A History of Ypres (Ieper) to 1914

Detail of an engraving of the Siege of Ypre in 1683 by the French Army.

Ypres, now known by its Flemish name of Ieper, is an ancient city located in the Flemish region of the Westhoek in the province of West-Vlaanderen (West Flanders).

Map of Belgium showing the city of Ieper (Ypres) in the province of Westhoek.

The modern-day municipal area of Ieper includes the city and a number of surrounding villages. These are Boezinge, Brielen, Dikkebus, Elverdinge, Hollebeke, Sint-Jan, Vlamertinge, Voormezele, Zillebeke and Zuidschote.

Today the population of the city of Ypres and these villages is about 35,000 people.

Origin of the Name Ieper

The earliest record of the name of Ieper dates from 1066. At that time it was a settlement of two parts to the east of a small river. One part of the settlement was on a higher piece of ground with dwellings for people and farming. The other piece of land was between the the higher piece of ground and the river. It was low-lying and marshy and was essentially used for grazing animals. This original settlement of Ieper was located in the place near the Grote Markt (Grande Place) or market place and the St Martin's Cathedral are situated in the centre of the modern town.

The name Ieper derives from the name of a stream, which flowed from its source on the slopes of the Kemmelberg in a north-easterly direction towards the early settlement that gradually developed into today's city of Ieper. The Kemmelberg is one of a series of hills forming a high ridge to the south of the city. There was an Iron Age Celtic Fort on the Kemmelberg.

Along this small river there were numerous elm trees growing. The elm was a common native species in the region. It was called an “Iep” in the language of the Belgae people, considered to be derived from the Germanic Frisian language. The river was known as the “Ipre” or “Iepere” after the elms that grew along it and the settlement on this river was subsequently named Ieper.

The Roman invasion of the region in the first century B.C. resulted in their naming the town in its Latin derivation of Ypra. Cartographic representations of Ieper over the centuries vary in the ways that Ieper is spelt, including Ipre, Ipres, Iprae, Ipera, Iperen, Hypra, Hipra, and Ipretum and Ipresnsis.

In later times, French forces captured and took over the town more than once, and also the town was officially French-speaking as the official language of the new Belgian nation was French from 1830, the town was known by its French name of Ypres, again derived from its original name of Ieper.

River Iepere Adapted

In the 10th century the Iepere river was flowing from the Kemmelberg, via Ieper, Dixmuide, Ostende to Brugge and into the sea. However, from the 11th century the Iepere river flowing through Ieper was re-routed by the local people as part of defensive measures and to assist small trading boats to navigate into the centre of the town.

Diversions were put in the river to create two moated areas of high ground in the south and in the north of the town. There was also an additional diversion created from the southern moated sectors so that the river flowed from there through the centre of the town along an artificially channeled second parallel arm to join the northern moated sector. The word “leet” in the local Flemish language means“adapted”, and as a result of the adaptations to the flow of the river at this time the river name of Iepere acquired the suffix of “leet”, becoming known as the “Ieperleet”. Later the “t” was dropped from the end of the name, and the river nowadays is known as the Ieperlee.

In the 14th century and the Burgundian period of occupation, one of the man-made adaptions to the river and its flow through the town as the adapted Ieperleet, was that a sluice gate was constructed under one of the round towers in the Rijselpoort (Lille Gate). This was to control the waterflow from the river into the town.

Hub of Trade Routes

Since the first century B.C., when the Belgae people were conquered by the Romans under Julius Caesar in about 54 B.C., the Flanders region had been invaded by successive armies and has suffered from the ravages of war. In spite of this, Ypres managed to establish itself as a financially and culturally rich city in the 12th century. By the 13th century Ypres had gained the status of an independent city-state.

Being only 40 miles inland from the Belgian coast, Ypres was the hub of many important trade routes consisting of roads, rivers and canals leading to the Netherlands, France, the English Channel and England.

Centre of the Wool and Cloth Trade

Postcard of the medieval Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) taken in 1914 before the war broke out. The pre-war square-topped spire of the St. Martin's cathedral can be seen on the right of the picture.(1)
The Cloth Hall before war broke out in 1914.

