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Ypres ( , ; , ) is a Belgianmarker municipality located in the Flemishmarker province of West Flandersmarker. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezingemarker, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebekemarker, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebekemarker, and Zuidschote. Together, they count some 34.900 inhabitants.

During World War I, Ypres was the centre of intense and sustained battles between the German and the Allied forces. During the war, Tommies nicknamed the city "Wipers."


Origins to World War I

Ypres is an ancient town, and is known to have been raided by the Romans in the first century BC.

During the Middle Ages, Ypres was a prosperous city with a population of 40,000, renowned for its linen trade with England, which was mentioned in the Canterbury Tales.

It was the hometown of William of Ypres, a commander of Flemish mercenaries in England who was reckoned among the more able of the military commanders fighting for King Stephen in his prolonged civil war with the Empress Matilda.

In order to prosper and maintain its wealth, Ypres had to be fortified to keep out invaders. Parts of the early ramparts, dating from 1385, still survive near the Rijselpoort (Lille Gate).

The famous Cloth Hallmarker was built in the thirteenth century. During this time also, cats, then the symbol of the devil and witchcraft, were thrown off Cloth Hall, possibly due to the belief that this would get rid of evil demons. Today, this act is commemorated with a triennial Cat Parade through town.

Over time, the earthworks were replaced by sturdier masonry and earthen structures and a partial moat. Ypres was further fortified in 17th and 18th centuries while under the occupation of the Habsburgs and the Frenchmarker. Major works were completed at the end of the 17th century by the French military engineer Sebastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban.

World War I

Ypres On Fire
Ypres occupied a strategic position during World War I because it stood in the path of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgiummarker and into Francemarker from the north (the Schlieffen Plan). The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by Britain; Germany's invasion of Belgium brought the British Empire into the war. The German army surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. To counterattack, British, French and allied forces made costly advances from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding hills.

In the First Battle of Ypresmarker (31 October to 22 November 1914) the Allies captured the town from the Germans. In the Second Battle of Ypresmarker (22 April to 25 May 1915) the Germans used poison gas for the first time on the Western Front (they had used it earlier at the Battle of Bolimov on 3 January 1915) and captured high ground east of the town. The first gas attack occurred against Canadian, British, and French soldiers; including both metropolitan French soldiers as well as Senegalesemarker and Algerianmarker tirailleurs (light infantry) from French Africa. The gas used was chlorine gas. Mustard gas, also called Yperite from the name of this city, was also used for the first time near Ypres in the autumn of 1917.

Ruins of Ypres – 1919
Of the battles, the largest, best-known, and most costly in human suffering was the Third Battle of Ypresmarker (21 July to 6 November 1917, also known as the Battle of Passchendaelemarker) in which the British, Canadians, ANZAC and French forces recaptured the Passchendaelemarker ridge east of the city at a terrible cost of lives. After months of fighting, this battle resulted in nearly half a million casualties to all sides, and only several miles of ground won by Allied forces. The town was all but obliterated by the artillery fire.

English-speaking soldiers in that war often referred to Ypres by the mispronunciation "Wipers". British soldiers even self-published a wartime newspaper called the "Wipers Times".

Ypres today

After the war the town was rebuilt using money paid by Germany in reparations, with the main square, including the Cloth Hall and town hall, being rebuilt as close to the original designs as possible. (The rest of the rebuilt town is more modern in appearance.) The Cloth Hall today is home to In Flanders Fields Museum, dedicated to Ypres's role in the First World War.

Ypres these days has the title of "city of peace" and maintains a close friendship with another town on which war had a profound impact: Hiroshima. Both towns witnessed warfare at its worst: Ypres was one of the first places where chemical warfare was employedmarker, while Hiroshima suffered the debut of nuclear warfare. The city governments of Ypres and Hiroshima advocate for cities never to be targets again and campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The City of Ypres hosts the international campaign secretariat of Mayors for Peace, an international Mayoral organization mobilizing cities and citizens worldwide to abolish and eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2020. Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign

War graves, both of the Allied side and the Central Powers, cover the landscape around Ypres. The largest are Langemark German war cemeterymarker and Tyne Cot Commonwealth war cemeterymarker. The countryside around Ypres (Flanders Fields) is featured in the famous poem by John McCrae, In Flanders Fieldsmarker.

