roof.
[Click on a photo to view LARGE]
It was wonderful to spend an hour or so just relaxing and watching the light grow in the ornate windows. The sounds reminded me of the rooftop of Millennium Mills, as a pre-dawn chorus of songbirds gradually gave way to the more raucous calls of seagulls as dawn broke.
Whilst exploring the myriad rooms and antechambers leading off from the central courtyard area I happened to come across this meeting room which was clearly in current use, judging by the newspapers dated only a few days earlier and a somewhat stale looking croissant! I also found copies of architectural plans, and other ephemera including postcards of historical drawings of the building, and one of the crests which had fallen down from the central ceiling. The room also came complete with coffee-making facilities, a CD player (“latin grooves” was their choice of music), and some leather sofas which were dangerously comfy when we made the mistake of resting on them for a moment or two!
Whilst it’s clear that planning meetings are very much ongoing, I suppose it’s another thing to make the next step of securing all necessary funding and the works actually commencing. From a purely selfish point of view I hope that redevelopment doesn’t kick off in earnest for some time yet, and that I get the chance to make a revisit or two. Ultimately though this beautiful building simply must be sensitively preserved for future generations to marvel at as we have been lucky enough to have done. I would love to revisit the CDC in 20 years time with my (as yet unconceived!) children and share with them my memories and photographs of this place before it was redeveloped and opened up to the public once more.
Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from this magical place, and make good our escape as the city began to wake up around us. As I said at the top, the CDC was top of my list of European sites, and it didn’t disappoint. It really got our trip off to the best possible start, and I can’t wait to pay it a much-needed revisit later this year if at all possible.
Thanks for looking. If you haven’t already signed up to follow this blog then please feel free to do so – I’ve got reports from 9 more sites explored during our 3-day tour of Belgium coming up in the not-too distant future!