In the middle ages Ieper grew into an important market place for the region. Easy access to the coast meant that the the people of the city established links with the wool trade in England. The city became a very important centre for the cloth trade. Guilds and master guilds were founded.

The Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) was begun in the centre of Ypres in 1200. It took 100 years to complete. In 1241 there was a fire in the city which destroyed many of the wooden buildings. By 1260 the population of the city had grown to 40,000.

Medieval Wealth

Ypres grew into a wealthy and powerful city. In medieval times it was the third largest city in the County of Flanders after Gent and Bruges. The County of Flanders (Graafschap Vlaanderen in Dutch, Comté de Flandre in French) was first created as a fief of the Kingdom of France from 862. It existed as a County under various ruling houses until the French monarchy was removed from power in 1795 by the French revolutionaries. At its peak of economic prosperity the County of Flanders was one of the wealthiest regions in the whole of Europe.

Iepere River Canalized

To the north of Ieper the river called Iepere (and Ieperleet) flowed into the Ijzer (Yser) river at Drie Grachten. The Ijzer (Yser) river is the shortest of the three Belgian rivers (the Ijzer, the Maas and the Schelde) which flow into the sea and the only one of those three which flows into the sea on the Belgian coast.

Driven by the tremendous growth in the Ieper lace and cloth trade, the need for larger boats to be able to reach the centre of Ieper resulted in the digging of a canal to join with the River Ijzer (Yser) and so connect Ieper with the coast at Nieuwpoort via Diksmuiden. From Drie Grachten the Ieper-Ijzer (Ypres-Yser) canal was dug as far as a quay in the north of Ieper town. Thousands of boats and barges used the canal to ferry goods to and from Ypres to the coast.

The sluice gate at Het Sas near Boezinge dates from the late middle ages. The word “Sas” in Flemish means “sluice”. The brewery “Het Sas” in Boezinge, near the Het Sas lock, is believed to be the oldest known brewery in Belgium.

The flow of water into the town enabled small barges and boats to travel from the Ieper-Ijser (Ypres-Yser) canal as far as the centre of the town. Until 1686 boats from the Iper-Ijser canal could connect with the Ieperleet river and travel into the town. Boats could make their way along the canalised Ieperleet from the main canal through what is now the Veemarkt. From here they could either take a section of river through the square that is now Vandenpeerboomplein past the west door of St. Martin's Cathdral and as far as a set of steps for unloading goods into the western end of the Cloth Hall warehouses. Or they could make their way to the fish market (Visserskai) along a second arm of the Ieperleet river.

A Fortified City

Earthwork Defences

Up to the 9th century, the early settlement of Ieper was protected by simple earthworks. As the town grew more wealthy over the centuries the fortifications would be modified again and again. This was either to keep out prospective invaders or to defend possession of it as an “occupied treasure”.

958: A Fortified Castle

In the 10th and 11th centuries the early settlement developed into a larger community based around a fortified castle. In 958 the Count of Flanders, Count Baudoin III (918-962), carried out work on a new castle based on the remains of an earlier structure, which had been damaged by invading Normans.

During the 13th century the County of Flanders was involved in conflicts with France and in 1213 the town was conquered by the French Army. The Countess of Flanders, Joahanna van Constantinopel (c. 1194 - 1244), paid a large ransom to the French to keep Ieper's independence.

1328: Stone Gates & Double Ditch

She Countess decided to build fortifications to strengthen the town's defences. The works consisted of a double moat with earthworks and stone gates. By 1328 there was an inner moat surrounding the main part of the town and an outer moat to enclose five parishes which had grown up on the outskirts of the town outside the inner wall and moat. This work was the foundation of the solid defensive structures built around the town and which were adapted, reconstructed and deconstructed over the following centuries.

From the late 1300s the city went into an economic decline. There was a great loss of life across Europe as a result of the Black Death in 1348.

