A rich history of Antwerp from the author of the acclaimed bestseller The Edge of the World
Even before Amsterdam there was a dazzling North Sea port at the hub of the known world: the city of Antwerp.
Antwerp was sensational like nineteenth-century Paris or twentieth-century New York, somewhere anything could happen or at least be believed: killer bankers, easy kisses, a market in secrets and every kind of heresy. For half the sixteenth century, it was the place for breaking rules - religious, sexual, intellectual.
In Antwerp, things changed. One man cornered all the money in the city and reinvented ideas of what money meant. Another gave Antwerp a new shape purely out of his own ambition. Jews fleeing the Portuguese Inquisition needed Antwerp for their escape, thanks to the remarkable woman at the head of the grandest banking family in Europe.
Thomas More opened Utopia there, Erasmus puzzled over money and exchanges, William Tyndale sheltered there and smuggled out his Bible in English until he was killed. Pieter Bruegel painted the town as The Tower of Babel.
But when Antwerp rebelled with the Dutch against the Spanish and lost, all that glory was buried and its true history rewritten. The city that unsettled so many now became conformist. Mutinous troops burned the city records. Michael Pye sets out to rediscover the city that was lost and bring its wilder days to life using every kind of clue: novels, paintings, songs, schoolbooks, letters and the archives of Venice, London and the Medici. He builds a picture of a city haunted by fire, plague and violence, but learning how to be a power in its own right in the world after feudalism.
This is the Antwerp which was the proud 'exception' to all of Europe.
Antwerp is the star of this charming and rather lovely history ... Pye writes beautifully, has a lovely eye for detail and an obvious affection for this period of Antwerp's history.
In the 16th century Antwerp was Europe's marketplace, a tolerant, secular city governed by money. It was a spectacular place, a rogue's paradise where everything seemed possible. The city's story is as convoluted as its streets. There is no single plot and there are no straight narrative lines. Michael Pye is the perfect chronicler of this extraordinary place, being a writer of deep complexity, immense imagination and opulent prose. His cornucopia of Antwerp's abundant delights is as voluptuous as the city itself.
wondrous ... a book of imaginative historical reconstruction that reads as brilliantly as a novel by Hilary Mantel
in his exhilarating new history of Renaissance Antwerp ... Pye captures Antwerp's greatest decades in character studies, stories and vignettes, encompassing not just trade but buildings and books too. It is pieced together with great skill and art, and the effect is dazzling. If you want a linear history of 16th century Antwerp, stay away. But if you want a sense of the city's anarchic splendour, its potent, unsustainable originality, then this is the book for you. Pye conjures up exactly the glamour that drew people to Antwerp's gates in its pomp: the city as idea; the city as improvisation; the city as possibility.
Antwerp, Pye's galloping and flavoursome account of the city's heyday [is] a lustrous gem of a book. Studded with racy anecdotes but firmly embedded in archival research, it shows why the city that nurtured "a pragmatic kind of tolerance" rose so fast - and why, almost as rapidly, it fell ... Pye unrolls a sparkling string of stories rather than a heavy tapestry of contexts, hinterlands and aftermaths ... In this swarming fresco, which merits a place near Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches or Robert Hughes' homage to Barcelona, Pye not only rescues Antwerp's lost "world of liberty", he leads entranced readers through its grubby, glittering streets.
Capturing the essence of 16th-century Antwerp is difficult; its story is as convoluted as its streets. That story does not lend itself to linearity; there's no single plot, no straight narrative lines. Michael Pye - journalist, broadcaster and prolific author - is the perfect chronicler of this extraordinary place, since he revels in complexity and never hesitates to use his abundant imagination. His prose is as opulent as the city itself. ... Pye provides a cornucopia of Antwerp's abundant delights.
Pye offers a master class on how to tell the story of a city. Fascinating and gloriously good fun.
Now a museum-like gem, for much of the 16th century, Antwerp thrived as Europe's most vibrant center of commerce, intellectual life, and free thought. Pye offers a colorful depiction of the city's 'exceptional years.' Entertaining. An impressionistic portrait of its institutions and great men (Bruegel, Erasmus, et al.), emphasizing the lives of now-obscure traders, bankers, entrepreneurs, officials, printers, and booksellers, including a surprising number of successful women and Jews. A vivid look at a great Renaissance city.
In a highly readable new book, Michael Pye argues that, during Europe's ages of discovery, it became one of the earliest genuinely global cities too ... If we understood more about Antwerp, though, we might understand more about ourselves and our long umbilical links to Europe.