Visiting the Cloth Hall, Ypres (Ieper), Belgium: dating originally from 1304, rebuilt after World War One

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Cloth Hall on fire, November 21, 1914
Cloth Hall on fire, November 21, 1914 | Source
Cloth Hall and Belfry in Ypres. Rebuilt after World War I
Cloth Hall and Belfry in Ypres. Rebuilt after World War I | Source
Colonel John McCrae
Colonel John McCrae | Source
The Rt. Hon. John N. Turner with his spouse Geills Turner and The Rt. Hon. Pierre E. Trudeau, 1984
The Rt. Hon. John N. Turner with his spouse Geills Turner and The Rt. Hon. Pierre E. Trudeau, 1984 | Source

Magnificent building, redolent of Medieval prosperity

The Cloth Hall (Dutch: Lakenhal or Lakenhalle) in Ypres (Dutch — the local language: Ieper)(1) is an impressive building originally completed in 1304, but badly damaged in World War One and subsequently rebuilt. Its belfry is a local landmark.

The Cloth Hall houses the In Flanders Field Museum, which focuses on World War One; this museum is named for the well-known poem by Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918)(2). The poignant Canadian connection of this museum at Ypres is emphasized by the fact that at nearby Passchendaele (Dutch: Passendale) Canada suffered huge casualties as a result of the tactics of the British Imperial Command which even today remain controversial. In 1917, Field Marshall Haig failed to take Canadian General Arthur Currie's advice that 16,000 casualties would result if Haig insisted that Canadian troops take strategically insignificant Passchendaele, in the summer of 1917. General Currie's predicitions proved frighteningly accurate and, in the event, 15,654 casualties resulted and the British Imperial Command subsequently ordered the vacating of Passchendaele, which was reoccupied by the Germans without a fight.

Interestingly, the Senate Chamber of Canada's Federal Parliament has a painting depicting the Cloth Hall at Ypres.

This magnificent building is redolent of Medieval prosperity, based in and around the town, which was centred considerably on the cloth industry — hence the name.

The building shows strongly Gothic elements such as a multiplicity of point windows and pinnacles. The pinnacles which attain the greatest height are atop the structure's conspicuous belfry, which attains a height of 70 metres. There are also ornate Renaissance gable elements. The belfry contains a carillon of 49 bells.

The restoration of the building was carried out in a process which lasted from 1933 and 1967. Architects who worked on the restoration project were J. Coomans and P. A. Pauwels.

Almost amazingly — but not if one considers that some of flat Flanders was once underwater — centuries ago there used to be access to the Cloth Hall by boat. The watercourse which formerly led to the building has long since been covered.

February 9, 2015

Notes

(1) I use the form 'Ypres' here because it has been commonly employed in English.

(2) This museum is named for the well-known poem by Canadian Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918); Canadians may also be familiar with McCrae House museum, Guelph, Ontario, and with the poet's wider family: a great-nephew David Kilgour served as MP for Edmonton Ridings and a great niece Mrs Geills McCrae Kilgour Turner is the wife of former Canadian Prime Minister John N. Turner.

The In Flanders Fields Museum at the Cloth Hall receives visitors in excess of 250,000 per year. The Museum functions very much as a study centre on the great conflict, with a stock of over 11,000 books about World War One, in addition to large numbers of photographs and map. Canadians travelling in Europe and able to visit this Belgian city will doubtless find much of interest relating to Canada's past. Many of Canada's World War One casualties occurred at Vimy, in northern France, the location for the Canadian National Vimy Memorial / Mémorial national du Canada à Vimy. But it should be remembered that a large proportion of Canada's losses occurred also on Belgian soil. It may be added that these losses suffered by Canadians in northern France and Belgium did not come without national consequences: after World War One, successive Canadian governments proved unwilling to be regarded as simply a colony of Great Britain, with no formal say in the strategy for and use of human and material resources from Canada deployed in overseas conflicts.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Map location of Ypres, Belgium
Map location of Ypres, Belgium | Source

Also worth seeing

In Ypres (Dutch: Ieper) itself, the Menin Gate (Dutch: Menenpoort) commemorates the Commonwealth fallen of World War One; St George's Memorial Church, opened in 1929, is well worth seeing,

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels (distance: 137 kilometres) is the nearest large airport to Ypres/Ieper. The Belgian railroad company NMBS/SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and Ypres. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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