In 1383 it was caught up in a bloody siege by an English bishop Henry le Despenser. The siege shattered the town, its inhabitants and its infrastructure, causing cruicial damage to the town's ability to continue with its important lace-making economy.

The decline of the town lasted for the next two hundred years. The town's important role in the European cloth trade suffered from disruption to its trade with France and England during the Hundred Years War (1338-1453). Also, Flemish weavers who had left Flanders and settled in the east of England were developing a growing, competitive cloth trade from England.

1388: Burgundian Perimeter Wall

Following the siege of Ypres in 1383 the town lost its independent status and was under the French rule of the Duchy of Burgundy. The Burgundian Duke Philip the Bold (1342-1404) then carried out ten years' work on the town defences from 1388. This work was to strengthen the town's inner defensive moat and earthworks by adding a 4.5 meter high stone wall.

At this time there were nine gates into the town. They included the Boezingepoort, the Diksmuidepoort, the Torhoutspoort, the Hangwaertpoort, the Mesenpoort, teh Tempelpoort, the Boterpoort, the Elverdingepoort and the Steendampoort.

One of the oldest parts of the constructed stone and brick ramparts still surviving today is the town gate known as the Mesenpoort at the time, later called the Rijselpoort (Lille Gate). Although it has undergone numerous modifications over the centuries, the gate in its general form with its round towers dates from 1385.

1669: Spanish Citadel

The troubles for Ieper continued into the 16th century when it declared itself a protestant republic. In 1583 the Catholic Spanish General Alexander Farnese laid siege to the town for a year during the period of the French Wars of Religion (1562-98). Eventually the Spanish conquered the town and began building up the existing defences.

The Spanish added a pentagon-shaped citadel in 1669 on a piece of ground outside the town walls on the east side of Ieper. The citadel was built as an earthwork and intended to be a last point of defence for the defending garrison, should the town walls be breached. It was linked to the rest of the town by a covered tunnel. The Spanish also built some demi-lunes (half-moon shaped structures) on the west and east outside the town walls. These were constructed in front of the length of a curtain wall situated between a bastion at either end of the wall. A bastion is a structure that juts out from the corner or wall of a fort. The Spanish construction work on the defences also expanded the town's inner perimeter wall and fortified defences to include an outlying populated area north of the town.

1678: French Fortifications by Vauban

Engraving of the Siege of Ypre in 1678. King Louis XIV and the French Army besieged the Spanish-held city and captured it. The Spanish citadel is being bombarded on the far right of the image. Vauban then made major changes to the city's defences.(2)
Engraving of the Siege of Ypre by King Louis XIV and the French Army in 1687.

In March 1678, the French King Louis XIV (1638-1715) invaded the Spanish Netherlands in a campaign against the Dutch. He first attacked Gent on 9th March, captured it and then attacked Ypres nine days later on the 18th. The townspeople and the Spanish occupying garrison of troops held out against French artillery for a week in the town and the newly constructed citadel. However, on the night of 24th-25th the French attacked again and the town, the citadel and the surviving Spanish troops were captured.

One of the military men directing the French siege operations was a senior military engineer by the name of Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban (1633-1707). Once the town had fallen to the French he started work on amending the existing defences and fortifications outside the town's inner perimeter wall. He took the Spaniards' earthwork citadel down and in its place built what was called a Hornwork or Corne. This is a structure extending out from the eastern walls with three sides (i.e. two flanks and a front wall with bastions on each of the two corners). It became known as a Hornwork or Corne because the structure jutted out from the perimeter defences like a horn. The Hornwork on the east side of the town was called the Corne d'Anvers (or Hornwork Antwerpen).

Two more Hornworks or Cornes were added to the western side of the town's fortifications, the Corne de' Elverdinge and the Corne d'Bailleul. On the north side of the town he built a fourth Hornwork or Corne called the Basse Ville (Lower Town).

Vauban also built sluice gates on the north and south sides of the town. These would be used to control water in order to flood deliberately the ditches outside the walls and also to fill specially designated areas with water (known as “inundations”). This would form part of the town's defences in case of an attack. The two inundations which were formed south of Ypres were the Inondation de Bailleul and the Inondation de Messine.

