(overall – some sites are darker, others less so) -
-------UPDATE: a while ago I've been on an extensive field trip of the WW1 Western Front sites, so you can expect several new and updated detailed chapters appearing here in due course. It is a lot of work, though, so please bear with me. -----------
A town in south-western Flanders, Belgium
, which was on the frontline in WW1
and whose name has become near synonymous with the carnage that was so characteristic of that "Great War". It was also here that the German military first used poison gasses on a large scale – both chlorine and mustard gas.
This was the onset for chemical warfare as the first industrial-age weapon of mass destruction being used (in that sense Ypres could be called the "Hiroshima
of chemical warfare"). To this day, old UXO
from that time poses a danger to the local population – and to careless tourists. Be warned: never touch anything that looks suspiciously like old WW1 shells or other UXO.
Today, the area attracts a lot of battlefield tourism
, and while much of it is really more empty field than dark evidence of battle today, there are also various memorials (including Ypres' huge Menin Gate), vast war cemeteries, old bunker ruins, and, more interestingly, some elements were the WW1-legacy has been commodified for (dark) tourists:
Of these, the Sanctuary Wood Museum/Hill 62 site (ca. two miles east of Ypres) gets a lot of praise, esp. for featuring the best "preserved" war-time trenches (a lot of reconstruction has gone in to them by now, of course). Artefacts like old guns and shells are also on display.
There's also an indoor museum (itself a veteran) with tons of artefacts from the time and some rare photographs (many extremely graphic), including 3D.
Opening times: daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; (it’s not quite clear how much is currently charged for admission – I've heard reports that it may be as steep as 15 EUR, others report only 4 EUR …). Address: Canadalaan 26, B-8900 Zillebeke-Ieper.
In Ypres itself (now spelled "Ieper" in Flemish), there's a museum dedicated to the battles of Ypres and WW1, it takes its somewhat bewildering name "In Flanders Fields Museum" from a war poem. The exhibitions inside, however, are state-of-the-art, with lots of multi-media, photos, texts and artefacts. It's probably the most informative part the dark tourist can experience in a WW1-related itinerary of the area.
The "In Flanders Fields Museum" is open daily between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from 1 April to 15 November, and in the winter only Tuesdays to Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission 8 EUR (adults – only 1 EUR for under 26-year-olds!). It's located in the centre of Ieper at Lakenhallen Grote Markt 34.
A bit further out, namely ca. four miles from the Menin Gate in Ieper, at Zonnebeke, there's another museum: the "Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917", named after a particularly fierce battle at a site nearby. It is regarded as one of the best museums of its kind. This has an indoor display of a recreated trench and dugout (good if you don't want to recreate the mudfest of the real trenches outside) in addition to photos, artefacts, etc. Admission 5 EUR. Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (reduced hours at weekends – and in December and January it remains closed throughout). Address: Ieperstraat 5, B-8980 Zonnebeke.
Yet another recent museum to be mentioned here is the Hooge Crater Museum, also on the main Menin road, opposite the cemetery. It contains another array of artefacts and photos and reconstructions of trenches. There's also a replica of the Red Baron's triplane and archaeological information about further projects in the area. Opening times: Tuesdays to Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; admission 4.50 EUR for adults (concessions for groups and children). Address: Meenseweg 467, B-8902 Zillebeke-Ieper.