In a historic decision, Unesco has recognized 139 sites related to World War I as world heritage, with 27 cemeteries and memorials in Flanders earning their rightful place. This recognition holds great symbolic significance for the commemoration of World War I but does not bring any financial implications.
Significant Recognition for World War I Heritage
It was a long-awaited recognition that Flanders has been advocating for years. Unesco has recognized 139 sites as world heritage, with 27 located in the Westhoek region of Flanders and 16 in Wallonia. These sites encompass cemeteries and memorials that played a crucial role in commemorating World War I. Some well-known locations include the Menin Gate in Ypres and Tyne Cot Cemetery in Zonnebeke.
Symbolic Meaning of the Recognition
Although this recognition does not bring direct financial benefits, it holds great symbolic significance. Matthias Diependaele, Flemish Minister of Immovable Heritage, emphasized the importance of continuing to tell the story of World War I. He noted that the commemoration of World War I has become a living tradition in Flanders, with events such as the daily Last Post at the Menin Gate in Ypres bringing people from around the world together.
Commemorating War Victims
The recognition also underscores the importance of ongoing commemoration of war victims. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, responsible for the management of Commonwealth cemeteries, welcomed the news and emphasized that the recognition underscores the global significance of these “Silent Cities” and the need to perpetually remember war victims.
Long-term Efforts and Universal Story
It took more than 15 years of effort to achieve this recognition, with a previous failed attempt in 2018. Minister Diependaele emphasized that such cases require long-term effort to develop a shared project. He praised predecessor Geert Bourgeois for initiating this campaign.
The recognition of these sites highlights the universal story of World War I, which connects people from around the world with each other and with the region. Each year, numerous commemorative tourists visit the Westhoek to experience history.
A Historic Addition to Belgian World Heritage
This recent recognition marks Belgium’s 16th inscription on the Unesco World Heritage List. Other notable Belgian locations on the list include the Grand Place in Brussels, historic cities, and architectural masterpieces.
The recognition of World War I sites as world heritage is a tangible reminder of a period that changed the world and a tribute to those who gave their lives for freedom and peace. These sites continue to be places of remembrance and meeting, where visitors from around the world gather to honor and understand history.
Visit the Belgian WW1 memorial sites
For more information about Flanders Fields and the WWI memorial sites, please read our In Flanders Fields Travel Guide.