In 1682 Vauban returned to Ypres to continue his work. This time he focused on changes to the inner fortifications. He considered that the town walls needed strengthening in a major way on all sides, except for the south-western section. This was, in his opinion, already well protected by the marshy approach to it. He designed what is called a bastion trace around the town, meaning that the encircling town walls consisted of curtain walls and bastions, creating a shape known as a star fortification. He incorporated casemates and tunnels into the ramparts, and battery emplacements for cannons at the bastion locations.

Vauban's prolific work on town fortifications can still be seen in many cities and forts in France and Belgium, many of which are located in the French and Belgian border regions and the battlefields of the 1914-1918 Western Front.

Ieperleet River Vaulted

In the late 17th century the two arms of the Ieperlee river flowing through the centre of Ieper were again adapted by man. From 1686 the entire length of the water course through the centre of the city was vaulted from the Rijselpoort (the Lille Gate) in the south of the town to the Ieper-Ijzer (Ypres-Yser) canal quay in the north. Buildings were later built on top of the vaulted river and from then on it flowed, and still does, underneath the centre of the town.

Ieper Changes Hands Again

1713: Austrians Dismantle the Defences

Map of Ypres fortifications dated approximately 1775 by the Austrian general and cartographer Joseph Jean François, Count de Ferraris. The Hornworks on the east and north-east of Ypres can be seen. (3)
Map of Ypres fortifications dated approximately 1775 by Joseph Jean Francois, Count de Ferraris.

The Austrian Habsburg dynasty took over Ieper in 1713. The year of 1782-83 saw changes made to the fortifications by Emporer Joseph II (1741-1790). However, this time the ruler was unhappy about spending large amounts of money on the defences at Ieper and he gave orders to dismantle some of the structures built by Vauban, weakening the town's defences.

Ironically for Emperor Joseph the Austrians were driven out of Flanders and Ieper following an uprising by the people of the southern Netherlands, including Flanders, called the Brabant Revolution (1789 and 1790).

1794: French Capture Ieper

The town came under attack by the French Army in its campaign against Flanders in 1794. In June of that year the town's defences could not withstand the enemy attacks and it fell under French control once again.

1815: Dutch Interventions

The defeat of Emporer Napoléon I (1769-1821) in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo meant that the annexation of Ieper to the French Empire was also over. Flanders subsequently joined with the Netherlands in a United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In an attempt to strengthen the town defences again, as it lay in a strategically important location between the Dutch and the French borders, the Dutch spent fifteen years carrying out a major series of works on the fortifications and military complexes in the town. One of the major works they carried out was to build a new bombproof ammunition store with walls at a thickness of 2-3 metres. These works by the Dutch are known as the “Dutch Interventions”.

1852: Military Garrison Leaves Ieper

In 1830 a revolution led to the founding of an independent Belgian nation in October of that year. On 26th June 1831 Leopold I (1790-1865) was declared the first King of Belgium. With the founding of the new Belgian nation the work to build up the defences of Ieper came to a halt. Also, the military garrison left the town in 1852.

The Statesman and Prime Minister Jules Edouard Xavier Malou (1810-1886) had been born in Ypres. He put forward a case to the Belgian government that Ieper should receive financial compensation for the great gap created in the town's economy as a result of the loss of the hundreds of military men. He made the specific point that the town's brewers had lost the majority of their customers! To the relief of many of the town's businesses a military presence did return to the town before the turn of the century.

There is still a garrison of Belgian Army troops at Ieper. The barracks is located in the southern outskirts of the town on the road to Mesen (Messines).

Ypres in 1914

In 1914 the official language of the city was French. The town was officially known by its French name of Ypres, as were most places in the locality.

