Before Amsterdam, another North Sea city was the hub of the known world. Antwerp, writes Michael Pye, 'rapidly became a world city, a centre of stories published across Europe, a sensation like nineteenth-century Paris or twentieth-century New York, one of the first cities where anything could happen or at least be believed. Other cities showed the power of kings or dukes or empires, but Antwerp showed only itself: a place of trade, where people wanted, needed to be, or couldn't afford not to be. It was famous on its own terms.'
New trade routes into the city brought pepper and diamonds from India, silver from America and gold from Africa that tracked by cart and river to the Ottoman Empire in the East. Antwerp made possible escape routes to Istanbul for Jews facing the Inquisition in Portugal, including for the woman running the largest merchant banking house in Europe. And in just a few generations, the city inspired Thomas More's Utopia, taught Erasmus about money, modelled for Pieter Bruegel's Tower of Babel, protected William Tyndale and smuggled out copies of his bible in English.
This glory was erased when the Dutch rebelled against their Spanish masters and mutinous troops burned the city records. Pye uses novels, paintings, schoolbooks and archives from Venice, to London, to the Medici to uncover the hidden story of the years when Antwerp was the 'exception' to all Europe.
hardcover, 272 p