Ypres (in Flemish Ypres) is associated with some of the most bitter battles of the First World War, when the urban countryside became the site of major trench warfare and the city itself was almost completely destroyed. Today, the cemeteries and preserved battlefields of this era are an important site of pilgrimage. Ypres itself was founded in the tenth century and was one of the most important cities in Belgium during the Middle Ages (along with Ghent and Bruges) thanks to its prosperous fabric production. Ypres managed to retain most of its old buildings and traces of former splendor until the First World War, when Ypres was in the line of fire and subject to constant bombardment by artillery. It has since been rebuilt according to the original plans.
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In the four years from 1914 to 1918, the area around Ypres was the scene of some 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. From Ypres, Route 14-18 is marked with the most important combat zones. A 39-mile unmarked tour of the battlefields begins at the Menin Gate. Take the N345 and N332 north-east through one of the most hotly contested areas, passing several British cemeteries and trench battle trenches for nine kilometers to see the key sites along the road to the village Zonnebeke. Completely destroyed after the war, it now has an attractive church with a free-standing bell tower dating from 1921.
Accommodation: where to stay in Ypres
2 Cloth Hall
The enormous Cloth Hall (cloth hall) takes up one side of the power station Large market square.
The original building was begun around 1260 and completed in 1304, but it was completely destroyed in the First World War. The new structure is one of the most beautiful and largest secular buildings in Europe. The size of the hall in which the cloth was stored, controlled and sold is an indication of the power of the guilds in the city. Above the entrance door is the statue of the patron saint Our Lady of Thuyne; the niches contain statues of Count Baldwin and Mary of Constantinople together with King Albert I and Queen Elizabeth.
The large hall on the first floor is open to visitors and hosts one museum which describes the heavy battle of the First World War. Exhibitions include uniforms and equipment from all armies, some architectural remains of the Cloth Hall and photographs of old Ypres. On the east wing of the Cloth Hall, one City Hall was added in 1619 in the style of the Spanish Renaissance, which has also been reconstructed. It bears the coat of arms of the Spanish king Philip II
Address: Grote Markt, central Ypres
3 Grote Markt
One of the most distinctive architectural elements of the Grote Markt is the 70-meter-high square bell tower which is visible from the center of the Lakenhal and from the surrounding countryside. The carillon of 49 bells plays from June to October at 9 p.m. From the tower, which is a UNESCO site, there is a beautiful view over the plain of Flanders. Opposite the Cloth Hall in the south, on the corner of Boomgaardstraat, is the New Butcher’s House (meat hall), dating from 1277, where meat was sold on Saturdays until 1947. On the north side of the Grote Markt on the left is the Kasselrijgebouw (Old Town Hall) with the Seven Deadly Sins represented in the facades.
Address: Grote Markt, central Bruges
4 Menin Gate
From the east side of the Grote Markt it is only a short distance to the Menin Gate, built by the architect Sir Reginald Blomfield on the site of the medieval city gate through which the British soldiers marched to the front. The Menin Gate is the starting point for any battlefield tour and today the gate serves as a First World War memorial with the names of the 5,496 British soldiers killed or missing in action inscribed beneath the arches. The Last Post has been broadcast here every evening at 8 p.m. since 1928.
Address: Menenstraat, central Ypres
5 St. Martin’s Cathedral
Behind the Cloth Hall in the north is St. Martin’s Cathedral. The church was originally built in the 13th century and the south entrance and tower were added in the 15th century, but after being completely destroyed during the war, the church was completely rebuilt in 1922. Its large-scale proportions are reminiscent of monumental French cathedrals with the tower over 100 meters high. Inside you can view some art treasures that survived the bombardment of the war. Notably, the church houses a copper font (dating around 1600) and the image of Our Lady of Thuyne traditionally believed to have miraculous powers. Also within the church are the graves of Bishop Jansenius, the founder of Jansenism; Georgius Chamberlain, sixth Bishop of Ypres; and Count Robrecht van Bethune. The church’s glass paintings are a gift from Great Britain to commemorate the war losses.