Ypres was, once again, a prosperous place with a population of about 17-18,000. There was no heavy industry in the region, so the town and its surrounding landscape was rural. The main businesses of the inhabitants were the manufacturing of printed cotton, linen, ribbons, woollen goods, flax, Valenciennes lace and soap-making production. There were tanneries and dye works associated with the trade in cloth. There were many local people who were well-off and generally the local people of Ypres had a good lifestyle.

The city itself was still made up of very old buildings, guild houses, narrow streets, the largest market place in Belgium, and the fine Gothic Cloth Hall (Lakenhallen) and belfry.

There was the St. Maartenskerk (the cathedral), cloisters and the bishop's palace, and three churches: the St. Jakobskerk, the St. Pieterskerk, and the St. Niklaaskerk. A convent for the “Arme Klaren” was located in the cloisters of the cathedral. There were several schools, including a school of correction (École de Bienfaissance) on the road to Menin. There was a police station, a prison, health institutions, a laundry, waterworks, a slaughterhouse, theatre, post-office, shops, numerous hotels, pubs and cafés.

The wooden houses and wooden façades of the Gothic era, which had been plentiful in Ieper until the mid 19th century, had been demolished in large numbers from 1848. One was preserved in its entirety in the upper hall of the Cloth Hall until the Cloth Hall was set on fire in November 1914. The wooden house did not survive the fire.

Antony d'Ypres Photographic Studio

One of the well-known businesses in Ieper in 1914 was the photographic studio on the Rue du Beurre (Boterstraat) run by the photographer family Antony. Madame Léontine Antony-Permbeke (1858-1923) built up the business in Ypres and her two sons Maurice Antony (1883-1963) and Robert Antony (1884-1966) took over the business after her death. The superb collections of photographs by Antony d'Ypres before, during and after the First World War are famous not only for their composition, but for their record of the town as it was before, after the war had arrived and after the war was over.

Transport and Travel Routes

Surrounded by fertile fields, small farms and a network of villages, Ypres in 1914 was once again a busy focal point for trade routes in the area of south-west Flanders. There were several good routes of transportation to and from the town.

Pavé (cobblestone) roads connected neaby towns: from the north in a clockwise direction there were the towns of Diksmude (Diksmuide), Kortemark, (Roulers) Roeslare, Izegem, (Courtrai) Kortrijk, Menin (Menen), Wervicq (Wervik), Comines-Warneton (Komen-Waasten), Armentières, Poperinghe (now Poperinge) and Furnes (Veurne).

Railway & Tram Routes

In 1914 there was a main-line railway station on the east side of Ypres. With the railway lines and stations constructed across Belgium in the 1850s the first train had arrived at Ypres in March 1854. The line from Poperinghe was connected to the French border in 1870. The railway line from Ypres connected the town to the north, south, east and west. In turn, the town was well-connected to the coast and other parts of Belgium. From Ypres the railway lines ran: north to Tourhout; south to Comines on the French border, connecting Ieper with Armentières and Lille (Rijsel) and also connecting from Comines with Courtrai (Kortrijk) to the east; east to Poperinghe and Abele on the French border, connecting Ypres to Hazebrouck in French Flanders; and east to Roulers (Roeslare).

A network of tram lines also connected Ypres to the north, south, east and west, linking many of the larger villages in the town's outlying areas, and beyond. The tram lines ran from Ypres: to the north to Diksmuide; to the south to Kemmel and Nieuwkerke; to the east to Oostvleteren and on to Furnes (Veurne); to the west to Menin (Menen).

This tram transport system provided easy access for the local inhabitants to travel in and out of the town from the surrounding areas and even from the linking main railway lines further afield as far as the coast and Brugge. This transport system was especially important for traders taking goods to the Ypres' Saturday market and for the people buying things at the market to carry them home.


The Ypres-Yser (Ieper-Ijzer) canal was busy with boats bringing goods to and from the town.

The building of a second, southern canal from the Iepere river, where it enters the town of Ypres, as far as the Lys (Leie) River at Comines (Komen) on the French border was given the go ahead in 1859. However, the construction encountered major difficulties including landslides at Hollebeke and the collapse of a tunnel. Work was continued on and off, but in June 1913 the collapse of a steel bridge resulted in the final decision to stop the project completely.

