The Cloth Hall in Ypres was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city"s prosperous cloth industry. The original structure, erected mainly in the 13th century and completed 1304, lay in ruins after artillery fire devastated Ypres in World War I. Between 1933 and 1967, the hall was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition, under the guidance of architects J. Coomans and P. A. Pauwels. At 125 metres in breadth, with a 70 metres high belfry tower, the Cloth Hall recalls the importance and wealth of the medieval trade city.
In a row spanning the front of the edifice are tall pointed arches that alternately enclose windows and blind niches. Before the Great War, the niches framed life-size statues of historical personages, counts and countesses of Flanders. The niches on the side wings are now mostly vacant, but those in the centre contain statues of Count Baldwin IX of Flanders and Mary of Champagne, legendary founders of the building; and King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth, under whose reign the reconstruction began. Situated between these two couples, directly above the central archway entrance or Donkerpoort, is a statue of Our Lady of Thuyne, the patron of Ypres.
The belfry, capped with four turrets and a spire, houses a carillon with 49 bells. From a pole atop the spire a gilded dragon overlooks the city. The tower offers an expansive view of the surroundings, and was used as a watchtower in centuries past. It has also accommodated the town archives, a treasury, an armory and a prison. In less enlightened times, cats were thrown off the belfry for reasons that are not clearly understood. One theory is that cats were in some way associated with black magic. A different theory is that cats were held to protect the cloth against mice, but the annual excess of kittens had to be dealt with in some way. Today, a jester commemorates this act by tossing stuffed toy felines from the tower during the triennial Cat Parade.
The Cloth Hall used to be accessible by boat via the Ieperlee waterway, which is now covered. The spacious ground-floor halls where wool and cloth were once sold are now used for exhibitions and tourist information; the second floor, formerly a warehouse, now hosts the In Flanders Fields Museum, dedicated to the history of World War I and also houses a WWI research centre. Via the museum, visitors can access the belfry tower.
Against the east face of the edifice stands the elegant Nieuwerck, whose Renaissance style contrasts markedly with the Gothic of the main building. Originally built between 1619 and 1622, and reconstructed after the war, this annex now serves as a town hall.
A painting of the Cloth Hall as it appeared in ruins in 1918, by Scottish-born artist James Kerr-Lawson, was one of over 1,000 pieces of art commissioned by the Canadian War Memorials Fund for part of a World War I memorial building that was planned after the war. However, the memorial building was eventually scrapped in favour of a memorial cenotaph at the centre of Confederation Square, across the street from Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The painting of the Cloth Hall, and seven other of the commissioned pieces, were instead hung in the Senate Chamber of the newly re-built Centre Block of parliament in 1921, and remains there today.
In 1999 UNESCO inscribed 32 belfry towers into a list of Belfries of Flanders and Wallonia. The belfry tower of Ypres is one of these.References:
Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.
At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.
During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.
In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.
The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.
The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.
After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.
When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.