Hanseatic City of Visby (World Heritage)

By | August 4, 2021

The capital of the island of Gotland was the center of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic Sea from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Already in 1161 it received the trading privilege from Heinrich the Lion. The city center was listed as a historical monument as early as 1805. Granaries, merchants’ houses and monastery walls bear witness to the city’s former size and power. A highlight is the almost completely preserved, around 3.5 km long city wall from the 13th century.

Hanseatic city of Visby: facts

Official title: Hanseatic city of Visby on the island of Gotland
Cultural monument: Former Viking settlement and between the 12th and 14th centuries the center of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic Sea with around 3.5 km long city fortifications from the 13th century and more than 200 stores and merchants’ houses
Continent: Europe
Country: Sweden, Gotland
Location: Visby
Appointment: 1995
Meaning: the best preserved fortified medieval merchant town in Northern Europe

Hanseatic city of Visby: history

12th century Visby becomes an important trading center
1161 through Henry the Lion Visby is granted the trading privilege
13-14 Century The city’s heyday, nickname “Regina maris”
1225 Inauguration of St. Mary’s Cathedral
1280 Alliance with Lübeck and Riga
1288/89 Civil war
1361 Ingestion by the Danes
1525 Invasion and pillage of the city by the people of Lübeck
1645 Gotland falls to Sweden
1810 Monument protection for Visby’s old town

A market place in the north

“Regina maris”, the queen of the Baltic Sea, is enthroned on Gotland’s west coast, as Visby was called in the late Middle Ages, probably the richest Hanseatic city and one of the most important trading centers in the entire north of Europe. The city demonstrated what needed to be protected in 1998 when it was the 17th Hanseatic city of modern times: the city’s mighty curtain wall with imposing defensive towers stretches around the magnificent old town with its countless gabled houses, the Romanesque cathedral, and numerous ruins of the former 92 Churches and a mighty castle complex.

St. Marien, the three-towered cathedral church, was the guild church of the merchants who had their center here – next to Bergen -; it is still the heart of the picturesque old town. Visby was not chosen as the Hanseatic city of modern Europe for nothing: With representatives from 208 cities and 16 countries, something from the time when the city was once the center of merchants, jugglers, knights and travelers in matters of money, goods and trade contacts – and strictly speaking, the origin of today’s European market.

Originally, the medieval Hanseatic city was nothing more than a deposition of the Viking chief Erik Bloyxe; Here people practiced the old martial arts, baked bread over an open fire and forged swords. But from this settlement gradually developed into the first meeting place for merchants in the Baltic Sea region.

According to businesscarriers, evidence from the Hanseatic era can be found everywhere in the churches: images of saints and altars, donated by wealthy merchants, probably in the hope that “when the money sounds in the box, the soul jumps to heaven”. Gotland’s city of “roses and ruins”, praised by many as one of the most beautiful in the north, was settled 4000 years ago; early on, the residents laid out parks and built a harbor, which the Hanseatic cogs later eagerly used. Everything flourished magnificently – but then came the catastrophe: The “land elevation” forced the residents of Visby to build a new port with a deeper harbor basin further to the east. After all, it was a matter of defending a position of power that is unimaginable today and only guaranteed by the port: Visby, which became a rich city in the Middle Ages, controlled the entire Baltic Sea trade as a northern European trading center! The other side of the gold medal: This legendary wealth did not let the competition rest and attracted conquerors from all directions; even the farmers on their own island went on raids towards Visby. The city literally had to protect itself on all sides. Structural protective measures had to be put in place against the constant campaigns of conquest and looting by Danes, Vitalienbrüder and the Teutonic Order. Therefore, a well-fortified city wall was built, as there is no other in the north to this day. And the Visby that lay within the protected city walls can still be recognized in our days.

From the middle of the 12th century, the center of the defense system was the Powder Tower at Almedalenhafen. The fact that the attacks were often carried out from land is due to the fact that the city climbs steeply from the beach: not an inviting situation for enemy conquerors from the sea. Visby could only have been captured in this way with great losses. As early as the middle of the 13th century, the construction of a twelve-meter-high, almost four-kilometer-long curtain wall, which was also equipped with 44 protective towers, began. The grandiose thing about this curtain wall for posterity is the fact that the protective wall has been almost completely preserved. From its wall you can still get an incomparable impression of what was once the most important trading center in the Baltic Sea region.

Hanseatic City of Visby (World Heritage)