(CNN) — With its flat-fronted 1960s buildings and plain color scheme, Hoveniersstraat might be dismissed as one of the most drab streets in the pretty baroque Belgian city of Antwerp.
In fact, it’s one of the most fascinating, and there are several high security clues that give the game away. The street is protected by a police station, dozens of CCTV cameras and several armed soldiers. The reason: Hoveniersstraat is the center of Antwerp’s — and the world’s — diamond industry.
About 84% of all rough diamonds and 50% of all cut diamonds on the planet are traded in this destination today. Located less than an hour from Brussels by train, the Belgian city, has been a major diamond center since medieval times.
“Antwerp has been a diamond centre for centuries,” says Anne Claesen, who works as a guide on Antwerp’s diamond walking trail. “The world’s first stock exchange was founded here, trading everything from copper and silver to diamonds and gold.”
I meet Claesen by Antwerp’s train station, a vast terminus with elaborate neo-baroque decorations. Claesen was part of a team of archivists who unearthed a document dated September 15, 1447 that established the city’s reputation as a trusted hub for jewel trading.
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