Friday, 15 September 2017

Yesterday is here

In spite of its historical significance, we only visited Ypres (Ieper in Flemish) for the first time in 2012, making a return visit one year later.

We hadn't planned to go there this year, but as the weather on Tuesday turned out to be quite dismal, we decided the town was our best option. In fact, although the day was wrapped in a blanket of grey clouds, it mercifully remained dry, the first drops of rain only appearing on our windscreen on our way back.



I'd packed clothes for all occasions and, after wearing red and blue for two days in a row, I decided to switch to green. I chose a floral vintage dress which I charity shopped a couple of years ago, accessorizing it with a green belt, pink plastic flower brooch and turquoise beads.

I also added a green cardigan, with a red flower corsage, which you will get to see later.



As the persistent clouds held a promise of rain I wore my blue raincoat on top, pinning a crocheted cherry brooch from Oxfam on its collar.

There is free and unlimited parking at the town's railway station, and from there it's a straightforward ten minute walk to the town centre.


Our route into town passed the Fish Market, which is a cobbled square off the Boterstraat (Butter Street), reached through the Fish Gate decorated with Neptune, the god of the seas. This was originally built in 1714 but was rebuilt after being destroyed in the First World War.


In the market itself are two covered stalls and at the end is the old toll house, called Minckhuisje, where the fishmongers had to pay their tolls.

Continuing along the Boterstraat, we arrived at the Grote Markt (Market Square), where we were met by the sight of the impressive Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) with its 70 metre high belfry, which dominates the square.



During the First World War the building was completely destroyed except for a section of the tower and some walls.

As the town was at the centre of the whirlwind of the Great War, being in a precarious position wedged between fronts, it was quite literally wiped off the map by four years of shelling and trench warfare, and by the end of the war, there was hardly a building left standing.

After the war, the town's historical buildings, and in particular the cloth hall with its belfry and St. Martin's Church, were rebuilt as close to the original designs as possible.



The base of the belfry, the “Donkerpoort”, managed to survive. It is the passage under the belfry and dates back to about 1200, representing one of the very rare remnants of medieval Ypres.

A large German artillery shell is located in the  passage. The shell is from a heavy gun called “Dicke Bertha” by the German Army and nicknamed in translation “Big Bertha” by the British.

Apart from the town hall and tourist office, the Lakenhalle also houses the haunting In Flanders Field museum, which we visited back in 2013 and which uses first-hand accounts and state-of-the-art techniques to tell the story and preserve the memory of the Great War.


Passing through the Donkerpoort, St. Martin's Church, which lies behind the Lakenhalle, is reached. This too was rebuilt after the war, but with a pointed spire instead of a square tower, adding considerably to its height.



The Lapidarium next to the cathedral contains the older ruins of St. Martin’s monastery and cloisters. One of the few remaining ruins in the town centre, the Lapidarium is a permanent reminder of the destruction caused by the First World War.

The Kloosterpoort (Cloister Gate), dating from about 1780, was one of the few structures which was not completely demolished by the end of the war. It was still standing while almost everything around it was reduced to piles of rubble.


Pranged between the Cloister Gate and St. Martin's church is the lavishly decorated theatre, dating from 1931.


We explored the area around the Market Square until it was time for lunch, which we had on a - admittedly covered and heated - terrace of one of the square's multitude of eateries.


Before we left the square, we went into the tourist office to pick up some leaflets. I also bought an enameled poppy brooch, which I'll be wearing in November. Then my eye was caught by this delightful poppy umbrella, which obviously I couldn't resist.


A visit to Ypres isn't complete if you haven't been to the Menin Gate, which was our next stop.

The largest memorial to the First World War, the Menin Gate is the spot where the Last Post has been sounded every evening at 8 o’clock since 1928.



This memorial in the form of a Roman triumphal arch, and designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, displays the names of 54,896 soldiers of the then British Empire who went missing in action. It lists the names from the beginning of the war until 15 August 1917.

Soldiers reported missing after 16 August 1917 until the end of the war are mentioned on panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele.

One cannot be but moved by those interminable lists of names carved into the stone of the walls and the surrounding loggias. The many poppies and wooden crosses are testimony that the men behind those names are not forgotten.


In 1914 there was no building or formal gate as such, it was simply a crossing point over the moat and through the old town ramparts, through which the troops marched onto the roads leading into the battlefields of the Ypres Salient, many of them never to return.

I have yet to stand here without choking up, thinking of Siegfried Sassoon's bleak but fitting poem, On Passing the New Menin Gate:

Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,
Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?



The Menin Gate is right next to the town's ramparts and moat, which provide a green belt around the town. There is a delightful 2,6 kilometer walk along them which starts here and takes you all the way back to the station, in our case making it into a true circular walk.

Initially, the ramparts were little more than an earth wall with a moat. Later, stone walls and towers were added, until it was developed into a complex structure with bastions, advance redoubts, moats and walls.



Along the walk, you come across the small Ramparts Cemetery, lying on the banks of the moat


Near the end of the walk, in the middle of the surrounding greenery, is Pacific Eiland (not a misspelling, it's the Flemish for island), a tearoom and restaurant on an actual island in the moat, which can be reached by a little bridge.

Here we sat down for a while at the moat's edge, looking back on a wonderful day, while enjoying yet another cup of cappuccino!



P.S. Back home, I tried out the umbrella, which surely must have been tempting fate!