Saturday Market

Saturday's market day was a busy day in Ypres. The market place would be filled with carts and baskets, with people buying and selling fruit, vegetables and cheese. There was a meat market, formally in the Vleeshuis near the Cloth Hall, but by 1914 located near the slaughterhouse north-west of the Cloth Hall. The Ypres butter market was famous, and the street named Rue du Beurre (now Boterstraat in Flemish) is from that heritage. The fish market was held in a street named Visserskai not far from the Cloth Hall. The vaulted River Ieperleet ran under this street.

A Garrison Town

In 1914 Ypres was a garrison town. There was still an infantry barracks inside the town walls in the south-west part of the town. The barracks had fortified shell-proof cellars. These cellars would prove to be useful protection when the First World War came to Ypres. In 1914 the many officers and soldiers based in the infantry barracks provided a good clientele and a steady income for the cafés, shops and businesses in Ypres.

The soldiers drilled on the parade square, known as the Esplanade, next to the infantry barracks. The targets and rifle ranges for military shooting practice (called the Doelen in Dutch) were situated at the buttes in a large wood north-east of Ypres called Polygone de Zonnebeke (or Polygonveld in Dutch) south of Zonnebeke village.

Military Riding Academy

A famous military riding academy (École d'Equitation) in Ypres, established in 1860, attracted high-ranking officers from Belgium and other parts of the world, including South America, to train here as cavalrymen. Built on the site of a former Jesuit monastary the riding school consisted of a building complex with stables, hay barns, a smithy, schooling ring and accommodation for the men.

The presence of well-heeled, rich members of the Belgian and European aristocratic families made Ypres a fashionable place to be seen. The riders practised their riding skills and exercised the horses in the riding school, on the open ground of the Esplanade near the infantry barracks, on the Plaine d'Amour (or Minneplein) in the north of the town, and at a riding arena in Polygone de Zonnebeke Wood (Polygonveld) near Zonnebeke. Squadrons of cavalrymen and gleaming horses would regularly be seen on parade making their way through Ypres, crossing the cobbles of the famous market place (Grande Place or Grote Markt) and passing the Cloth Hall.

Ramparts for Recreation

During the late 1800s there were major changes carried out on the defensive fortifications. This time, however, it was for deconstruction and decommissioning. On the western and northern sides of the town the ramparts and bastions were demolished. It was considered that the ramparts and fortifications were limiting the natural expansion of the town. A wide boulevard had been built on the west side of town opposite the station. One of those streets, Boulevard Malou, was named after one of the Belgian Prime Ministers, who had been born in Ypres, Jules Malou.

The ramparts on the eastern and southern sides of Ypres were, however, more or less left in situ. These ramparts were landscaped, planted with trees and paths were laid. It became a popular place to walk and relax. The ramparts by 1914 were well-used by the local people as recreation areas until the war came to Ypres in the autumn of 1914.

The Moats: Boterplas, Majorgraacht and Kasteelgracht

The ramparts and moat looking to the north from the south-east corner of the old Ypres fortifications. Nowadays the ramparts provide a popular walking route and the moat is a haven for wildlife.
The moat and ramparts in the south-east corner of Ypres.

As mentioned, in the late 1800s the moats and ditches around in the northern and western sides of the town were filled in during the demolition works to remove some of the rampart fortifications. A narrow stretch of canalised water was left lying from east to west across the north of the town. On the outside of the south-western, southern and eastern fortified stone ramparts three large bodies of water were left, known today as the Boterplas, the Majorgraacht and the Kasteelgraacht. Fishing in the moats became a popular pastime.

In this new era of peace, when the fortifications were no longer considered necessary to keep out invaders, the early 1900s saw the construction of an outdoor swimming pool called the “Bassin de Natation”. It was formed at the north-eastern corner of the Kasteelgraacht moat.

Town Gates

The Lille Gate (Rijselpoort) and ramparts at the southern entrance to Ypres.
The Lille Gate (Rijselpoort) and ramparts at the southern entrance to Ypres.

