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by M Soenen & J L Putman

The dominant west-east-orientated complex - which starts in France and ends in Belgium - Mont Noir-Vidaigneberg-Rodeberg-Scherpenberg-Kemmelberg (with a geodetic point at a height of 154m) acts as the backbone for the area's relief articulation and hydrography. From the higher sources, in a northerly direction, crooks are orientated over a longer distance to the Yser, while at the southern foot the Douve drains eastwards towards the Lys.

The central ridge as a watershed
Map © GDI Vlaanderen

The central ridge as a watershed.

The Douve valley is flanked to the south by a lower ridge (80m) which is bordered from French territory by the wide Lys valley (20m).

Below is a digital terrain model (DTM) which was obtained via LIDAR recording ('Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging').

DTM and section with relief
Photo © Ename Center

DTM and section with relief compartmentalisation of the Kemmelberg area, in the height interval between 20-154m.

The section below follows exactly along the south-north line which is depicted on the DTM.

From south to north: Lys valley, secondary ridge (Nieuwkerke), Douve valley, Kemmelberg with northern flanks
Photo © Ename Center

From south to north: Lys valley, secondary ridge (Nieuwkerke), Douve valley, Kemmelberg with northern flanks.

While on the horizon line a saddle stands out on the Rodeberg zone, for the Kemmelberg it is the striking plateau line of the top zone next to the lower foothills of the Monteberg (132m) to the south-west and the modest Lettenberg (97m) to the north.

There is a 360-degree panorama from the Belvédère observation tower on the Kemmelberg and the southern ridge - from 'De Walletjes' (80m) - offers a beautiful view of relief compartmentalisation south of the high central row of hills.

View from the southern ridge northwards
Photo © Stefan Dewickere

View from the southern ridge northwards: from west to east, the Scherpenberg and the Monteberg-Kemmelberg massif.

The view is on a semi-open agricultural landscape. The church towers in the small village centres occupy the site uniformly as landmarks. The rural habitation of regularly spread-out farms and rather sparse houses in-between strongly determines the general appearance of the region, surrounded by beautiful panoramic views.

On the Franco-Belgian border
Photo © Stefan Dewickere

On the Franco-Belgian border: contact between the erosion relief of the hill region and the flat infill relief of the Lys valley.

This traditional rural character remained unchanged during the industrial revolution (in the nineteenth century) and, following the devastation of the First World War, it recovered, albeit with shrinking forest cover, and more open plot boundaries.

The photo duo below shows an evolution phase from a more enclosed to a semi-open landscape. At the moment a trend is gradually continuing with more planting on plot boundaries and with the introduction of small-isolated landscape elements.

View of the northern side of the Kemmelberg from De Klijte
Photo © Provincie West-Vlaanderen - 'De Bergen'

View of the northern side of the Kemmelberg from De Klijte, around 1935.

View of the northern side of the Kemmelberg from De Klijte
Photo © William Willems

View of the northern side of the Kemmelberg from De Klijte, 2021.

The hilly environment with variations in lithology and soil moisture shows a multitude of small landscape elements on fields and grassland and in nature reserves. Larger woodlands crown the sandy peaks.

The adjacent slopes are enlivened by, among other things, spring groves, sunken roads, lynchets (slope bends), and some asymmetrical creek valleys. Vigilant support is provided by planting new forest and interventions in soil loss due to slope erosion on the fertile loam and sandy loam soils. The farm buildings follow the general agricultural evolution by embellishing, modernising, adapting, or discontinuing the agricultural function.

Viticulture has been a new phenomenon in this agricultural evolution since 1996. The implantation of industrial sites of a certain size remains very limited.

Southern flank of the Monteberg-Kemmelberg
Photo © Provincie West-Vlaanderen

Southern flank of the Monteberg-Kemmelberg. In the east is the village centre of Kemmel and in the north is the Ypres region.

In a time-related changing economic and social context, government and private initiatives are striving to protect this landscape's regional identity from interventions which could prove too disturbing and, where necessary, to protect it through legal acts. For example, the 'Kemmelberg Provincial Domain' is expanding steadily. A cross-border collaboration with French Flanders (northern France) was gradually established within the scope of this activity.

The regional framework
Photo © Google

The regional framework.

Therefore the Kemmelberg region is situated as a landscape with a separate individual identity, between two areas which have a greater industrial impact and, consequently, corresponding traces on the site. The northern region of Ypres-Poperinge has gradually been incorporated into regional industrial development since the 1970s.

Following a rise in the scale of the post-industrial revolution, the southern region beyond the French border has already entered a phase of reconversion in the textile and coal sectors.

View from the Kemmelberg southwards
Photo © Philippe Vercoutter

View from the Kemmelberg southwards. Beyond the Douve valley and the southern ridge (Nieuwkerke), the plateau of Artois (France) on the horizon.

The character of the Kemmelberg environment has led to popular initiatives in the fields of tourism and leisure, starting from the village centres which are bearing marks, as well as from the local settlement history, and from nature and people in the rural areas.

Kemmel village centre with Dries and Warandepark
Photo © J Semey, UGent

Kemmel village centre with Dries and Warandepark, at the eastern foot of the Kemmelberg.



Text copyright © Archeo Kemmelberg. An original feature for the History Files: Kemmelberg.