As part of my post-Antwerp, post-Crisis 2017 Blog posts, I’ve added a few photographs of the Belgian town of Ypres below.
Ypres today is firmly associated with the First World War, being ringed by military cemeteries and incorporating the huge Menin Gate, a dramatic and deeply moving memorial to British and Empire soldiers fallen in the War but with no known grave.
But Ypres’ position in Flanders, close to the North Sea and to France meant for long before 1914 that it was an important strategic town. It was walled in the medieval period, and had its fortifications augmented by the Spanish in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly after the lengthy siege of the town by Spanish troops in 1583-84 as part of the Eighty Years War. More sieges followed in 1644, 1648 and 1658, with Ypres returning to the Spanish in the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
The Spanish Governor of the Netherlands sought to reinforce the town in the 1660s by adding an earthen citadel on the east of the town, aiming to protect the walls from the most favoured approach used by French armies in previous periods.
The town was besieged one last time in the seventeenth century by Louis XIV and Vauban in March 1678, being finally captured in an assault on 25th March.
Following the cessation of the Third Dutch War in August 1678, Ypres was ceded to France in the Treaty of Nijmegen, being a key negotiating piece in the complex peace treaty brokered by Louis and his foreign minister, the Marquis de Pomponne.
After the conclusion of the peace, the fortifications around the city were significantly altered by Vauban, who removed the Citadel, building an impressive hornwork in its place, and creating the watercourse which today flows around the remaining city walls. And it's Vauban's walls which you can easily visit today, as we did last week.
There’s sadly not a great deal which can be seen of the medieval walls, or the Spanish fortifications from the Sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. By contrast, Vauban’s remarkable fortifications are accessible and visible. The photos above show a small part of Vauban’s fortifications, those on the east side of the town being almost impregnable owing to the inundations, and now accommodating the even more impressive and sobering Menin Gate.
I’ve visited the town before, starting way back in 2002. I've often thought it was a near-perfect mixture of a quiet Flanders town, with just enough nightlife and a strong historical theme. Not much seems to have changed since then, and if you’re ever in Flanders, I recommend a visit.
For anyone intrigued by the starting point for my thoughts about my fictional Flemish town of Laarden, Ypres would play a large part in those ideas.