BELGIUM: War zone

I live only about 5km away from the place where big parts of the battle of World War I took place, so of course on my tour of Belgium we took some time to visit a few landmarks and museums that feature this horrible time in history.

One of the most prominent museums about this war is situated in Ypres, which is a really lovely place so I’ll give you all a bit information on this city as well.

Trenches of Death

In Dixmude, on the banks of the Yser river you can find the Trenches of Death. This kilometre-long network of trenches is the only trench setting in Belgium which has been preserved. From those trenches, for four years, Belgians fought the Germans which were only fifty meters away on the other shore of the river. The name ‘Trenches of Death’ comes from the fact that many people died in those trenches because they were under nearly constant fire from the Germans.

The site has been renovated in 2014 and now also had a visitor center with lots of information, photographs and images on the trenches and the battles that were fought there. Entrance price is only four euros.

Museum at the Yser

A bit further down the Yser, you can find the Yser Tower. This tower, which was built in 1930, first serves as a memorial for the Flemish soldiers that died during World War I. On the foot of the tower you can read ‘No more war’ in four different languages (Dutch, French, English and German). The letters on the tower itself, AVV-VVK, stand for “All for Flanders, Flanders for Christ” in Dutch.

During World War II, the original tower was taken down, so they had to built a new one. The remains of the old one can still be seen and with parts of the destroyed tower they made the PAX memorial which is now in front of the actual Yser Tower. With its 84 metres, the Yser Tower is the hightest peace monument in Europe.

Aside from a peace monument, this tower also houses a museum on War, Peace and the Flemish Emancipation. Over 22 floors you get a lot of information and from the top of the building you get a beautiful view on the area.

Entrance to the museum is five euros for people aged 19-25.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

In Passendale (Passchendaele), you can find the Tyne Cot Cemetry; a bureal ground for the dead of the First World War in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. This cemetery is part of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is the largest for Commonwealth in the world, for any war. There are 11.956 soldiers burried there, of which 8369 are unnamed.

The walls surrounding the cemetery form the ‘Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing’. Originally they started inscribing the names of the missing soldiers on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres (see later on) but there wasn’t enough space there, so they continued on the cemetery. There are about 34.000 names inscribed on the walls.

In 2006, a visitor’s center was added to the burial site.

In Flanders Fields Museum

“In Flanders Fields Museum” is a museum on the First World War which is situated in the Cloth Hall on the market square of Ypres. After renovations, the museum reopened in 2012. The name for the museum comes from the famous poem by John McCrae.

It’s a very interactive museum, with lots of pictures, videos and even a “Poppy bracelet” for an individual experience. Four war stories will be linked to your specific information such as country and birth date.

The museum tells the story of the invasion of Belgium, the first months of the mobilisation, the four years trench war in the Westhoek the end of the war and the permanent remembrance ever since

You can also visit the bell tower of the Cloth hall, which gives you a lovely view on the city of Ypres.

Entrance price to the museum is five euros, but if you want to visit the bell tower as well you’ll need an extra two euros.

The Last Post and Menin Gate Memorial

As I mentioned before, names of the soldiers who went missing during the war have been put on the walls of the Menin Gate Memorial. This memorial can be found in the center of Ypres.

Every evening since 1928 at 8 pm sharp, the “Last Post” has been played by buglers of the local Last Post association. Only during the four year occupation during World War II the service wasn’t held at the Menin Gate memorial but moved to England. On the evening of the liberation of Ypres, they restarted the tradition of the Last Post Ceremony and in the summer of July they held the 30.000th edition.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend this service, you must. It’s such a simple but moving moment. Be sure to arrive quite a lot in advance as it can get quite busy.

Ypres

As you might have already seen from the picture from the top of the Bell Tower, Ypres is a really lovely and beautiful city. It was first mentioned in the eleventh century and played an important part in the textile industry.

Ypres was a fortified city back in the early days. Parts of the early ramparts from 1385 are stil standing and have been turned into a lovely walking route. It’s probably my favorite part of Ypres and since it’s so close to my home town, we often go for a walk there on weekends as well.

The famous Cloth Hall – in which the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum can be found – was built in the thirteenth century. It’s situated on the market square of Ypres, which is also a really love place. The ice cream parlor on that square is also one of my favorites (thought that might be interesting!)

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Aside from these two main sights, you can also find the St. Martin’s Cathedral and in the neighborhood the Saint George’s memorial church, which is a war memorial church.

And that’s about the most important thing on Ypres and our World War I exploring of Belgium. There are plenty more war memorials and sites in my country, but since we were a bit limited in time, this was all we could do. Maybe some time in the future I’ll be able to visit more and then I’ll definitely tell you all about it.

Until next time,

With love, Ellen

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