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This historic destination enchants those on city breaks and fascinates anyone with an interest in war-time events...
There are many famous locations where First and Second World War battles were fought, such as Ypres, Flanders and the Normandy beaches. Over the years, many people have visited these places, including veterans of those battles returning to honour fallen comrades and those looking for ancestors who died in the fighting. During the centenary of the First World War, between 2014 and 2018, hotels in the area are likely to experience a surge in reservations so it's worth booking early if you plan to go there.
Ypres was the centre of some of the fiercest fighting of the First World War between the Allied forces and the Germans. British soldiers fought in all four of the main battles that took place in the Ypres area which ultimately left the town in ruins. After the war, the town was rebuilt, including the Cloth Hall and the cathedral.
For those interested in the battlefields of the First World War, Ypres hotels make an ideal base from which to explore the area. But the town has itself has much in the way of history to offer visitors. The sites are centred on Ypres and its surrounding villages. For those not on an organised trip, the memorials and war graves can be reached by car, bicycle or a local bus.
The 'In Flanders Fields' Museum can be found in the Cloth Hall and is where information on the Ypres battles can be researched. The museum is open daily from 10am until 6pm in the peak season from April to September. From October to March the museum is closed on Mondays but is open from 10am to 5pm daily for the remainder of the week.
St George's Memorial Church is a British church paid for by public donations and funds from the military as a memorial to the fallen soldiers and to Lord French, who died in 1925. It was eventually located near the heart of Ypres rather than near the Lille Gate as originally intended.
The rebuilt Cathedral of St Martin and St Nicholas houses a commemorative plaque for the million fallen soldiers of the British Empire along with one for the French soldiers also lost in those battles. The Menin Gate lists the names of more than 54,000 men who fell and whose bodies were never recovered. In honour of those men, the Last Post is played at 8pm each evening. The original gate was flanked by statues of lions, which the Belgian people later gave to Australia and are now situated in Canberra at the Australia War Memorial.
The names listed on the Menin Gate cover the period up until August 16th, 1917 and the remainder, plus those from New Zealand and Newfoundland, can be found at Tyne Cot. As graves are found and remains identified, the names are removed from the gate. Much of the area around Ypres is taken up with war cemeteries. Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery, is situated south of the village of Passchendaele.
The Memorial Museum at Passchendaele is open to the public from 9am to 5pm daily from February to November. As well as displaying war artefacts, the museum allows visitors to experience the reality of what life might have been like for soldiers in a reconstructed trench.
The medieval market place in Ypres was where all the roads into the town converged and it became a trade centre that was the largest in Belgium. The construction of the Cloth Hall resulted from its importance as a centre for the international cloth trade and the wealth it created. Other places of note in the Grote Market place include the Court House, which was built on the site of the Hospital of Our Blessed Lady, and the Town Hall and Old Seigniory Buildings.
The Town Hall to the east of the Cloth Hall dates from 1619. The council chamber is decorated with magnificent murals and stained-glass windows from around 1870 and is well worth seeing. The Seigniory Buildings are easily recognised as they are decorated with plaques depicting the Seven Deadly Sins.
The ramparts of Ypres started out as an earth wall and moat built when the city was established 1,000 years ago. They were later rebuilt in stone to include towers and went on to become more complex fortifications with moats and islands. They are considered to be the best preserved in the country.
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