Saint George's Memorial Church commemorates the British and Commonwealth soldiers, who died in the five battles fought for Ypres during World War I.


Town centre

The imposing Cloth Hallmarker was built in the 13th century and was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages. The structure which stands today is the exact copy of the original medieval building, rebuilt after the war. The belfry that surmounts the hall houses a 49-bell carillon. The whole complex was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCOmarker in 1999.

The Gothic-style Saint Martin's church, originally built in 1221, was also completely reconstructed after the war, but now with a higher spire. It houses the tombs of Jansenius, bishop of Ypres and father of the religious movement known as Jansenism, and of Robert of Bethune, nicknamed "The Lion of Flanders", who was Count of Nevers (1273-1322) and Count of Flanders (1305–1322).

Menin Gate

The Menin Gate Memorialmarker2 in Ypres commemorates those soldiers of the British Commonwealth - with the exception of New Zealand and Newfoundland - who fell in the Ypres Salient during the First World War before 16 August 1917, who have no known grave. Those who died from that date - and all from New Zealand and Newfoundland - are commemorated elsewhere. The memorial's location is especially poignant as it lies on the eastward route from the town which allied soldiers would have taken towards the fighting - many never to return. Every evening since 1928, at precisely eight o'clock, traffic around the imposing arches of the Menin Gate Memorial has been stopped while the Last Post is sounded beneath the Gate by the local fire brigade. This tribute is given in honour of the memory of British Empire soldiers who fought and died there. The Menin Gate in Ypres only records the soldiers for whom there is no known grave, As graves are discovered, the names are removed from the Menin Gate.

The ceremony was prohibited by occupying German forces during the Second World War, but it was resumed on the very evening of liberation — 6 September 1944 — notwithstanding the heavy fighting that still went on in other parts of the town. The lions that marked the original gate were given to Australia by the people of Belgium and can be found at the Australian War Memorialmarker in Canberramarker.

::"Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
::The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?"

:::-- Siegfried Sassoon, On Passing the Menin Gate


  • The Cat Parade ("Kattenstoet") takes place every three years on the second Sunday of May. It involves the throwing of toy cats from the belfry and a colourful parade of cats and witches. The latest Cat Parade took place on May 10, 2009.
  • Ypres is also the home of the Belgium Ypres Westhoek Rally since its creation in 1965. It is organized by the Auto Club Targa Florio. Some of the drivers to have taken part are among the best-known names in rallying, such as Juha Kankkunen, Bruno Thiry, Henri Toivonen, Colin McRae, Jimmy McRae, Marc Duez, François Duval, and Freddy Loix among others.
  • Ypres holds an annual canoe polo tournament in which teams come from all over Europe to play

Famous inhabitants

Twin cities

Photo Gallery

File:St Martin's Cathedral Ypres.JPG|Saint Martin's ChurchFile:Ypres-necropole-national-gravestones.redvers.jpg|Necropole national gravestonesFile:Belgie ieper lakenhal nacht.jpg|Cloth Hall at nightFile:Menin Gate.jpeg|The Menin GatemarkerFile:MeninGateCeremony.jpg|The ceremony at the Menin GatemarkerFile:Ieper_-_Saint_George's_Memorial_Church_1.jpg|Saint George's Memorial ChurchFile:Kattenstoet (2).JPG|KattenstoetFile:Fountain-grote-markt-ieper.redvers.jpg|The fountain in the Grote Markt, Ieper, opposite the Cloth Hall

See also


  1. Ypres/Ieper: historical background
  2. See chapter 5.6.2 (in Dutch)
  3. [1] "It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations (except New Zealand) who died in the Salient, in the case of United Kingdom casualties before 16 August 1917. Those United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. Other New Zealand casualties are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery."


2The gate is called "Menin Gate" because it is situated on the road to another Flemish city, Meninmarker in French or a (deprecated) variant name in English, Menenmarker in Dutch or English.

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