- Location: Flemish Region, Belgium
- Attraction Type: Historic City
- Significance: Medieval Architecture, World War I Memorial Sites, Museums and Events
- Best time to Visit: All round the year. The Cat Festival is held in the month of May every three years.
- How to Reach: You can travel from all major European destinations to Brussels International Airport, and then travel to Ypres on car. You can access Ypres from France in car as road conditions are excellent.
- Nearest International Airport: Brussels International Airport
The city of Peace bore witness to some of the most gruesome battles from the First World War. Now, as you stand in front of the solemn Menin Gate Memorial with its ceremonial arch, and go through the names of the thousands of Commonwealth soldiers whose remains found no home, you are filled with a sense of quiet wonder and respect for the selfless sacrifices of these brave soldiers. If you stay till evening, you get a chance to listen to the ‘Last Post’ – a bugled reverence paid to the brave warriors by the local fire brigade, a practice that is going on uninterrupted from 1928.
Ypres (or Leper in Dutch), the first site to experience chemical welfare, shares with Hiroshima, the distinction of being a designated ‘city of peace’. These two cities, the worst sufferers from the World wars, work actively together to remind mankind of the hazards of nuclear and chemical warfare. Because of its rich history and eventful past, this city in the Flanders region of Belgium is one of the top European destinations.
History of Ypres
Ypres shot into prominence following the horrific incidents between 1914 and 1918 that effectively razed its buildings to grounds and decimated much of its population. However, its history dates back to ancient times. An important center for cloth and linen trade in the Middle Ages, we find the city being mentioned by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales. The Hall of Clothes, was the major trading centers of the city and the financial center of this proverbially wealthy and prosperous city.
Ypres lost some of its importance towards the later middle ages, and continued to be a peaceful little Belgian town, till disaster struck the world in 1914. The city had the misfortune of being in the way of the Germans who were intent of storming into France. Quite expectedly, the strategic importance of the city became an object of desire for both parties, and there was no scarcity of violence from either part to ensure territorial dominance. Fighting continued intermittently from 1914 to 1918, as Commonwealth soldiers held out bravely against their German counterparts. Many of them were from outside Belgium, and the city commemorates and remembers their contribution with great respect and honor.
Major Tourist Attractions in Ypres
Being a city with great history and tradition behind it, there are a number of historical monuments and unique events that are held in Ypres. Some of the most popular attractions of Ypres are:
Cloth Hall at the Town Center: Ypres cityscape is almost immediately identifiable with the imposing structure of the famous medieval Cloth Hall. Dating back to the middle ages, the Cloth Hall is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ypres. Although the original 13th century structure was destroyed by war, an exact replica of the original now stands in its place, complete with the 49-bell carillon on its belfry.
St. Martin’s Cathedral: Another popular middle age structure at Ypres, this Gothic style cathedral is known for significant tombs housed in its recesses, including those of Jansenius, the founder of Jansenism; and Robert of Bethune, the ‘Lion of Flanders’.
Menin Gate Memorial: This imposing memorial is a throwback to the violent past of Ypres from the World War days. All soldiers from the British Commonwealth except those who were from New Zealand and Newfoundland, who laid down their lives here but never found a home, are enshrined in this memorial. The names are of soldiers between 1914 and 16 August 1917, a date arbitrarily chosen because the vaults could not hold more engravings. However, soldiers who died thereafter are also respectfully mentioned in the plaques.
Leper Cat Parade: A unique Ypres event, this curious triennial festival is a throwback to the medieval days. Cats, customarily associated with the devil of evil powers in general were often thrown from the belfry, presumably to keep the powers of the evil one at bay. Though nothing of that bloody ritual survives any more, yet human beings masquerading as cats, and associated festivities still make this festivals one of the highlights of Ypres.
Accommodation and Dining in Ypres
There are a large number of hotels in Ypres, catering to different ranges of tourists. Some of the most popular hotels in Ypres are:
- Ambrosia Hotel
- Ariane Hotel
- Kasteelhof t’Hooghe
- Old Tom
- Flanders Lodge
Varlet Farm is one of the popular bed and breakfast establishments in Ypres, and has a cozy and comfortable family atmosphere. Ypres is also a great place to grab a bite. Do not forget to check out on the Grand Cafíé in Companie in Ypres and Old Tom. The Bistro’t Klein Stadhuis is also an extremely popular restaurant.