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Ieper (Dutch)

Ypres (/ˈprə/; French pronunciation: ​[ipʁ]; Dutch language: Ieper , pronounced [ˈipər]) is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Though Ieper is the Dutch and only official name, the city's French name Ypres is most commonly used in English due to its role in World War I, when only French was in official use in Belgian documents, including on maps. The municipality comprises the city of Ypres and the villages of Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke, and Zuidschote. Together, they are home to some 34,900 inhabitants.

During World War I, Ypres was the centre of intense and sustained battles between German and Allied forces. During the war, because it was hard to pronounce in English, British troops nicknamed the city "Wipers".


Origins to World War I

Ypres on the Ferraris map (around 1775)

Ypres is an ancient town, known to have been raided by the Romans in the first century BC.[1] During the Middle Ages, Ypres was a prosperous Flemish city with a population of 40,000,[2] renowned for its linen trade with England, which was mentioned in the Canterbury Tales. As the third largest city in the County of Flanders (after Ghent and Bruges) Ypres played an important role in the history of the textile industry. Textiles from Ypres could be found on the markets of Novgorod in Russia in the early 12th century. In 1241 a major fire ruined much of the old city. The powerful city was involved in important treaties and battles, including the Battle of the Golden Spurs, the Battle at Pevelenberg, The Peace of Melun and the Battle of Cassel.

The famous Cloth Hall was built in the thirteenth century. Also during this time cats, then the symbol of the devil and witchcraft, were thrown off Cloth Hall, possibly because of the belief that this would get rid of evil demons. Today, this act is commemorated with a triennial Cat Parade through town. After the destruction of Thérouanne, Ypres became the seat of the new Diocese of Ypres in 1561, and Saint Martin's Church was elevated to cathedral.

During the Norwich Crusade, led by the English bishop Henry le Despenser, Ypres was besieged from May to August 1383, until French relief forces arrived. On 25 March 1678 Ypres was conquered by the forces of Louis XIV of France. It remained French under the treaty of Nijmwegen and Vauban constructed his typical fortifications, that can still be seen today. In 1697, after the Treaty of Ryswick, Ypres was returned to the Spanish Crown. During the War of the Spanish Succession, the Duke of Marlborough in 1709 intended to capture Ypres, at the time a major French fortress, but changed his mind owing to the long time and effort it had taken him to capture Tournai and apprehension of disease spreading in his army in the poorly drained land around Ypres (see Battle of Malplaquet). In 1713 it was handed over to the Habsburgs, and became part of the Austrian Netherlands. In 1782 the Austrian emperor Joseph II ordered parts of the walls torn down, making it easy for the French to take over the city in 1794 during the War of the First Coalition.

Ypres had long been fortified to keep out invaders. Parts of the early ramparts, dating from 1385, still survive near the Rijselpoort (Lille Gate). Over time, the earthworks were replaced by sturdier masonry and earth structures and a partial moat. Ypres was further fortified in the 17th and 18th centuries while under the occupation of the Habsburgs and the French. Major works were completed at the end of the 17th century by the French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban.

World War I

Ypres's shell-blasted Cloth Hall burns

Canadian Headquarters Staff, by William Nicholson. The painting depicts five Canadian generals and one major standing unposed in front of a mural of the bombed Ypres Cathedral and Cloth Hall

Ypres occupied a strategic position during World War I because it stood in the path of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France 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 Ypres (19 October to 22 November 1914), the Allies captured the town from the Germans. The Germans had used tear gas at the Battle of Bolimov on 3 January 1915. Their use of poison gas for the first time on 22 April 1915 marked the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres, which continued until 25 May 1915. They 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 Senegalese and Algerian tirailleurs (light infantry) from French Africa. The gas used was chlorine. Mustard gas, also called Yperite from the name of this town, 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 Ypres (21 July to 6 November 1917, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele), in which the British, Canadian, ANZAC, and French forces recaptured the Passchendaele 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 a few miles of ground won by Allied forces. During the course of the war the town was all but obliterated by the artillery fire.

English-speaking soldiers in that war often referred to Ieper/Ypres by the deliberate mispronunciation Wipers. British soldiers even published a wartime newspaper called the Wipers Times.[3] The same style of deliberate mispronunciation was applied to other Flemish place names in the Ypres area for the benefit of British troops, such as Whyteshaete becoming White Sheet and Ploegsteert becoming Plug Street.

Ypres was one of the sites that hosted an unofficial Christmas Truce in 1914 between German and British soldiers.

