The Plantin Moretus Museum (www.museumplantinmoretus.be) is located at the Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market) in Antwerp. The museum is the original residence and workshop of the Plantin and Moretus publishing dynasty who were world renowned for their entrepreneurial skills.
Plantin moved his family to the residence in 1576 and his family lived and worked there for the next 300 years. Throughout those years, the "Gulden Compass" as the house was named changed and expanded in size to fit the ever growing business.
Walking through the museum which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, you are transported back in time by about about 400 years.
It is the only museum on the prestigious UNESCO world heritage list mainly because of the uniqueness of the museum. It includes a prestigious mansion, the only fully equipped printing workshop from the 16th century, the world's largest selection of Plantin and Moretus editions,...
Walking through the house, you can admire the original wall coverings and creaking oak floors from the 16th century, but also the oldest printing presses in the world . Within the walls of the patrician house is a quiet garden where the noises from the city are blocked by the old buildings surrounding it.
Where the bottom floor is accessible for everybody, wheelchairs won't be able to access the first floor. This floor has many floor level changes.
Starting with the ground floor, it is here that you find the impressive workshop that once was the beating heart of the business. With a 56 strong workforce, it was the largest business of its kind in the world at this time.
First used in 1580, it contained 16 presses. Two of the presses date back to the 16th century where the others are from the 17th and 18th century.
Where the compositors would set the lead type in a composing stick to form a line, these lines would then be assembled on a sturdy board to form the page.
The great library is still organised today like a private humanistic library of the 17th century, with high shelves filled with books arranged according to size, lecterns, globes and busts. The museum now contains the largest selection of Plantin and Moretus editions, many of which are on display. The old shop is another interesting part of the house. With its counter and cabinets still intact, the shop used to sell the books as loose sheets. If a customer wanted a book, then they had to bring the loose sheets to a bookbinder.
Within the shop, you can still see the money scale for checking silver and gold coins. Another room that intrigued me was the room where they made the lead letters, copper plates and wooden blocks used during the printing process. Everything was managed in house in those days, although Plantin had set up an international distribution network of booksellers who would help him sell his books.
But the museum offers so much more, you can admire a rich art collection that include portraits by Rubens. the museum's collection of paintings includes 71 portraits. it was Balthasar Moretus who asked his good friend Peter Paul Rubens to make portraits of his grandparents.
In the upstairs rooms, you find room upon room with original books, manuscripts and original prints. Within the extensive collection are atlases, science books, almanac's and many more publications. And this extensive collection is available online.
And last but not least, there is the fabulous courtyard garden. Already famous during Pantin's own time, it was frequently visited by kings, princes and prominent figures. The garden you see nowadays was created in 1992 using plants that were popular during the 16th and 17th centuries. Being a close friend to some of the greatest botanists of his day must have helped him in designing the garden. Botanists like Rembert Dodoens had their books publicized through Plantin, many which can still be admired in the museum.
About the Author
We are Peter & Dolores De Bie. We love the great outdoors, discovering new parts of the world and writing about our adventures along the Wild Atlantic Way and further afield