As an Old World European town with more than a thousand years of history behind it, the city of Ypres in Belgium has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs. Starting its life as a 10th century town, Ypres would eventually rise to fame and fortune in the Middle Ages for its main product, fine cloth. Its population decimated by epidemics, wars, sieges and political turmoil, the town continued to soldier on. But for students embarking on a series of educational school tours, Ypres is best known for being the location of three major battles during the First World War, whose sheer drama and strategic significance already have their respective places in world history. For starters, the following sites should not be missed.
Retrace History at In Flanders Fields Museum
Perhaps the best place to thoroughly understand the chronology, significant moments or pivotal events of the First World War, the In Flanders Fields Museum is an excellent addition on the itinerary of school tours. Students can experience history on a more interactive level, with its several carefully designed interactive terminals, documentary artefacts, contemporary photos and other materials. Students can be ‘spiritually’ placed back in those chaotic moments when so many people suffered through what was then an unprecedented global war. Students will hear the spoken reading of John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields”, through which they’ll feel the sentiments of ordinary folks regarding waging a war in the trenches or surviving every single day behind the front.
The Menin Gate Memorial
School tours to Ypres would not be complete without at least a few hours of exploration of the Menin Gate Memorial. The said memorial was built to commemorate those tens of thousands of British soldiers who fell in battle before August 1917-months before the First World War ended. A visit to the Menin Gate can be an emotional experience, especially as students get to know the details of its history.
Marvel at the Grandeur of Lakenhalle
Lakenhalle (or cloth hall), located in the Grote Markt, represents the height of Ypres’ wealth and economic domination during the Middle Ages. As students may know, Ypres was a major European centre when it came to the production of the finest cloth, and Lakenhalle was built not only for its practical business purposes (it was here where the weaver guilds mostly conducted their business storing and selling their products), but also for its economic symbolism (the majestic dimensions of the structure speaks volumes about the guilds’ influence and power).
School tours that include Lakenhalle as a destination will, of course, benefit from a first-person encounter with the town’s former glory. Construction of the building started in the 1260s, but Lakenhalle would not be completed until well into the succeeding century. Unfortunately, the original building was completely destroyed during the First World War (as were many other historical structures), and the one that exists today was a fine reconstruction. Nevertheless, Lakenhalle is a must-visit for students.