Visit Ypres by Mouse
Ypres (Leper) in Western Flanders is almost the last Belgian town before reaching France traveling from Eastern Belgium. Indeed its position was the primary reason why Ypres became a battleground in WW I. Three major battles were fought there as German forces encountered Allied forces who succeeded in stopping their advance into France. Ypres became an Allied salient, sticking out into German held territory.Three bloody battles were fought there. The second was the first time poison gas was used in war, and has been the most closely studied. The third battle is most noted for the number of casualties--a half million. Throughout the war, German forces shelled the city from three sides of the salient, totally destroying it. German reparations after the Armistice were used to rebuild the city. Today, one would never know from the look of the place that it had ever been destroyed. The buildings in the town center are solid and the whole area is fit and clean.
The town center is dominated by a huge building, Cloth Hall, which had its origin in medieval times when Ypres was the center of a prosperous textile trade. The building has a large bell tower which has a 49 bell carrillon. Today this building houses the In Flanders Fields Museum which is devoted to exploring the history of WW I. This complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Just behind Cloth Hall is a gothic Cathedral, St. Martins, dating from the early 1200's. A short walk away is the Menin Gate, a memorial to British soldiers who fought and died there. A short drive away is the remains of a recently discovered WW I trench which can be visited. And several military cemeteries in which WW I war dead are buried are situated all over the nearby area. The "most important" of these, by virtue of the number of dead buried or listed there--over 44,000--is Tyne Cot.
With all this in such a small area it is no wonder that tourists from all over world come to do their best, as we did, to get a feel for what happened there, to try to fathom how such a slaughter could have taken place.  Chief among those who come there to understand are countless groups of school children from all over Europe.  Our guess is that most of those come away, again, as we did, considerably more knowledgeable about what happened there, but failing to understand how the slaughter could have kept going on and on, from 1914 through most of 1918.
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