33 comments:

  1. Our friend visited Ypres a couple of years ago but, being a typical man, didn't take a single photo!
    Yours are stunning, a beautiful town wonderfully preserved but such a sad history.
    Your outfit is lovely and bright and that glass is the perfect response to the British question, Fancy a beer?
    Love the brolly! xxx

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    1. Thank you Vix! Fancy a beer, haha, that's great! I never thought of it like that! xxx

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  2. I imagine it would be an emotional place to visit.

    Your poppy umbrella and brooch are beautiful (if sad) souvenirs.

    I DO fancy a beer, now that you've made me think of it.

    Have a lovely weekend.

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    1. It is indeed an emotional place to visit, as is the whole area, which is tinged with WWI history. xxx

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  3. What a very interesting and poignant post. Wonderful buildings and statuary.My paternal Grandfather fought in the First World War; he survived but suffered from shell shock for the rest of his long life.

    I loved your outfit and the poppy brooch and brolly are fabulous.

    xxx

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    1. Thank you Veronica. I don't think that even the survivors were ever able to shake off what happened during WWI, especially if, like your grandfather, they suffered from shell shock. xxx

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  4. Stunning place and photos Ann. Don't get that frock wet it needs to go on my pile xxx

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    1. Thank you Lynn! Your pile is getting to be quite a hill by now. Will have to rent a van when we come over ;-) xxx

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  5. What a wonderful and sympathetic job they did of rebuilding Ypres, apart from Menin Gate, which we all know about, the town has so much to offer.
    Your outfit certainly cheered up a dull day (winter is going to seem never ending with this early start to autumn!) and I love the poppy brolly. xxx

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    1. It seems that a lot of people are already switching to dark colours. It's a good thing that even my winter wardrobe has lots of colour, which will make the long winter months more bearable ... xxx

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  6. the umbrella and brooch are really chic - beside of their sad meaning - feels a bit strange......
    love the print and colors of you dress, and of cause the turquoise & green topping! and what a pretty touch you red shoes are!
    i´m so impressed by the rebuild town of ypres!!! it looks so beautiful and proper but thinking about the history makes me goosebumps.... as makes me the barock town of (our) dresden which stands now almost perfect like it was never destroyed to black ruins in a totally senseless war.
    thank you for taking us with you! xxxxx

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    1. The red shoes are semi walking shoes, and Clarks, bought in the sales while in Wales. Best investment ever! It's horrible to think of the destruction - of building, towns, and especially lives - brought on by war. xxx

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  7. Ypres looks absolutely stunning and I'm so glad those buildings were rebuilt, what a great job the builders did. Such a beautiful place with such sad historical significance. Your green floral outfit is gorgeous as is the poppy umbrella. xx

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    1. Thank you Claire! It's almost inconceivable to think that almost the whole of Ypres was in ruins. Must have been quite a job to rebuild all those historical buildings, almost exactly as they were ... xxx

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  8. What an amazing place, it's so beautiful.
    Great poppy buys too, I have a brooch I wear every year, I much prefer it to the paper poppies.

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    1. I used to wear a paper poppy, but they don't last long. Last year, I had a small pin, but I nearly lost it a couple of times. The brooch fastens more securely to the thick fabric of a winter coat. Plus, it's much prettier too! xxx

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  9. I was all wibbly and damp eyed by the end of your post Ann. Such a remarkable rebuild job, I must say xxx

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    1. Aw, Melanie! Well, I must admit I was quite emotional while I was writing it too! xxx

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  10. What a beautiful town, thank you for sharing. In my mind it's always a memorial I sort of forget people live there too.

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    1. It is very beautiful, and a lively town too. The British wanted to keep the ruins as a permanent reminder, but the people of Ypres chose to return and rebuild. xxx

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  11. I love your Blue raincoat Ann and the poppy umbrella is lovely. I have one of the poppies from the Tower Of London and it's beautiful. I like giving to good causes like that. xx
    www.vanityandmestyle.com

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    1. Oh, it must be lovely to have one of those poppies, Laurie, and a very good cause indeed! xxx

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  12. Wonderful photos, thank you for sharing the town's history with us. I do like the umbrella ☔

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  13. Ann you look beautyful in this blue raincoat. The umbrella and brooch are amazing. Thank you for this wonderful walk and stunning pictures of Ypern.
    I wish you a nice week, XO Tina

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    1. Thank you Tina, I'm glad you enjoyed it! xxx

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  14. What detailed history!

    The blue raincoat and the poppy umbrella and brooch are all lovely. A bit of a sad place though.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. Thank you Suzanne! Apart from the Menin Gate, with all those names, it doesn't really feel sad, it just makes you stop and marvel about people's resilience. xxx

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  15. Wonderful post! The photos of architecture are just marvelous!

    Aren't wars horrible and pointless? In Russia, there is a cultural comparison between poppies and blood of soldiers, you can find it in songs, for instance. Fields of poppies as battle fields.

    But your accessories are beautiful, charming and happy, despite those horrific historical events.

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    1. Thank you Natalia! That is probably where the poppy symbol comes from. And yes, wars are horrible and pointless. It's especially horrible since it keeps happening ... xxx

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  16. This is such an amazing blog! I really enjoyed reading the content. Thanks!

    Kids Tops In India

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  17. Belgium suffered so terribly during the war. British soldiers refered to Ypres as 'Wipers', presumably they didn't grasp the French pronunciation!

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    1. I did hear about "Wipers" before, and it could have been meant as a joke as well, knowing that Mendinghem, Dozinghem en Bandaghem were names given by British soldiers to the casualty clearing stations in the area ... (the "ghem" suffix is common in Flemish village names). xxx

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