A history of the Antwerp Archives (FelixArchief) and getting there

History of the archives:
The archives of the city of Antwerp started with two charters from 1221 which the city kept in a huge chest which was longer then two meters and which was called the ‘privilegiekom’.

Of each lock the key was kept by another councilmember of the city. Therefore only when all councilmembers were together, the chest could be opened (the chest is currently on view in the reading room of the Antwerp archives).

Me standing in front of that chest (I am holding an archival item which is not related to the chest)

Thanks to the growth of the city, and of the growing stack of documents, the chest did not meet anymore the expectations of the city. Another reason why the chest did not fulfill the requirements anymore at that time, is that until the French Revolution all departments of the city archived their own files, which means that there was no (centralized) ‘city archive’ like we know today in Antwerp.

In 1796 a city archivist was appointed who was in charge of storing and managing the archives. Until the first half of the 20th century the archives were kept in the town hall (the beautiful town hall was built in Renaissance style between 1561 and 1565). Since then the archives moved a few times. During the Second World War the most important pieces of the archives were kept near a moated castle near Rochefort (in the south of Belgium). After the war the archives moved to the Venusstraat in a building which purpose was not meant (yet) for archives, therefore part of the archives were temporarily moved to a building in the Meirbrug. On 15 December 1956 the building in the Venusstraat was refurbished and the archives were kept there for almost 50 years. It closed it doors to the public on May 1st, 2006.

In November 2006 the city archives reopened its door in a magnificent building which previously was a warehouse near the old harbor of Antwerp. That warehouse was called Sint-Felixpakhuis (pakhuis is warehouse in Dutch).  That building was established by the “Compagnie générale de matériels des chemins de fer” from Molenbeek (near Brussels) as the “Entrepôt Saint-Félix” to store bulk commodities of coffee, hops, grain, wine, tobacco.
Its architect was called Felix Pauwels. His first name (Latin for happy, successful, prosperous) explains the likely origin of the buidling’s name. All warehouses in the port do have a name which in fact is easier to remember than an address or number of a wharf.

The archives of Antwerp kept the name and thus the archives nowadays are called  FelixArchief.   I am wondering if there are any other archives with a name.

The FelixArchief keeps the following archives:

  • The archive from the Ancien Regime (from the  Middle Ages  until the French Period which was in about 1794/1795)
  • The Modern Archive (from 1794/1795 until nowadays)
  • Archives from private persons, families, companies and organizations

The FelixArchief as seen from the MAS-museum with in front the Willemdok

The area:
The neighborhood in which the FelixArchief is based, is known as “‘t Eilandje” (the island). It is an old harbor area in Northern-Antwerp which originated in the second half of the 16th century. It originally was known as “Nieuwstad” (new city). In a later stage it was called “‘t Eilandje” because it was completely surrounded by docks of which the two oldest docks of Antwerp: Bonapartedok and Willemdok (until 1903 repectively known as   1903 “Klein Dok“[Small dock] and “Groot Dok” [Big dock])  form the core of “‘ Eilandje”.

A view on the Willemdok as seen from the MAS-museum

Other Museums nearby:
Some other known and important museums in that area are the and the Red Star Line museums.

The MAS (museum aan de stroom – Museum near the stream) (www.mas.be)   is a huge museum on 8 floors with a 9th floor offering you a magnificent and panoramic view of Antwerp. There are 4 themes  and temporary exhibitions at the MAS which you can visit.

The other museum is the the Red Star Line museum (www.redstarline.be) which will be opened in May 2013. The Red Star Line was a shipping company and the museum will be a Belgian museum similar to the Ellis Island museum in the USA.

The MAS behind the Willemdok (as seen while standing outside the FelixPakhuis)

The MAS with in front the Bonapartedok (as seen while standing on the Tavernierkaai)

Getting there:
The FelixArchief is based at the following address:

Oudeleeuwenrui 29
B-2000 Antwerpen

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You can get there by public transportation. Bus 17, 30 and 34 stop just in front of the archives (the stop is called FelixArchief) and by tram you could take 4 or 7 which stop at about 500 meters from the archives (check www.delijn.be/en/index.htm for a planner).

By car it will take you about 7 minutes from the Jewish area in Antwerp and about 35 minutes from the national airport in Brussels.

You can contact them via:

telephone: +32 3 338 94 11
e-mail: stadsarchief-a@t-stad.antwerpen.be
website:  www.felixarchief.be


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