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by Ana Adi
The stereotypical images of Belgium revolve around delicious chocolates, endless choices of beer and beautifully maintained, live museum-like cities. However, many of the towns and cities of Belgium hide secrets known only to the locals.
Ieper is one of such cities. It has a remarkable main square where its Belfry, Cloth Hall and Town Hall merge in one sumptuous building: 125m long with a tower of 70m high. It has also an enormous gothic cathedral still worthy of a bishop’s seat even though there are centuries since no bishop has lived in the city.
But what ones sees, although it looks aged, is new.
Ieper has a sad and inspiring story. It is city that rose from its own ashes, rebuilt from scratch after WWI left it in smokes and rubble. In Ieper’s fields many men are resting and endless rows of perfectly aligned tombstones are there to prove it. The white, simple stones, bear the faded marks of names of men and their insignia and regiment. Sometimes, a Cross of David can be seen, sometimes a cross, sometimes just a trace of an inscription. Some tombstones are missing. Those men were taken home. Some tombstones have flowers. Those men were not forgotten. Those men were found. Some tombstones rise to the sky, some are pressed down the earth. The winners and losers took their title even in their grave. This is Ieper: fields of tombstones, silent and cold.
The sight is impressive, shocking and breathtaking. It imposes silence without calling for it. It shapes the landscape and it shapes feelings. These feelings come out every night at 8 o’clock when the sound of trumpets, hollow, sad, metallic, and piercing, fills the night and shakes the Menin Gate. For the people of Ieper playing the trumpet at 8 o’clock is an honor as they play it for the 54.896 missing soldiers whose names are engraved in the gate’s walls and for all those other soldiers who are resting in the fields. They are playing the trumpets to remind themselves of their city’s rise from ashes. They are playing the trumpets for the students who sometimes came around as part of peace teaching programs. They are playing the trumpets for the families who still miss their loved ones.
Photo credits: Ana Adi
Ana ADI is an independent strategic communication consultant specialized in new media, international communication and public relations. She is also a PhD candidate. Ana now lives in Scotland but travels a lot. You can follow her on Twitter and check her other photos on Flickr.