The First World

Unfortunately, this document was not sufficient to prevent cultural disasters during the First World War (1914-18), such as burning the important University Library of Louvain in Belgium in August 1914, the bombardment of Rheims Cathedral in France, or the many historic buildings and towns in Central Europe. Due to a general outcry, these disasters were recognized at an official level and, in 1914, the German army attached special 'art officers' to military units to identify and protect cultural property. One of them was P. Clemen, Conservator of Rhineland, who initiated an inventory of damages.24 Belgium had rapidly been occupied and had become a theatre of warfare. Many historic towns, such as Dinant, Vise, Mechelen, Lier and Antwerp, were seriously damaged. Ypres was completely destroyed, and of Louvain, one-eighth. The Belgian government in exile soon initiated provisions for the restoration and reconstruction of the damaged buildings and towns. According to a law of 1919, compensation was guaranteed to all those who had suffered damage. Destroyed public buildings were to be replaced by equivalent structures, and historic monuments were to be rebuilt to their pre-war appearance (Law of 10 May 1919). The debate about the reconstruction of Ypres moved in three directions; there were those who wanted to keep the ruins as a memorial for the destruction, there were those who wanted to profit from the recent developments in town-planning and prepared proposals for a garden city lay-out, and there were those who were concerned about the symbolic value of the mediaeval city and insisted on rebuilding it exactly as it had been before the destruction. It was this third solution that was accepted in Ypres. Similarly, the Louvain University Library was rebuilt exactly as it had been. Town houses were rebuilt by their owners - mostly as replicas, but in some cases as a free composition of surviving elements.25

Figure 9.41 The historic centre of Louvain, Belgium, suffered serious destruction in the First World War, and a large part of it was rebuilt after the war. The town hall (in the picture) survived in part, and was later restored.

In France, where the damage and destruction in 1914 included Rheims and Soissons cathedrals, the sixteenth-century Hotel de Ville, the splendid Renaissance squares of Arras, and even the Notre-Dame of Paris, the country had to mobilize its forces for the restoration and reconstruction. Fortunately in many cases it had been possible to save treasures from destruction by evacuating them to safe places. In 1917, the Ministry of War had also protected the important stained-glass windows of the cathedrals of Rouen and Chartres. At the end of the war, with the

Commission des monuments historiques in charge, listing of buildings was extended to cover not only monuments but also historic areas, such as the hill of V├ęzelay with the church of La Madeleine. In 1932, there were 8100 listed historic buildings in France; out of these 3000 were churches. The supplementary list was rapidly increasing and, in 1934, it contained 12 000 entries. In the post-war restoration, there was no longer a question of keeping strictly to conservation, but it was necessary to accept the reconstruction of the destroyed parts of damaged buildings. This led necessarily to a reconsideration of both the principles and the techniques applied. Much use was made of modern technology, and especially reinforced concrete. In ten years, more than 700 buildings were restored or rebuilt (Verdier, 1934:195ff).

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