Ieper - where people once died
Ieper Travel Blog› entry 85 of 354 › view all entries
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.