From graveyard to beautiful square, the Groenplaats of Antwerp

The 'Groenplaats' is a square in the center of the city of Antwerp. On the square there are several trees and benches, it is a resting place right in the busy city center. In the middle of the square stands the statue of Peter Paul Rubens, the most famous painter of the city. It was designed by William Geefs in 1840.


But what is now a beautiful square was once a graveyard for the poor inhabitants of the city. In the 13th century the south side of Our Lady Cathedral served as a cemetery. Especially for poorer residents who could not afford to be buried in the church itself. In 1784 Emperor Joseph II had forbidden to use any more cemeteries within the city walls, so the Antwerp administration decided to opened cemeteries at the south side of the city, 'het Kiel' and one further away from the city center where currently the Stuyvenberg Square is.


In 1795 the 'Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerkhof' also called the 'Groenkerkhof' (Green Graveyard) was claimed by the French occupiers. A few years later, in 1799, the walls around it were demolished to prepare the construction of the Place de l'égalité (equality Square), which started in 1803. Some houses were demolished and replaced by three rows of linden trees. In 1805 the new square was officially inaugurated, not as the Place de l'égalité but as 'Place Bonaparte' (Bonaparte Square) in honor of Napoleon, it had that name until 1815.

After the French occupation the city decided to change to name to 'Groenplaats' (green place) after its original cemetery name.