Even 100 years later, there cannot be any doubt that the effects of the Great War had a fundamental impact on Belgium’s society, and that the victims of this horrible conflict deserve a worthy tribute. Using the principle that “by interpreting our past, we can learn for the future,” the Flemish government considers its newest commemoration project to be a unique opportunity to create long term remembrance and reflection within a peaceful theme. The intention of this project is to highlight the different aspects of war with innovative and thought-provoking museums featuring historic locations and an atmosphere allowing guests to contemplate war’s role in world harmony. The initiative aims to preserve Belgium’s war heritage for future generations and stimulate the notion of peace tourism for years to come.
The First World War, or the “Great War,” was the first global conflict of its kind. It lasted from July 28, 1914 until November 11, 1918. Millions of soldiers and civilians died during that time. Its end hailed the start of a new form of tourism, when families and friends of lost heroes made special pilgrimages to the battlefields to visit their graves. It awoke an aching desire to visualize what life on the battlefields had been like and provided a way for them to pay homage for their loved ones’ bravery, and further develop a sense of pride for the bereaved. The tradition of the daily Last Post ceremony in Ieper is a fitting tribute for remembrance, but as the years pass by, there is also a further appeal in investigating lost family ties and personal ancestry in the area.
Every year, approximately 350,000 visitors travel to the battlefield region and of these, over 40 percent choose to stay overnight in Flanders, Belgium. Five of the strategic projects which will serve to expand the notion of peace tourism in the future include:
• The renovation of the In Flanders Fields Museum and creation of the new lookout point on the Belfry tower in Ieper
• The development of The Legacy of Passchendaele, comprising the former battlefield and the Memorial Museum 1917 in Zonnebeke
• Creating 100 years of Poperinge Behind the Front, incorporating Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and Talbot House in Poperinge
• Creating a new visitor center at the locks in the Ganzenpoot area of Nieuwpoort
• Restructuring of the IJzertoren Museum and site in the town of Diksmuide.
For more information, go to visitflanders.us.