Ieper - where people once died

Ieper Travel Blog

 › entry 85 of 354 › view all entries
Grote Markt Water everywhere!

Ypres was one of the most important cloth producing and cloth trading cities of the county of Flanders in the high Middle-Ages. Bruges is known all over the world for being a beautifully preserved medieval town, but if the First World War (The Great War) had not raged over Ypres, perhaps Ypres would have been as famous as Bruges. By 1918 almost nothing remained of the city, because it was in the middle of the frontline between the German and the Allied Armies. Ypres was bombed to pieces and almost wiped off the face of the earth.

But Ypres rose again, and resumed its role as the prime city of the Flemish Westhoek (= the western part of the Belgian Province of West-Flanders, the area behind the river IJzer).

The names of many of the dead British and Commenwelth soldiers. In all almost 55.000 sons, brothers and fathers

Early in the 12th century, Ypres rose to become one of the most important cities of the county of Flanders. The city had already acquired a reputation for its cloth manufacturers and cloth traders. Ypres could be reached via the little river 'Ieperlee' and, moreover, the city lay alongside the important trade route between Bruges and Lille (now in Northern France). In that same century the cloth exchange was created as well as the first cloth hall, the belfry and the cathedral. 

The 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century saw the city at the height of its political and economic power. Cloth from Ypres was exported everywhere in the then known world (even to Novgorod in Russia!). Because the local wool production did not meet the demands of the market, Ypres turned to England as its prime wool supplier.

When entering the Menenstraat (Menin Street), the most important war monument of Ypres can be seen : the Menin Gate. The name 'Menin' is the English and French version of the city which is called in Dutch 'MENEN'.
During this period the guilds and cloth traders held the most important position in the city. After Ghent and Bruges, Ypres had become the third most important city in the county, with about 40.000 inhabitants. 

 

The 14th century was marked with a lot of political and social unrest and announced the end of Ypres' prosperity. An epidemic killed a large part of the population in 1316. After the battle at Kassel, many traders and business men left the city. Furthermore, in 1383 the English army (supported by the rival town of Ghent) destroyed the surroundings of Ypres. All of this led to a downfall of the cloth production and the entire economy of the city.

During the religious troubles in the 16th century the town was under an 8 month siege by the Duke of Parma.

The backside of The Saint Martin's Cathedral
When the siege ended, Ypres was plundered and many inhabitants killed. In the 17th century Ypres was taken by the French. In order to better defend this strategic place, the architect Vauban, had large defence walls built around the city. From 1559 to 1801 Ypres became an important religious centre. One of the most important bishops was Jansenius (1585-1638) who laid the basis for the religious Jansenism movement with his book "Augustinus". After the 18th century Ypres had lost all its strategic and economic importance.

The town came again into the spotlights during the First World War. Ypres was situated right in the middle of the frontline between the Germans and the Allied troops. An almost complete destruction of the city was the result.

During four years Ypres was in the middle of the frontline of the First World War in Flanders, or the Great War.

The Cloth Hall
After the taking of Antwerp by the Germans, the Belgian troops took position in the westernmost corner of the country, behind the river IJzer. With the help of the French army, the Belgians succeeded in fending off German attacks in the neighbouring city of Diksmuide. Finally, they could not hold their position and had to retreat behind the IJzer River. 

However, the German troupes were brought to a halt, because Belgium decided to open the locks of the river so that the entire IJzer plain was flooded. In this way, the German army could no longer continue its march towards the sea towns. Despite heavy losses, the British Army succeeded in maintaining its position on the hills around Ypres.

All through the fighting, Ypres was heavily bombed.

Cafés and bars at Grote Markt
In April 1915, the German Army managed to push the allied front back to the western bank of the river. For the first time, chemical weapons were used here by the Germans (gas, a.k.a. Iperite) against the French and the Canadian Armies. 

The Allied Front withstood the attacks and the Germans were pushed back over the canal. In the middle and in the south of the battle field fierce fighting took place between 1914 and 1918 around some very strategic hills: Hill 60, Hill 62 and the hill range near Mesen. This is where the allied troupes started (under heavy and continuous rains) to re-conquer the entire western part of Ypres.

On November the 6th the village of Passendale was regained.

Grote Markt
In April 1918, the German Army launched an ultimate attack by occupying the Kemmel Mountain west of Ypres. In May the first American troops landed in France and by September the German offensive was brought to a stop. The last bomb fell on Ypres on October the 14th 1918.

The Menin Gate was rebuilt as a British War Memorial. It looks like a large triumphal arch in neo-classicist style and was built from 1923 until 1927 on the site of the former city gate. The gate was designed by the British Architect Sir Reginald Bloomfield. Under the roof and against the walls of the monument are the names of 54.896 British and Commonwealth soldiers that were reported missing in the Great War.

Every night, the Ypres Fire Department plays here 'The last Post' at 8 p.m. as a tribute to the fallen soldiers.

vances says:
Well written and informative entry...thanks!
Posted on: May 18, 2008
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Grote Markt Water everywhere!
Grote Markt Water everywhere!
The names of many of the dead Brit…
The names of many of the dead Bri…
When entering the Menenstraat (Men…
When entering the Menenstraat (Me…
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall
Cafés and bars at Grote Markt
Cafés and bars at Grote Markt
Grote Markt
Grote Markt
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
Looking towards the Cloth Hall fro…
Looking towards the Cloth Hall fr…
My volvo parked at the back of The…
My volvo parked at the back of Th…
The truly gigantic Cloth Hall and …
The truly gigantic Cloth Hall and…
Backside of the gigantic Cloth Hall
Backside of the gigantic Cloth Hall
The truly gigantic cloth hall
The truly gigantic cloth hall
When does anything happen
When does anything happen
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
The gigantic Cloth Hall
The gigantic Cloth Hall
The backside of The Saint Martins…
The backside of The Saint Martin'…
Walking out of the Cloth Hall
Walking out of the Cloth Hall
Grote Markt
Grote Markt
Grote Markt
Grote Markt
Explaining the Menenstraat (Menin …
Explaining the Menenstraat (Menin…
When entering the Menenstraat (Men…
When entering the Menenstraat (Me…
Outside the most important war mon…
Outside the most important war mo…
Outside the most important war mon…
Outside the most important war mo…
The tower of the boys school
The tower of the boys school
Guido Gezelleplein
Guido Gezelleplein
Funny puppet
Funny puppet
Scouts on Grote Markt carrying a b…
Scouts on Grote Markt carrying a …
The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall
A house on Grote Markt
A house on Grote Markt
The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall
A deiling at the Cloth Hall
A deiling at the Cloth Hall
Ieper
photo by: baliw-katok