Archaeologists uncover intact 16th century quayside in Ieper

Excavations in Ieper have revealed a quayside dating from the 16th century.  The find was made at a location where the old Ieperlee river used to flow.

In earlier times the Ieperlee granted ships access to the city centre and boats were able to sail right up to the market square.  The River Ieperlee has meanwhile disappeared from the city centre, but the excavations have revealed its former quayside and several mooring posts, all in good condition even after 375 years under the ground.

Water was important for a medieval town.  Goods were shipped into the city centre, right up to the cloth hall and could also be transported out in the same way. However, when in the 17th century a new port was built parts of the Ieperlee river fell into disuse.  It was partially filled in or covered over.

Work on the sewer system means the square built over the old Ieperlee is being dug up.  Archaeologists hoped to uncover remains of the old quayside and that is exactly what happened.   Wooden mooring posts that were used to prevent ships hitting the quay wall have also come to light. 

The dig yielded the foundations of a wooden crane used to load and unload ships too.  The crane is familiar to historians as it is also pictured on medieval maps of the West Flemish city. Rings in the wood should allow scientists to establish a clear date for the crane.

People in Ieper are pretty surprised an intact quayside probably stretching for 50 metres has been uncovered.  Archaeologists had hoped that during the renovation of the square part of the quayside could still be preserved and remain visible e.g. under a sheet of glass.  The Ieper city authorities are now examining what can be done as this wasn’t part of the original intention.

Archaeologists are taking loads of pictures that will allow the quayside to be reconstructed in 3D on computers.  It remains to be seen whether the real quayside will be preserved for posterity.

A replica of a medieval wooden loading crane in Bruges

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