The ‘Antwerp Story’ experience course informs visitors

Monument and attraction ‘Het Steen’ in Antwerp reopened in the autumn of 2021 after a major restoration and new construction. In the first six months after reopening, 100,000 visitors passed through the gates of this iconic building.

Het Steen, September 2021, under renovation

It is the oldest preserved building and was built in the period 1200-1225 as a moat to protect against Viking raids. Over the centuries, the castle has fulfilled various functions, such as a prison and the National Maritime Museum. Eventually, it got the destination of the city ‘welcome’, and ‘Het Steen’ interprets the city’s DNA to tens of thousands of tourists.

In order to prepare tourists from home and abroad as optimally as possible for a visit to the city, ‘The Antwerp Story’ has been developed, an experience trail through 11 rooms, where tourists gain insight into the city’s history. Two Dutch companies have been closely involved in the development of the concept The Antwerp Story, Studio Louter and Opera Amsterdam. They have translated the huge mountain of information into interactive applications, touch screens and movies. Advanced audiovisual techniques are combined with the ‘ordinary’ craft, such as scale models in wood of famous buildings. Sometimes visitors are pleasantly surprised with distinctive creativity and unique technical ingenuity.

Toon Jacobs, department manager for ‘Het Onthaal’: “The reopening created some tumult among the people of Antwerp, the combination of new construction and a historical monument. It is also an advantage. For since October last year we have already had more than 100,000 visitors. All would like to see with his own eyes how it turned out. Public opinion is now much more positive about the new building. “He is enthusiastic about The Antwerp Story and is happy to explain.” One of the first rooms is the carpet room. It refers to the many carpet factories that used to be in West Flanders. The design of the rug is by Sam Vanallemeersch, a well known Antwerp artist. Remarkable Antwerp residents, events and stories are intertwined. ”.

Desired visitor experience

Studio Louter, design agency OPERA Amsterdam, together with Ocular, an agency for interactive experiences in Belgium, searched for a concept that brings out the soul of Antwerp. Pepijn Wilbers: “We are a content design agency for museums and cultural heritage. Our story design should lead to the desired visitor experience. When we started as an agency, we talked to the most important parties involved in Antwerp: city guides, entrepreneurs and cafe owners. Again and again we asked ourselves the question ‘Is this part of the soul of Antwerp?’ In 11 rooms, visitors can learn a lot through wooden-scale models of buildings in Antwerp such as the legendary station and Our Lady’s Cathedral, multimedia techniques such as film, touchscreen and a 360-degree presentation. “Particularly surprising is the 3D presentation of a fashion studio where the presentation comes very close to reality.Another characteristic feature is the ability to download thematic walks through Antwerp on your smartphone via a QR code.Toon Jacobs is especially proud of the separate icon at the bottom of a touch screen or movie that allows for wheelchair users to follow an interactive program.

In short, The Antwerp Story is an interactive adventure course where the latest technologies have been applied with respect to the authentic historical elements.

New cruise terminal

The function of a cruise terminal has also been realized in connection with the new construction and conversion of Het Steen. For example, a 350-meter pontoon has been built so that sea and river cruise ships can moor. In recent times, Antwerp has seen growth figures as a destination for sea and river cruises. In 2019, 887 river and 33 sea cruises called at the city with 147,372 passengers. This growth resulted in the need for additional capacity and a better infrastructure adapted to stricter environmental standards to accommodate ships and passengers. In 2018, the city council decided to integrate the new cruise terminal in the upcoming tourist reception center in and around Het Steen. In this way, passengers on sea and river cruises can be immediately received optimally in Antwerp. What is special is that the passengers arrive directly at the historic heart of the city.

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Thanks to (author), Frits van Wolveren, freelance editor in recreation and tourism

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