110km (69 miles) W of Brussels; 45km (28 miles) SW of Bruges
Set among the low, gentle slopes of the West Flanders Heuvelland (Hill Country), Ypres (Ieper in Dutch) owed its early prosperity to a textile industry that peaked in the 13th century. Over the centuries, the handsome town was victimized by one war after another. By far the most devastating was World War I (1914-18) -- the "war to end all wars" -- when hardly a brick was left standing after 4 years of violent bombardments. Many visitors come to Ypres (pronounced Ee-pruh) to remember those who fell on the surrounding battlefields and rest on the green breast of the Heuvelland.
In the rolling countryside around the town, you can visit no fewer than 185 serene World War I military cemeteries. Ypres -- "Wipers," the Tommies pronounced it -- was one of the slaughterhouses on the Western Front. Between 1914 and 1918, in the few square miles of the Ypres salient, 250,000 soldiers from Britain and its empire, and from France and Belgium, were killed, along with an equal number of Germans; the tally of wounded on all sides reached 1.2 million.
Brick by brick, most important medieval buildings in the town (pop. 35,000) have been reconstructed exactly as they were, carefully following original plans. This accounts for the pristine look of venerable monuments, instead of the moldering stones you might expect.