You cannot escape the reminders of war in Ypres, Belgium, and the surrounding area of Flanders Fields. Some 600,000 soldiers and civilians perished here during four years of battle, from 1914 to 1918. Prolonged fighting ravaged this section of World War I’s Western Front, leaving not one tree or building standing in Ypres (pronounced EE-pruh; Ieper in Dutch). Today, more than 100 cemeteries, from tucked-away plots to well-known sites, dot the northwestern section of Dutch-speaking Flanders. Museums detail the fighting and the losses.
But there’s more to the story. Amid the tales of death blooms a moving celebration of life. From the caretakers and interpreters of the graves and museums to the tens of thousands who come yearly to visit the war memorials, they remember together, sharing humanity. Ypres rebuilt itself a decade after it was razed, and its lively market square provides a counterweight to the area’s more somber sights.
In this centenary year of the end of the Great War, the following Flanders sites remind visitors of yesterday’s sorrow and tomorrow’s promise.