British veterans and civilians created in the 1920s a sacred memory of sacrifice in Belgium. The town of Ypres was made the symbol of all Britain was fighting for and was given a holy aura. The Ypres League transformed the horrors of trench warfare into a spiritual quest in which British and imperial troops were purified by their sacrifice. After the war Ypres became a pilgrimage destination for Britons to imagine and share the sufferings of their men and gain a spiritual benefit.[4]

Due to more recent attention for the Ypres Salient and World War I in general, more attempts are being made to preserve the World War I heritage in and around Ypres.

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.

Today, Ypres is a small city in the very western part of Belgium, the so-called Westhoek. 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 employed, while Hiroshima suffered the debut of nuclear warfare. The city governments of Ypres and Hiroshima advocate that cities should never 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.[5]


Town Centre

Cloth Hall at night

The fountain in the Grote Markt, Ypres, opposite the Cloth Hall

The imposing Cloth Hall 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 UNESCO in 1999.

The Gothic-style Saint Martin's Cathedral, 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).

Saint Martin's Cathedral

Menin Gate

The Menin Gate

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing[6] in Ypres commemorates those soldiers of the British Commonwealth – with the exception of 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.[7] 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.[8] 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 (except for a period during the Second World War when Ypres was occupied by Germany), 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 records only the soldiers for whom there is no known grave. As graves are identified, the names of those buried in them are removed from the Menin Gate.[citation needed]

The ceremony at 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 Memorial in Canberra.

"Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?"
-- Siegfried Sassoon, On Passing the Menin Gate

Gravestones in the National Necropolis

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

Saint George's Memorial Church

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


Cat Parade

  • The Cat Parade ("Kattenstoet") takes place every three years on the second Sunday of May. It involves the throwing of cats from the belfry and a colourful parade of cats and witches. The latest Cat Parade took place on 13 May 2012.
  • 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


Ieper railway station run by NMBS has frequent trains to Kortrijk.

Famous inhabitants

  • 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 of England in his 19-year civil war with the Empress Matilda.
  • Jacob Clemens non Papa (ca. 1510–1556), Renaissance composer
  • Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638), bishop of Ypres and father of the Jansenism movement
  • Jules Malou (1810–1886), politician, Prime Minister of Belgium from 1871 to 1878 and in 1884
  • Alphonse Vandenpeereboom (nl) (1812–1884), politician, minister
  • Albert Nyssens (nl) (1855–1901) Minister of Industry and Labour, Lawyer, University Professor,
  • Julien Nyssens (1859–1910) engineer, builder of Zeebrugge harbour.
  • Albert Devèze (1881–1959), politician, minister
  • Paul Sobry (nl) (1895–1954), university professor
  • Simona Noorenbergh (b. 1907 – Fane 1990), nun, social worker, co-founder of Fane, Papua New Guinea
  • Antoon Verschoot (b. 1925), since 1954 chief bugler at the Menin Gate for the daily Last Post ceremony.
  • Walter Fiers (b.Ypres, 1931), molecular biologist
  • Marc Vervenne (1949– ), emeritus dean Leuven university
  • Jo Lernout and Pol Hauspie, founders of the speech technology company Lernout & Hauspie
  • Henk Lauwers (b. 1956), classical baritone singer
  • Catherine Verfaillie (b. Ypres, 1957), MD and stem cell pioneer
  • Nicholas Lens (b. 1957), author and composer
  • Edouard Vermeulen (b. 1957), fashion designer
  • Renaat Landuyt (b. 1958), politician, Belgian minister
  • Erik Vermeulen (b. 1959), jazz pianist
  • Yves Leterme (b. 1960), politician, former prime minister of Belgium
  • Isaac Delahaye (b. 1982), lead guitarist of God Dethroned and Epica

Twin cities

  •  Japan: Hiroshima
  •  United Kingdom: Sittingbourne, Kent (since 1964)
  •  Germany: Siegen, Westfalen (since 1967)
  •  France: Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais (since 1969)
  • Australia Australia: Kelmscott, Western Australia (since 1988)
  • Ghana Ghana: Wa, Upper West Region


  1. "Ieper: historical background". 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  2. "See chapter 5.6.2 (in Dutch)". 1914-11-23. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  3. "TV review: The Wipers Times, BBC2 - A bit like Blackadder, only true" Independent 12 September 2013
  4. Mark Connelly, "The Ypres League and the Commemoration of the Ypres Salient, 1914-1940," War in History (2009) 16#1 pp 51-76, online
  5. "Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign". Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  6. The gate is called "Menin Gate" because it is situated on the road to another Flemish city, Menin in French or a (deprecated) variant name in English, Menen in Dutch or English.
  8. [1][dead link]

External links

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