A slate, a square and a place in the Antwerp district of Zurenborg, together a sight to behold.

23/07/2020

It was a close call, but at the end of the 1960s, this dilapidated architectural splendour was nearly razed to the ground. Architects, intellectuals, writers, poets, journalists, artists, art lovers and all kinds of alternative types put a stop to the demolition plans.

First the name Zurenborg. It may refer to the marshy, acidic (suere) soils that used to be there, the so-called suerbeemden, or it may refer to the farmstead of the van Suers, in which case the place name is derived from a family name. In any case, in the 16th century the Zurenborg court stood in these rural city outskirts. The wealthy Cogels and Osy families purchased this pleasure garden and the estate in 1837, surrounded by meadows, fields, orchards and farmhouses. Senator John Cogels and his brother-in-law, Baron Edouard Osy, founded a society in 1881 that would build prestigious town houses there. With the 'new objectivity' after the Second World War, the district became rundown, but as mentioned above, the tide turned and in 1984, 170 buildings were even listed as monuments.

Zurenborg is dissected by the ring railway from west to east. Right across the Tramplein and the adjoining Draakplaats runs an impressive viaduct with low arches, which is attractively illuminated at night. Do you see those two identical brick towers next to each other? They used to supply the water for the steam locomotives of the local railways.

To the north of the railway, modest town houses in neo-Renaissance, neo-classical and eclectic style are concentrated on and around the Dageraadplaats. However, the showpiece of Zurenborg is the barely 400-metre-long main street Cogels-Osylei on the south side, in art nouveau, neo-Romanesque, neo-Baroque and eclectic style from around the 1900s. Architect Jos Bascourt, an acolyte of Victor Horta, left his mark on the district. Ernest Dieltiens and Jacques De Weerdt did too, to a lesser extent. They often designed and built in groups of two, three, four or even five houses together. Are you ready for a series of these unmissable bourgeois pearls? Here we go: Brabo (no. 1), Carolus Magnus (6-12), Het Molentje (9-11), Minerva (13-15), De Zevensterre (17), Apollo (19-21-23), In de Sonne (25), In de Sterre (27), In de Mane (29), the four seemingly identical white-plastered Witte Paleizen at the roundabout that nod to the Château de Chambord in the Loire valley, Les Mouettes (39), De Zonnebloem (50), De Morgenster (55 – watch out for the handle of the draw bell!), Quinten Matsijs (80) … Finally, you need to make two sideways jumps: Euterpia (Generaal Capiaumontstraat 2) from 1906, with references to the Ancient Greek muse of lyrical poetry and De Vier Jaargetijden (crossroads of Generaal Van Merlenstraat and Waterloostraat) from 1899, with four colourful facade mosaics representing the four seasons.

For the French director Alain Resnais, reason enough at the time to shoot scenes in Zurenborg for his film Providence (1977).