Ypres is a Belgian municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Though Ieper is the Dutch and local name, Ypres is most commonly used in English. 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 count some 34,900 inhabitants.
During the Middle Ages, Ypres was a prosperous Flemish city with a population of 40,000, renowned for its linen trade with England, which was mentioned in the Canterbury Tales.
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 due to 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 status.
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.
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 during the first coalition war in 1794.
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 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 Sebastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban.
In the First Battle of Ypres (12 October to 11 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 the 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 city, was also used for the first time near Ypres, in the autumn of 1917.
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. Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign.
- Saint Martin's Cathedral or Saint Martin's Church was a cathedral and the seat of the former diocese of Ypres from 1561 to 1801. Although no longer a technically a cathedral, it is still often referred to as one, as is the case with many proto-cathedrals. At 102 metres (335 ft) tall, it is among the tallest buildings in Belgium. Construction started on the church in 1230, and was finished in 1370. There had previously been a Romanesque church in the area, dating from the 10th or 11th century. The diocese was originally part of the Diocese of Thérouanne, which had been established in the 7th or 8th century. In 1553 Charles V besieged the city of Thérouanne, then a French enclave in the Holy Roman Empire, in revenge for a defeat by the French at Metz. After he captured the city he razed the city. In 1557, as a result of the war damage to its see, the diocese was abolished. This led to a reform of sees at the Council of Trent, Council of Trent, and the bishopric of Thérouanne was split between the Diocese of Saint-Omer, the diocese of Boulogne and the Diocese of Ypres. With this, Saint Martin's Church was elevated to cathedral status, as it became the see of the new diocese.
- The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. The memorial is located at the eastern exit of the town and marks the starting point for one of the main roads out of the town that led Allied soldiers to the front line. Designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and built by the British government, the Menin Gate Memorial was unveiled on 24 July 1927. 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.
- The In Flanders' Fields Museum is devoted to the study of World War I and occupies the second floor of the Cloth Hall. The curator, Piet Chielens, is a World War I historian. The museum is named for the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae. Visitors to the museum will find no glorification of war; rather the museum suggests the futility of war, especially as seen in Flanders in World War I. Following a closure for refurbishments, the museum has reopened in June 2012. The renovation goes well beyond a new layout and embellishments, and is aimed at providing visitors with a more intense perception and richer experience. It also presents a general introduction to WWI in Flanders with reference to other sites and museums, and is intented to encourage the visitor to view the actual sites for themselves. The museum includes a new WWI research centre.
- Saint George's Memorial Church was built to commemorate over 500,000 British and Commonwealth troops, who had died in the three battles fought for the Ypres Salient, during World War I. The church was built following an appeal led by The Ypres League and its President Field Marshal Sir John French, Earl of Ypres, for a British memorial church to be built. Land was given by the town, and the foundation stone was laid by Field Marshal Lord Plumer on July 24, 1927. The church was consecrated by the Bishop of Fulham on March 24, 1929.
- The Cloth Hall of Ypres was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city's prosperous cloth industry. The original structure, erected mainly in the 13th century and completed 1304, lay in ruins after artillery fire devastated Ypres in World War I. Between 1933 and 1967, the hall was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition, under the guidance of architects J. Coomans and P.A. Pauwels. At 125 metres in breadth, with a 70-metre-high belfry tower, the Cloth Hall recalls the importance and wealth of the medieval trade city.