The Port of Antwerp. An overview of the Harbor and City (1913)
ANTWERP, famous as the birthplace of Quentin Massys and Rubens, is not only a town of art and archaeological treasures; it has also the qualities and attractions of a large modern city, and ranks among the greatest maritime ports of the world.
The harbor is unique, lying about fifty miles from the North Sea, on the right bank of the river Scheldt, at the crossing of the most important maritime route and the densest and most extensive net of rivers, canals and railroads. Thus it is the natural port of a most active population, as well as the most industrial part of Europe.
The Scheldt, which has its source in France, and is navigable before entering Belgium at Antwerp, is a majestic river about 550 yards wide, and from 11 (at low tide) to 15 (at high tide) yards deep. A few miles farther down, the river has the aspect of an estuary. There a maritime canal connects the Scheldt with the Rhine, and in that way provides for the traffic between the Rhine provinces and Antwerp.
The valleys of the Scheldt, the Meuse, and the Rhine form the immediate " hinterland " or back-country of the Belgian port, but thanks to the numerous means of communication by rail and water, this back-country stretches uninterruptedly as far as France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Hungary, and even the Balkans.
The port of Antwerp consists of two distinct parts, the river and the docks.
The right bank of the Scheldt has quay-walls over a length of nearly four miles, along which are laid out embankments from 110 to 265 yards wide, provided with sheds, cranes, railway lines, and skirted by a broad avenue for the traffic. Alongside these quays lie the ships of the regular steamship lines, which have their fixed berths. Thanks to the great depth of the river, ships drawing up to 33 feet can moor directly at the quay-walls.
At the southern end of the river quays are the petroleum installations, extensive enough to store 3312 million imperial gallons of petrol, 3 million gallons of benzene, 9 million gallons of heavy oils, and 12 million pounds of resin. Yet these installations, although covering an area of 12312 acres, are insufficient, and at present the necessary appropriations are being made by the municipality for extending them over an area of 175 acres.
There are 20 docks, 16 maritime and 4 barge docks. They cover a total area of 440 acres and offer a mooring length of about 15 miles. The water at these docks is from 7.2 to 12.4 yards deep. Communication with the river Scheldt is had by means of three maritime locks, of which the Royers Lock is the most important, allowing the largest vessels to dock at any stage of the tide. This big lock can be filled and emptied in ten minutes.
Moreover there are 7 dry docks of various dimensions, the newest being 245 yards long, 27 wide, and 9.55 deep from the water-line. This immense dock can be emptied in two hours' time.
Generally the river quays and docks are bordered by three railway lines, while two other lines lie parallel to these, but along the inland side of the sheds. All these lines are connected to six stations, being themselves directly linked to the general railway lines. The harbor lines have a total length of 334 kilometers, yet they are being almost constantly increased.
For loading and unloading the shippers utilize hundreds of hoisting machines of diverse power and description. There are, for instance, 300 hydraulic and more than 100 electric cranes of 2, or 2 1/2 tons lifting power each, one crane of 20 tons, one of 40, one of 50, and shear legs of 120 tons, a coal-tipping device, 5 floating cranes, and 17 pneumatic grain elevators, each of them capable of transshipping more than 150 tons of cereals an hour. Other powerful hoisting plants, among them a crane of 150 tons, are building for the port of Antwerp.
This equipment, which would seem abundant, and these immense installations, are in fact insufficient to answer the requirements of the ever-increasing traffic of the port of Antwerp. Many projects of extension have therefore been elaborated, and several are being realized, among the latter, a great maritime lock, called "Kruissch ans," 6 miles downstream of the town; its lock-chamber will have a length of 300 yards and an opening of 40 yards, allowing ships drawing 42 feet to go in and out at any stage of the tide.
Starting from that lock, a canal-basin 4 miles long and 400 yards wide will communicate with the extreme northern point of the existing docks, and in addition. 2.000 yards of new quay-walls will be built in deep water along the river. After the completion of these works, some five years hence, the Antwerp harbor will embrace 65 kilometers of quays. 1,480 acres of docks, 4,000 acres of embankment and railway stations, and will have tripled its commercial capacity, which now totals 20 million tons.
Courtesy of Leo Van Riel, Manager of the Municipal Information Office at Antwerp. circa 1913