The fortifications of the town of Ypres (today officially known by its Flemish name Ieper) are the best preserved in the area. There were built in 1390 to protect the inhabitants of this then prospering town.
The fortifications were transformed in around 1680 by the great French engineer of Louis XIV Vauban into a vast complex of defences. At that time, Ypres acted as a sort of buffer which was required to absorb the impact of the many conflicts between Europe's royal families. It was therefore crucial for the town to be well defended.
Today, the remaining fortifications can be discovered on foot by following a pleasant walking circuit. The Fortifications Walk (Vestingsroute) starts from the De Kazematten visitor centre.
The casemates date from 1685. There were built according to Vauban's drawings. Over the years, these underground hallways have served quite a few purposes. For centuries, they were used as a military bakery.
During the First World War, these bomp-proof chambers were used by British troops as a headquarters, a cantonment site and a print works.
During the Second World War, they acted as shelters for the inhabitants of Ieper. Today, a section of the casemates has been fully restored and is open to the public.
The municipal brewery
In April 2014, a new municipal brewery opened in one of the hallways. This brewery is an initiative of the St Bernardus de Watou Brewery. Two beers are made here – the Wipers Times and the Grotten Santé. Wipers Times was the name of the newspaper for British soldiers, which was printed in the casemates from 1916 to 1918.
Inspiration for the name Grotten Santé, which will be aged in the casemates, comes from the former Grottenbier (Cave Beer). No visit is complete without tasting it. A smart brasserie has opened in another of the hallways, where you can enjoy a tasty snack while sipping a local beer. Two other hallways house the permanent exhibition 'Ten centuries of fortifications in Ieper'.