Founded in the 12th century, Ypres (Ieper in Dutch; pop. 35,000) was one of Flanders' most prosperous cloth town in the late Middle Ages, along with Bruges and Ghent.
Ypres was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during WWI and the city was virtually wiped off the map. Over 300,000 Allied soldiers died between 1914 and 1918 defending this last bastion of Belgian territory giving access to the strategic port of Calais, some 40km west across the French border.
Today, visitors come to Ypres to visit the battlefields and monuments to dead soldiers, and the reconstructed medieval edifices.
Apart from WWI memorials and cemeteries, Ypres' main sight is its colossal Gothic Lakenhalle (cloth hall) on the Grote Market (main square), topped by a 70m high belfry.
The original building was constructed between 1260 and 1304, and the present structure reconstructed between 1934 and 1958 by the architects Coomans and Pauwels. Note the statues of King Albert I and Queen Elizabeth I of Belgium over the belfry's gate, next to the medieval replicas.
The Lakenhalle's fašade is 125 m long. The belfry has a 49-bell carillon, accessible to visitors. In the Middle Ages, ships could sail directly into the cloth hall to unload their cargoes of wool. The Ypreslee River is now underground. The Renaissance-style Stadhuis (town hall) is attached to the eastern end of the Lakenhalle.
The Lakenhalle now houses the In Flanders Fields Museum.
Behind the Lakenhalle is St. Martin's Cathedral, also rebuilt in 1918, with an additional spire that was never completed in the original -- the bell tower now reaches 102 m in height. The interior is gothic in all its splendor.
One of Ypres' noteworthy peculiarity is that it is one of the world's last cities to have a moat around its centre. Its eastern gate (Menen Gate) was (re)built by the British government as a memorial to the tens of thousands of soldiers from the British Empire who lost their lives during the 'Great War'. The nearby St. George Memorial Church (look for the tall spire) welcomes British visitors who come to pay homage to their war dead. Every day at 8pm since 1928, a small ceremony is held in front of Menen Gate.
Town hall, Ypres.
St. Martin's Cathedral, Ypres.
How to get there
Ypres can be easily accessed by train from Poperinge (7min), Kortrijk (30min), Ghent (1h10min), Lille (1h10min), Bruges, (1h45min) or Brussels (1h50min).
By car, take the N8 from Veurne or Lille, N19 from Kortrijk or N38 from Poperinge.
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