Process begun to protect Bellewaarde Ridge in Westhoek

Summary

Flanders has started the process to protect the explosion craters of Zillebeke as archaeological heritage

Remains of battles of Ypres

Bellewaarde Ridge in Zillebeke, a district of Ypres, has been put under temporary protection as an archaeological heritage site by minister Geert Bourgeois. The First and Second Battles of Ypres were partially fought in Zillebeke, including the Battle of Bellewaarde on Bellewaarde Ridge on 24-25 May, 1915.

The ridge has been largely untouched since the First World War. The owner of the land apparently levelled it fairly smoothly and left much of it alone to turn to forest. According to archaeological investigations, the tops of the trenches are just 10 centimetres below the surface.

A network of explosion craters have also been left largely untouched, which is rather unique. Deeper under the ground are a network of tunnels the connect the craters. It is also expected that blasts in the shaft killed a number of soldiers who are still buried under the ridge.

‘Extremely varied and well-preserved’

“The field of craters at Bellewaarde Ridge appear to be the best-preserved crater landscape in the Westhoek,” said Bourgeois, who is heritage minister as well as minister-president of Flanders. “It is a war landscape with extremely varied and well-preserved archaeological traces. The connection of the craters and the well-preserved remains of trenches and shelters makes this a site of great archaeological value.”

A public announcement and investigation will now be made by the local city council. If all goes well, the site will be able to be legally protected from development, farming or any other uses, by next spring.

The process to protect Bellewaarde Ridge coincides with the last months of the centenary of the First World War. After four years of special events, memorials, tourist services and visits from dignitaries and royalty from around the world, this 11 November marks the end of the centenary.

Photo: One of the many explosion craters on the Bellewaarde Ridge
©Hannelore Decoodt/Vlaamse Gemeenschap