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Flanders' World War I memorial sites recognised as World Heritage Sites
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Flanders' World War I memorial sites recognised as World Heritage Sites

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On Wednesday 20 September, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has officially recognised Flanders' World War I memorial sites as world heritage sites. This includes 27 monuments and cemeteries, such as Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passchendaele.

These commemorative sites are the backbone of Flanders Fields, a region that was a battleground of the First World War for four years. The many monuments you will find here today symbolise a universal message of peace. They fit into a collection of 139 historical memorials in Flanders (27), Wallonia (16) and France (96). That collection is now recognised as world heritage in its entirety.

The recognition is a meaningful gesture that honours those who made the ultimate sacrifice on both sides of the conflict, including more than 11,500 South Africans who died during the First World War. More than 6000 of these are buried in cemeteries around the world, 854 of which in Belgium. One hundred years later, thousands are still missing. They are commemorated on iconic memorials, such as the Menin Gate in Ypres, where every evening at exactly 8pm buglers sound the Last Post as a haunting honorary salute to all the soldiers who lost their lives. This ceremony has been carried on uninterrupted, throughout the year and in all weather conditions, since 1928.

With this recognition, UNESCO has designated a material world heritage site in Flanders for the eighth time. Among other things, the historic city centre of Bruges and the centuries-old printing and publishing company Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp have already featured on this prestigious list. So this list now includes the Flanders Fields memorials as well. These monuments were already protected by the Flemish community. There is now an additional honour and responsibility, so that this invaluable heritage and the memory of those it pays tribute to are preserved for eternity.

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