A feature of the old fortified city had been that there were a number of gates in and out of the town to protect access by road and waterway.

In earlier times the town's road gates had been locked at night, giving access to and from the town during the hours of 05.00 - 21.00 hours in the summer and hours of daylight in winter. Tolls were collected by the gate watchman. In the 1800s until 1865 there were duty taxes due to be paid at the gates for goods entering the town.

There had also been a water gate at the head of the Ypres-Yser (Ieper-Ijzer) canal until it was broken up in about 1884.

By the 1600s four main gates gave access to the major routes from Ypres. These were:

By 1914, only of the four main town gates, the Mesenpoort/Rijselpoort (Lille Gate), was surviving in the form of an actual gateway.

Plaine d'Amour (Minneplein)

One special place in Ypres at the turn of the 20th century was at the north-eastern corner of the town. This was called the “Plaine d'Amour” at the time when Ypres was French-speaking. In Dutch it was known as the “Minneplein”. It was a large grassy space located between the old inner and outer fortified town walls. The people of the town used this wide open space for recreation and some animals grazed on it. Today the Plaine d'Amour (Minneplein) is home to a school and a football ground.

Restoration Project from 1895-1914

A major project to restore and refurbish the many fine historical buildings in Ypres was started in 1895. Jules Coomans was appointed as the city's architect for the work. Survey work was carried out on the buildings, restoration work was done and by the summer of 1914 most of the project was complete. The work on the Cloth Hall and belfry was not quite finished, and in the autumn of 1914, when German artillery shells started landing on the town there was wooden scaffolding on the Cloth Hall and belfry.

Tourism to Ypres in 1914

Before the First World War the town of Ypres was popular as a tourist destination with visitors from within Belgium and also from abroad. Many arrived in Ypres by train. The Gothic architecture of the Cloth Hall, the frescoes in the Cloth Hall, historic buildings, the various specialist markets, the lace and the fine collections in the Merghelynckmuseum attracted visitors.

Interestingly, it is known that German officers posing as tourists visited Ypres on cycling tours around the area before the 1914-1918 war. Some of the information they gathered was believed to have been passed to German intelligence for use in planning troop movements in this part of Belgium.

Ypres in the Great War of 1914-1918

Continue with the story of Ypres and how the historic city came to be destroyed in the Great War:

Ypres in the Great War of 1914-1918

Further Reading

Godenschemering over Ieper: Ieper gezien door de fotografen Léontine, Maurice en Robert Antony, 1893-1930, by Jan Dewilde, 2007, (approximately Euros 38,00). Book about the photographer family Antony from Ypres. Available from the Visitor Centre for Ypres and the Municipal Museums of Ypres.

Related Topics

Battles of the Ypres Salient

The Menin Gate

The Lille Gate


(1) Postcard of the Cloth Hall (Lakenhalle) as it was in 1914 from a set printed in 1930 by Ern. Thill, Bruxelles.

(2) Image and header photo detail courtesy of Wikimedia Commons with image details at Siege of Ypre, 1678, source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASi%C3%A8ge_d'Ypres_en_1678.jpg. Attribution: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

(3) Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons with image details at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ieper,_Belgium_;_Ferraris_Map.jpg

Vesting Ieper, Wandeling in een historisch landschaap, Lieven Stubbe, Dominiek Dendooven, Johan Termote, Philippe Vanderghote

The Reconstruction of Ieper: A Walk Through History, by Dominiek Dendooven and Jan Dewilde

Ieper in oude prentkaarten, by D Masure

Ieper La Carte - de Ieperse Vestinginen in Kaart Gebracht, von Ann Vanrolleghem

Ieper in Stukken, Op't Perron, Trein en tram in Ieper (Exhibition Catalogue), 9 September - 10 October 2011

Ypres and The Battles of Ypres, Illustrated Michelin Guides to the Battlefields (1914-1918)

Grateful thanks to the expertise on Vauban and his forts at http://www.fortified-places.com/ypres/