Major support for world heritage bid for First World War sites


Municipalities and other organisations join forces with the government of Flanders to promote West Flanders’ First World War sites as Unesco World Heritage

18 sites promoted

The government of Flanders has signed a covenant to work with various other bodies to promote the recognition of 18 First World War sites in West Flanders as Unesco World Heritage sites. The other signatories are 10 West Flanders municipalities, the provincial authority and a group of independent organisations.

In 2014, minister-president Geert Bourgeois, whose portfolio also includes heritage affairs, drew up a list of candidate sites, mainly military cemeteries and monuments. All are already listed as monuments under Belgian law and form part of a joint French-Belgian submission for recognition as world heritage to be handed in to Unesco, the United Nations educational and cultural organisation, in 2017.

The list was circulated to a variety of bodies – not only those who own and manage the sites but also organisations such as the farmers’ union Boerenbond, Flemish chamber of commerce Voka, Unizo, which represents the self-employed, and Natuurpunt.

The list also has international partners: the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the French defence ministry, the German War Graves Commission and the Institute for Veterans and War Invalids.

The signing ceremony took place this week in the new Westfront visitor centre in Nieuwpoort. “This covenant will create the ideal circumstances to work on the nomination dossier, but we will also be paying attention to the upkeep of heritage sites and the sustainable development of the region,” Bourgeois said.

The sites include the monument to the missing in Nieuwpoort and the Menin Gate in Ypres; German military cemetery Vladslo (pictured) in Diksmuide; the Canadian Brooding Soldier monument in Langemark; the French military cemetery in Kemmelberg; and Commonwealth military cemeteries, including Tyne Cot.

Photo courtesy Onroerend Erfgoed

First World War

Claiming the lives of more than nine million people and destroying entire cities and villages in Europe, the Great War was one of the most dramatic armed conflicts in human history. It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Flanders Field - For four years, a tiny corner of Flanders known as the Westhoek became one of the war’s major battlefields.
Untouched - Poperinge, near Ypres, was one of the few towns in Flanders that remained unoccupied for most of the war.
Cemetery - The Tyne Cot graveyard in Passchendaele is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
550 000

lives lost in West Flanders

368 000

annual visitors to the Westhoek

1 914

First Battle of Ypres