When coffee travels from tree to cup, it will most likely spend some time in warehouses. First the beans need to be stored at the producing farm, then at the port of the country of origin, and eventually at the port of destination and the roasters’ warehouse. This week, we will take a look at the goldmine where the lion’s share of 32cup’s spot coffee is stored: the Port of Antwerp. Today in Part 1: The History of the Port of Antwerp.
The river Scheldt and the Port of Antwerp have been Flemish landmarks for centuries. The Port was an important stimulus for the city of Antwerp when it gained its fame in the 16th Century – also known as Antwerp’s Golden Age. In that time, Antwerp was the commercial heart of Europe, with a.o. 40% of world trade in diamonds through its ports, thus gaining its reputation as the Diamond Capital. When the Eighty Years’ War broke out in 1572, the religious revolution of the Reformation had a serious impact on Antwerp. For years it was the heart of the Dutch revolt, but eventually Antwerp capitulated in 1585. The protestant intellectuals, craftsmen and traders left the city to set up shop in Amsterdam, contributing to Amsterdam’s Golden Age (17th Century). After the signing of the Peace of Münster, that ended the Eighty Year’s War, in 1648, one of the stipulations was the closing of the river Scheldt to navigation, which held back further development in the port for decades.
Antwerp’s potential was once again recognized by Napoleon Bonaparte, who ordered the construction of Antwerp’s first lock and dock in 1811. Called the Bonaparte Dock, it was joined by a second dock – called the Willem Dock after the Dutch King – in 1813. In 1830 the Belgian revolution broke out, eventually leading to the creation of the independence of Belgium, which held Antwerp as one of its most important economical drivers. The following decades would not only see the construction of several more docks and locks, but also the Iron Rhine Railway (1879), which connected Antwerp to the economically paramount Ruhr area. The infrastructural improvements led to a second Golden Age for Antwerp and its port, until some particular events in Eastern Europe set fire to Europe and the world…
With the arrival of World War I, the British, and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill in particular, were well aware of the Port of Antwerp’s strategic importance, so much so that Churchill took charge of the defense of the city and its port himself.
After a rather quiet Interbellum, the Belgians experienced another trauma between 1940 and 1944. Allied forces liberated Antwerp on 4 September 1944 and found the port and facilities relatively undamaged with no major reconstruction work required. An agreement divided the port between the USA and the UK, who managed to shift the city in high gear again by mid-December. Despite enemy air attacks, rockets and buzz bombs, operations were never entirely halted, although they were interrupted.
When peace returned work started on the Grote Doorsteek, an ambitious plan which ultimately resulted in the extension of the docklands on the right bank of the Scheldt to the Dutch border. The construction of the Berendrecht Lock was the crowning element of this plan. It is the world’s largest shipping lock and it was inaugurated in 1989. Eventually, the rich history of the Port of Antwerp was immortalized the docks’ names: the Willemdok (after the Dutch King Willem), the Bonapartedok, the Churchilldok and the Marshalldok (after wartime American General George Marshall) are examples of the interdependence between Antwerp and some of the world’s greatest leaders.
With the current development on both banks of the Scheldt, the Port of Antwerp is still growing and getting ready for the future. In the second part of this review, we will take a look at more facts and figures of the port.