Address: Sint-Maartensplein, central Ypres
6 St. George’s Memorial Church
North of the cathedral, opposite the theater of the Ypres Theater on the corner of Vandenpeerboomplein, is the St. George Memorial Church. The Anglican Church commissioned Sir Reginald Blomfield to build this church in 1927 to commemorate the British Commonwealth soldiers who died in battle in Flanders during the First World War. The entire interior of the church, together with the statue of St George and the plaque with the famous poem “In Flanders Field,” was funded by Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
Address: Elverdingsestraat, central Ypres
7 Merghelynck and Municipal Museums
The Merghelynck Museum is housed in the old house, dating from 1774, of Frans Merghelynck, who was once the treasurer of Empress Maria Theresia. Part of the beautiful interior of Louis XV and Louis XVI survived the First World War and is definitely worth seeing. The 13th century is located diagonally opposite the Merghelynck Museum Steenhuis, now a post office, the only stone building still standing in Ypres. On the south side of Rijselstraat, a narrow street goes to the right Municipal Museumwhich served as a hospital for the poor in the 13th century and now documents the city’s history in a series of exhibits.
Address: Rijselstraat, central Ypres
8 Lille Gate
Rijselstraat ends at the Rijselpoort (also known as the Lilletor), a massive fortified gate from the Burgundian period. During the First World War, the British General Staff had its headquarters in the casemates. The gate ruins of the old ramparts can still be seen nearby. For tourists interested in the history of Ypres, a walk along the fortifications is a must. Not far from the gate, just inside the ramparts, is an interesting attraction – the 16th century ” Wooden house“a carefully restored example of one of the 90 traditional wooden houses in the area.
Address: Rijselstraat, central Ypres
9 Tyne Cot Cemetery
The largest British war cemetery in Flanders is located near the hamlet of Nieuwe-Molden. Tyne Cot Cemetery was created by Sir Reginald Blomfield with almost 12,000 war graves and a memorial to 35,000 soldiers missing after 16 August 1917. The site offers one of the best views of the former battlefields. From Tyne Cot Cemetery a narrow road leads to the N313. A short distance south of the intersection, at the junction with the road to Langemark, a monument commemorates the 2,000 Canadians who died in the first German gas attack in 1915.
Location: 12 kilometers northeast of Ypres
10 German War Cemetery
About three kilometers from the Canadian monument, the beautiful village of Langemark was much disputed during the war and has a huge German war cemetery (almost 45,000 graves). At Langemark, in 1914, thousands of young, inexperienced recruits, mostly students and schoolboys, lost their lives; a fact that was exploited by the propaganda machine of the Third Reich and even today can be seen as a symbol of the spontaneous willingness of young people to make sacrifices. Coming from Langemark, back to Ypres, past the British cemetery of Cementhouseto Boezinge with a view of the silhouette of Ypres.
Location: 11 kilometers north of Ypres
11 Memorials around the Kemmelberg
In De Klijte (10 kilometers from Dikkebus), turn left to reach the village Kemmel; two kilometers southwest of here rises the Kemmelberg, the easternmost extension of a mountain range in West Flanders that was much contested during the First World War. From the top you have a panoramic view of Ypres and the plain of Flanders. A big French municipal cemetery (about 5300 graves) with a memorial crowned by the Gallic cock lies on the western slope.
In Mesen, five kilometers beyond Kemmel, there are several war cemeteries. The elevated ground to the north, between Mesen and Wijtschate, was occupied by the British in 1917 through massive mining blasts. One of the largest mine craters of that battle, Lone Tree Crateris now a small lake and is preserved as a memorial, known as the Pool of Peace.
From here you can continue north on the N365, back towards Ypres. About five kilometers past Wijtschate, a small road to the right leads to the village Zillebeke and to Hills 60, four kilometers southeast. It was an important artillery observation post and the center of heavy fighting, now topped by two British memorials.
Location: 13 kilometers southwest of Ypres