Ypres (Dutch: Ieper, both pronounced "eeper")  is a friendly town in Flanders endowed with wonderful architecture and a troubled past. Ypres is best known as the site of three major battles of the First World War, the most famous being the Battle of Passchendaele from July—November 1917. The many memorials and cemeteries of the fallen in and around Ypres draw thousands of visitors each year. Population 36,000 (2005).
Ypres town centre. View across the crowded marketplace to the rebuilt Cloth Hall, location of the In Flanders Field Museum
Town Name and Languages
The official Dutch name for the city is Ieper - this is the version of the name you will see most commonly in and around the Flemish-speaking town. Most native English speakers, however, will know the town by its French name Ypres, as popularised in media and history texts during and immediately after the First World War.
Most people will know Ypres mainly through its connection with the First World War. The town has however a much longer history, and was already settled in the 11th century. It rapidly grew into the third largest Flemish town in the 13th century, producing fine quality cloth. At the peak of its power in the early 1300s, it had almost as many inhabitants as it has today. From then on however the city experienced a serious decline, like the rest of Flanders, as a consequence of the 100-Years War. The city did never fully recover from this, and changed hands various times in the course of the centuries, being located at the border of Flanders and France. During a period of French occupation (1678-1697) the city was fortified, making it now one of the few non-French cities boasting fortifications designed by the famous military architect Vauban. The fortifications however also stifled its growth until the independence of Belgium in 1830.
During the First World War, Ypres was located at the centre of the so-called "Ypres Salient" — an area of Allied (British and Belgian)-held land, surrounded on three sides by the German front line that formed the northernmost section of the Western Front. Holding Ypres was vital for the Allies in their bid to prevent the Germans gaining control of all the Channel ports, vital for the transport and supply of the British Expeditionary Force. As a result, the city became the focus of several major battles to break in / out of the Salient and was subjected to fairly continuous bombardment by German artillery for most of the war.
After the First World War, most of central Ypres was rebuilt in its original style with German reparations (war debt) money. This was a lengthy process: the famous Cloth Hall was not completed until the 1960s.
From Calais, take the A16 East to Dunkerque and then into Belgium (E40 in the direction of Veurne). At Veurne (junction 1), take the N8 to Ieper.
Coming from Ghent, take the E17 in the direction of Kortrijk, and then take junction 2 to Ieper (E403). At junction 4, follow the N37 into Ieper.
Ypres has its own train station with direct connections to Brussels (standard return ticket 35 EUR). From there, you can easily walk to the city center.
Ypres city centre is best approached on foot.
For visiting the war graves and memorials, one could use a car or cycle. Take the guided "Battle field tour" -bus, or buy an audio tour on the internet - same sites, but a lot cheaper if you have your own transport
The attractions of Ypres are divided between the town center itself and several villages in the surrounding countryside - most of the battlefields and cemeteries are located in the latter. For these, a car, bike or an arranged tour would be best.
Landmarks and Memorials
- Menin Gate Memorial (Menenpoort)  - dedicated on 24 July 1927 as a memorial to the missing British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell in Belgium during World War One. Has a Last Post Ceremony each night at 8:00 PM as a way for the Ypres citizens to express their gratitude towards those who died for Belgium's freedom.
- This memorial contains, both inside and out, huge panels into which are carved the names of the 54,896 officers and men of the British Empire forces who died in the Ypres Salient area and who have no known graves. The names recorded on the gate's panels are those of men who died in the area between the outbreak of the war in 1914 and 15th August, 1917. The names of a further 34,984 of the missing - those who died between 16th August, 1917 and the end of the war, are recorded on carved panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery, on the slopes just below Passchendaele.
- Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) - this large hall with belfry, built in gothic style between 1200 and 1304 to accomodate the cloth trade, was at the time the largest building in Western Europe. It was completely destroyed by German artillery shelling in 1916. The Cloth Hall was rebuilt after the war, the project being completed in 1967 and the symbol of a resurgent city. Contains the In Flanders Fields Museum (see below). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of a series of belfries in Belgium and France.
- Ieperse Vestingen - the fortifications of Ypres are the brainchild of French military engineer Vauban, who constructed many fortresses in French border towns during the reign of Louis XIV. Nowadays, the remaining ramparts have been converted into pleasant parks. Information panels provide more background on the history of the town and its fortifications.
Museums and Galleries
- In Flanders Fields Museum, Grote Markt 34, ☎ +32 57 239 220 ([email protected]), . 1 Apr - 15 Nov 10AM-6PM daily; 16 Nov - 31 Mar 10AM-5PM, Mo closed. Located in the Ypres Cloth Hall, right in the city center. This museum gives an excellent overview of the history of World War I in Belgium, taking care to show perspectives from all sides in the conflict and using lots of eyewitness accounts. It is more like an experience that takes you right into the daily life during the war. Can be a quite strong experience that will have a profound impact on you. On busy days, it can be a bit difficult to see all the exhibits. Adults 9 EUR, 18-25 yrs 5 EUR, 7-18 yrs 4 EUR. edit
- Stedelijk Museum (City Museum), Ieperleestraat 31, ☎ +32 57 239 220 ([email protected]), . 1 Apr - 31 Oct 10AM-6PM, Mo closed; 1 Nov - 31 Mar 10AM-12:30AM and 2PM-5PM, Mo closed. The Ypres City Museum is located in the Sint-Jans-Godshuis, a former hospital. The building, meticulously restored, houses a modest but interesting collection of local paintings and other art objects. Noteworthy are the works by local painter Louise de Hem (1866-1933). Adults 2.50 EUR. edit
- Kattenstoet. A parade in Ypres devoted to the cat. It is held every third year on the second Sunday of May. Most recently, the 42nd edition took place on May 10, 2009. This "Festival of the Cats" commemorates an Ypres tradition from the Middle Ages in which cats were thrown from the belfry tower of the Cloth Hall to the town square below. Symbolically reviving this practice for the parade festivities, a jester tosses stuffed toy cats from the Cloth Hall belfry down to the crowd, which awaits with outstretched arms to catch one. The throwing of the cats from the belfry is followed by a mock witch burning.
- Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, . Museum in a beautiful setting, telling the story of the Great War in chronological order. Lots of information on the different battles and a large selection of authentic artifacts on display. The big bonus of the museum in a reconstructed dug-out which lets you to experience what life under Flanders Fields must have been at the time. Open daily (Feb-Nov) 9AM-5PM. Admission: €5, groups €3.
- Tyne Cot Commonwealth Cemetery - The largest Commonwealth Wargraves Commission cemetery in the world, situated to the south of the village of Passendale. There are also many more smaller Commonwealth cemeteries dotted around the region as well. Location: 50° 53′ 13.39″ N, 2° 59′ 52.54″ E
- Vladso German Cemetery - One of the most important German cemetery from the First World War lies in the village of Vladslo, north of Ypres and close to the city of Diksmuide. In one of the few oak-tree woods in the area lie hundreds of square black stones with the names of the buried soldiers. The peace treaty of Versailles denied the losers of the war the use of white stone. The stones lie in rigid lines in the grass under the trees. No flowers decorate the burial grounds. Includes a statue by Käthe Kollwitz called The Grieving Parents. Location: 51° 3′ 0″ N, 2° 55′ 0″ E.
- Langemark German Cemetery - The cemetery, which evolved from a small group of graves from 1915, has seen numerous changes and extensions. It was dedicated in 1932. Today, visitors find a mass grave near the entrance. This comrades' grave contains 24,917 servicemen, including the Ace Werner Voss. Between the oak trees, next to this mass grave, are another 10,143 soldiers (including 2 British soldiers killed in 1918). The 3,000 school students who were killed during the First Battle of Ypres are buried in a third part of the cemetery. At the rear of the cemetery is a sculpture of four mourning figures by Professor Emil Krieger. The group was added in 1956, and is said to stand guard over the fallen. The cemetery is maintained by the German War Graves Commission, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. Location: 50° 55′ 14″ N, 2° 55′ 0″ E
- Wonderful countryside with many routes for walking and cycling.
- Lovely shops and cafes selling Belgian chocolates and beer.
- Things from the WW I period in dedicated shops, located for example near the Menin Gate.
The marketplace has several restaurants, pubs and places to sit outside during the summer. These can however be quite crowded, and are not very cheap.
Tuesdays usually host music night outside, organised by "'t Klein Stadhuis" right next to the cloth halls and the city hall.
- Trattoria Alloro, Patersstraat 2 (150 m from the Grote Markt in the direction of the train station), ☎ +32 57 36 53 75, . Mo-Th 11:30AM-2PM; Fr 11:30AM-2PM and 6:30-9PM; Sa 6:30-9PM; Su 12AM-2:30PM. A very pretty family run Italian restaurant situated about 150 meters from the Grote Markt. Well reviewed in various magazines and web-sites. All fresh food is locally sourced and prepared individually. The pastas and condiments are of the top Italian quality. In the weekends it is recommended to book in advance. +/- €40 for 3 courses. edit
- B&B Fresco, Kunstenlaan 38 (10 min walking distance from the station), ☎ +32 57 200 137 ([email protected]), . checkin: flexible; checkout: flexible. B&B with 2 rooms and hearty breakfast, vegetarian on demand. English, French, German and Flemish spoken. Wifi, terrace, fridge, big comfortable rooms, nice bathroom with bath foams. The hosts are very friendly. From €55 for a double room. edit
- Ambrosia Hotel Ieper, D'Hondtstraat 54, ☎ +32 57 366 366, . This small hotel (10 rooms) was recently renovated. Cooked and/or continental breakfast and free internet. €90 for a double room. edit
- Hotel Regina, Grote Markt 45 (Opposite the Cloth Hall), ☎ +32 57 218 888 ([email protected]), . Run by Kris and Saskia, this is an excellent location and a warm, spotlessly clean family hotel. €79 for a double room. edit
- Varlet Farm, Wallemolenstraat 43, 8920 Poelkapelle, ☎ +32 470 211 654 ([email protected]), . B&B on the old Passchendaele battlefield, named by British soldiers of the Great War. It was taken by the Royal Naval Division in October 1917. Close to all major memorials. Maps, guidebook, and tour guide available. 7 rooms. Small groups up to 18 people. Private collection on the farm showing artifacts dug up in the fields. €78 for double room. edit
Ypres is generally very safe. The only thing to watch out for are artillery shells that are sometimes left by the side of fields by local farmers for collection by the authorities. Even now, 102 years later, they still dig up tonnes of live and used ordnance every year. DO NOT be tempted to handle any shells you see in the fields.
Courtray (Kortrijk) is the closest city, reachable by rail. Kortrijk is a nice provincial city offering history or shopping and has important rail connections to Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Lille,...
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