Sunday, October 17, 2010

Financing the reconstruction of Ypres

view on Ypres, engraving from ca. 1600

In addition to the multiple sieges and occupations in the 17th and 18th century by Spanish, Dutch, Austrian and French troops, Napoleon further decided to abolish the episcopal office in the city of Ypres. Ypres became a small town with locally operating businesses. Even a connection to the railway system in the 1850s could not boost its economy. The great 13th century Cloth Hall was only a reminder of the town's important role it once played in the Middle Ages.

Engraving of the Cloth Hall, 1743

In World War I, Ypres became the scene for not less than 5 battles :
  • First Battle of Ypres (Oct 19 – Nov 22, 1914)
  • Second Battle of Ypres (Apr 22 – May 15, 1915)
  • Battle of Passchendaele (Jul 31 – Nov 6, 1917)
  • Battle of the Lys (9 - 29 Apr 1918)
  • Fifth Battle of Ypres (Sep 28 – Oct 2, 1918)
Number of casualties : about a half a million.
Ypres was the first place were poison gas like chlorine and mustard gas was used on a large scale. In fact mustard gas is also known as Yperite. There are no words for describing the town of Ypres at the end of the war. Just look at the picture below. 

In the center, you can distinguish the ruins of St. Martin's Cathedral and the Cloth Hall.

After the war, the British wanted to conserve the town in its destroyed status as a kind of open air commemorative place so future generations would be remembered of the inhuman situations of the war and the sacrifices made. An alternative was also the idea of establishing a "zone of silence" which would have comprised the neighbourhood of the Cloth Hall and St. Martin's cathedral. A new town was to be rebuilt around this zone. 
However, the citizens of Ypres objected to these ideas. Led by the architect J. Coomans and the mayor, they wanted the town to be rebuilt as authentic as possible. And that was what finally happened.
To finance the reconstruction of many places in Belgium, 3 lottery loans were issued by the Association of Cooperative Corporations for War Dammage  (in Dutch: Verbond der Samenwerkende Vennootschappen voor Oorlogsschade, in French: Fédération des Coopératives pour Dommages de Guerre).  Each of the bonds, engraved by the Jean Malvaux house, depict in a subtle underprint the Cloth Hall of Ypres on the front side, and the city of Dinant on the rear, which was also completely destroyed in the war. (Double-click the details images)
  • 1921, 90 year 4% lottery loan for 1 billion Francs, 4 million bonds of 250 Francs
  • 1922, 90 year 5% lottery loan for 1 billion Francs, 4 million bonds of 250 Francs
  • 1923, 90 year 5% lottery loan for 1 billion Francs, 2 million bonds of 500 Francs
loan of 1921
Hope enlightens Despair 

loan of 1922
 In the underprint : ruins of St. Martin's Cathedral and the Cloth Hall
with further in the background
the new Cloth Hall that was to be reconstructed

 loan of 1923
Ruins and Cloth Hall in underprint

The Cathedral was completed rebuilt in 1930, the Belfry (the tower on the Cloth Hall) in 1934. The Cloth Hall was fully reconstructed only in 1967. In 1991 the Belfry of Ypres became an UNESCO protected monument. Today, Ypres is a provincial but vivid municipality, attracting many tourists.
Related links :

 Savings certificate for the reconstruction of Ypres, 1919
The Société Nationale des Industries de Construction en Belgique was one of
the first national organizations to finance the reconstruction.
In the underprint on the front side and on the rear (see detail) the Cloth Hall is depicted.

1 comment:

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