Antwerp is a city in the Lowlands in Europe, located on the right bank of the river Scheldt, which is linked to the North Sea by the Westerschelde.
After the closing of the [River] Zwin [from silting up ca. 1500] and the consequent decline of Bruges, the city of Antwerp, then part of the Duchy of Brabant, became of importance. At the end of the 15th century the foreign trading houses were transferred from Bruges to Antwerp, and the building assigned to the English nation is specifically mentioned in 1510.
Fernand Braudel states that Antwerp became "the center of the entire international economy—-something Bruges had never been even at its height." (Braudel 1985 p. 143.) Antwerp's "Golden Age" is tightly linked to the "Age of Exploration". Over the first half of the 16th century Antwerp grew to become the second largest European city north of the Alps by 1560. Many foreign merchants were resident in the city. Guicciardini, the Venetian envoy, stated that hundreds of ships would pass in a day, and 2000 carts entered the city each week. Portuguese ships laden with pepper and cinnamon would unload their cargo.
Without a long-distance merchant fleet, and governed by an oligarchy of banker-aristocrats forbidden to engage in trade, the economy of Antwerp was foreigner-controlled, which made the city very international, with merchants and traders from Venice, Ragusa, Spain and Portugal. Antwerp had a policy of toleration, which attracted a large orthodox Jewish community. Antwerp was not a "free" city though, since it had been reabsorbed into the duchy of Brabant in 1406 and was controlled from Brussels.
Antwerp experienced three booms during its golden age, the first based on the pepper market, a second launched by American silver coming from Seville (ending with the bankruptcy of Spain in 1557), and a third boom, after the stabilising Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, in 1559, based on the textiles industry. The boom-and-bust cycles and inflationary cost-of-living squeezed less-skilled workers.
The religious revolution of the Reformation erupted in violent riots in August 1566, as in other parts of the Netherlands. ...When the Eighty Years' War broke out in 1572, commercial trading between Antwerp and the Spanish port of Bilbao was not possible. On November 4, 1576, the Spanish soldiers plundered the city. During the Spanish Fury 6000 citizens were massacred, 800 houses were burnt down, and over two millions sterling of damage was done.
Antwerp became the capital of the Dutch revolt. In 1585, Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, captured it after a long siege and sent its Protestant citizens into exile. Antwerp's banking was controlled for a generation by Genoa and Amsterdam became the new trading centre.
The recognition of the independence of the United Provinces by the Treaty of Munster in 1648 stipulated that the Scheldt should be closed to navigation, which destroyed Antwerp's trading activities[; the city was now politically in Spanish Netherlands, blocked by the United Provinces from access to the sea (1579-1713)]. This impediment remained in force until 1863.... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antwerp#17th-19th_ce…