Antwerp, known as Anvers in French and Antwerpen in Flemish, is a beautiful port city situated to the North of Belgium and not far from the border with the Netherlands. Famed for its diamond district and wealth of trade throughout the centuries, today Antwerp is one European city you won’t want to miss off your Belgium bucket list. And if there’s one attraction I enjoyed perhaps more than any other, it was the Plantin-Moretus Museum, a cultural hub dedicated to the written, and more accurately, the printed word.
Situated in the former Plantin Press and at the Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market), the museum is known as the Plantin-Moretusmuseum in Flemish and features delights such as the world’s oldest printing press and wealth of family paintings dating back some four centuries. After all, the site served not only as a printing press, but also as a home to the Plantin-Moretus family. Since 2005, the Plantin-Moretus Museum has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, the first museum to feature on the list! Here’s how to visit, as well as things to know before you go!
A History of the Plantin-Moretus Museum
The history of the Plantin-Moretus Museum dates all the way back to the 16th-century when Frenchman Christophe Plantin moved to Antwerp. Though he began as a bookbinder, he quickly established himself as a printer publisher, thus making him the first industrial printer in Europe.
The first print shop was called the ‘De Gulden Passer’ (The Gilded Compass). What began as a one man operation with Parisian Christophe Plantin soon became a multi-person business when Plantin brought on Jan Moretus, who in time also became his soon in law.
Within twenty years, the business moved to Vrijdagmarkt, the location museum visitors enjoy today. Soon enough, the business had grown to over seventy employees and branches were established in both the French capital city of Paris, as well as the small university city of Leiden. The press was eventually sold by Plantijn to the Moretus family, and operated for well over three hundred years.
In 1876, the entire house and site were sold by Edward Moretus to the City of Antwerp, on the condition that the historical site be turned into a museum. Features of the Baroque house and printing press turned museum original gems such as a medieval courtyard and the kind of brick architecture that’s so synonymous with the Low Countries.
How to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum
If you’re looking to visit the Belgian museum for yourself, then note that the cultural institution is open from Tuesday through to Sunday (it’s pretty common for museums in Europe to be closed on Mondays). Throughout the year, the museum is also closed during various public holidays, including the 1st January and the 25th December.
General admission is €8, while reduced admission is €6 (both prices are more than worth it for at least half a day of sightseeing!). The museum is also free for visitors under 12 and free for everyone on the last Wednesday of the month (though be sure to arrive earlier as opposed to later as the museum gets pretty busy pretty quickly). Audio guides can be borrowed for an additional €2, though guides in several different languages are free to borrow at reception.
Particular highlights of the Plantin-Moretus Museum include the world’s two oldest printing presses from around 1600 (yes, really!) and a library dating back to 1640. In total, there are over thirty rooms to visit, thus ensuring a unique glimpse into a well-preserved building from the 17th and 18th centuries. Otherwise, you should know that the Plantin-Moretus collections also boast an original Gutenberg bible and the first printed atlas.
As well as offering an insight into printing during the Age of Enlightenment, part of the museum comprises of the former apartments of the Plantin-Moretus families. Included in these regal and beautifully decorated spaces are paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens (family portraits, no less), and Moretus books which were quite literally by Rubens’ brother, Philip and illustrated by Pieter Paul.
Perhaps most excitingly of all, the Plantin-Moretus contains within its collections the only surviving copy of the original Garamond letter dies. These pieces formed the basis for the Garamond font, the basis for popular text editing type fonts still in use to this day! Finally, we particularly enjoyed relaxing and snapping photos of the central medieval courtyard, which is home to perfectly manicured shrubs and some stunning architectural features.