The modern Babylon right on our doorstep

ANTWERP — the Belgian city on our doorstep — in the 1500s was a unique mix of languages, faiths and nationalities.

According to writer Michael Pye, it could have been a modern Babylon. Or, given its dignity and importance, it could have beendeemed the new Rome.

The locals protected merchants and artisans — who included converso Jews from Portugal, only nominally converted to Catholicism — who brought them prosperity and prestige.

Pye, whose new book is called Europe’s Babylon, is a gifted storyteller.

Like other great trading cities “with tight filthy streets that made a convenient dormitory for rats”, he reveals, Antwerp was especially susceptible to plagues but had to “live close to death or not at all”.

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