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02 of 10

Visit a 400-Year-Old Printing House

The Top 10 Things to Do in Antwerp

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Plantin Moretus Museum, Vrijdagmarkt 22, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium

This large, imposing and very grand house is tucked down a side street in central Antwerp. Walk inside and you enter the house and workshops of the Plantin-Moretus publishing firm, the most important and largest printers in Europe at the time.

The house was built around a charming formal 17th-century garden with rooms on four sides. The first rooms you visit are domestic, a splendid series of dining and living rooms that showed off the wealth and power of the family. Some have oak paneled walls; others have walls lined with gilded leather or hung with portraits of the family and their friends.

But the house was more than just a home and the rest of the building was used for the printing firm. You can see rooms full of substantial wooden presses that are the oldest in the world, and can watch demonstrations of how the presses worked. The old bookshop takes you back to the days when wealthy customers came to buy, their silver and gold coins weighed to check their value before they were allowed to take their precious books home.

The Plantin-Moretus firm produced 55 works a year, employing 22 men who worked 14-hour days. They acted as the official printer for Antwerp, and the royal typographer to King Philip II of Spain. Their 8-volume Plantin Polyglot Bible with Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Syriac text was the most sophisticated production at the time; others of their publications are shown here in facsimile.

The Plantin-Moretus Museum is a real treasure trove, the only museum in the world to be granted UNESCO World Heritage status.