The name of Ypres (in Flemish Iper) is associated with some of the fiercest battles in the WWI. When the countryside around the city was covered with dead and the city itself was almost completely destroyed. Mostly though Ypres in Belgium became tragically famous the April 14, 1915 when, during the second battle that bears the name of the city, they were used for the first time in fighting i asphyxiant gases.
Since then, the lethal mustard gas has been called precisely mustard gas. Around the city, thousands of men died and the medieval city it was completely destroyed by artillery. For all these reasons today his campaign with the war cemeteries (there are hundreds) e the battlefields they are an important pilgrimage site.
Ypres the capital of fabrics
Ypres was founded in the tenth century and during the Middle Ages was one of the most important cities of the Belgium (with Gentlemen And Bruges) thanks to his wealth that he derived from cloth trade and fabrics. Wealth led to the construction of a splendid city and very elegant that remained so, as mentioned, until it ended up being right in the line of fire and in the center of the battles.
After the war, however, it was rebuilt and today it offers visitors a pleasant and refined appearance, with the typical features Flemish palacesbeautiful streets and squares.
Ypres in Belgium: a tribute to the battlefields
The area around Ypres in Belgium was, in the four years between 1914 and 1918, at the center of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. The dead are buried in 170 war cemeteries and their graves are still visited by relatives. Many instead prefer to wander along the roads that intersect in the countryside and which, starting from Menin gate they arrive at the battle zones.
To do this you can follow the roads N345 and N332 bordering British cemeteries and trench areas. Arriving up to the village of Zonnebeke which was completely destroyed. Wandering the fields of Flanders around the city of Ypres you will come across names that are part of the history of Great War.
It is a tour that can also be done by bike following what is called the Ypres Salient Cycle Routea cycle path of over thirty km where you can see trees planted to form lines: they are the plants that show where the front lines. The surrounding countryside is very suggestive and it seems impossible that people fought here especially when it comes to the delightful villages between the fields. But the memory is evident. Because every few kilometers you then come to a war cemetery.
The city center and the Grote Markt
The huge Lakenhalle (i.e. the old cloth market) occupies an entire side of the large central square of the city, the Grote Markt. The original building was started around 1260 and finished in 1304. But it was completely destroyed during the WWI while the current structure was rebuilt between 1934 and 1958 by the architects Coomans and Pauwels. Of note are the statues of King Albert I and of the queen Elizabeth I of Belgium above the bell tower gate, next to the medieval replicas.
The facade of Lakenhalle is 125 meters long and this was a vital center for trade. Just think that in the Middle Ages ships could sail directly to the palace to unload their cargoes of wool as today the river Ypreslee it is underground. Today the large room on the first floor is open to visitors. Host the War museum which reveals the horrors of the conflict through a multimedia show combining images of the old city with uniforms and equipment of all armies. And other harrowing memories of those days.
Ypres in Belgium: churches and memorials
Behind the Lakenhalle is found Sint-Maartenskathedraali.e. the cathedral. The church was built in XIII century while its south entrance and tower were added in the 15th century. This facility was also completely destroyed and rebuilt in 1922. Its proportions are reminiscent of the monumental cathedrals of France while it is impossible not to see the tall tower.
Inside there are some art treasures that survived the bombing and in particular an image believed to have miraculous powers. Also in the cathedral there are some tombs including that of the bishop Jansenius, founder of Jansenism. Plus a stained glass gift from Britain to commemorate war dead.
North of the cathedral, facing the Schouwburg Theaterthere is the church of St. George, commissioned by the Anglican Church to commemorate the soldiers of Commonwealth British, killed in battle in Flanders. The interior of the church, with the statue of St. George and the plaque with the famous poem “In the fields of Flanders” were funded by Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
The Menin gate and the sound of the trumpet
Over the eastern end of the Grote Markta short distance away, is the Menin Gatebuilt by the architect Sir Reginald Blomfield. The location is that of the medieval city gate, through which English soldiers marched to the battlefields. And, in many cases, towards death. This monument is the starting point for any battlefield tour and today serves as a World War I memorial.
On its white walls have been engraved i names of 54,896 British soldiers who were killed or are missing in those days of war. Every evening at 20, since 1928 without interruptionhere a ceremony is repeated with the execution of silence with there trumpet.
Ypres in Belgium: the surroundings
Near the hamlet of Nieuwe-Molden, twelve kilometers from Ypres, is the largest British war cemetery in the Flanders. The Tyne Cot Cemetery was drawn by Sir Reginald Blomfield and is home to nearly 12,000 war graves and a memorial dedicated to the 35,000 soldiers who fell after August 16, 1917. The location offers one of the best battlefield views.
A short distance south at the crossroads with the road to rangemarkthere is a memorial commemorating i 2,000 Canadians died in the first German gas attack in 1915. About two miles from the Canadian cemetery you come to the pretty village of rangemark, itself devastated during the war, which houses a huge German war cemetery (almost 45,000 graves). From Langemark, you can go back towards Ypres: past the British cemetery of cement houseto Boezingethere is a splendid view of the city of Ypres.