Hanseatic Town of Visby (1995)

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Visby, on the west coast of Gotland, is one of the most popular destinations for summer tourism. But it is also a remarkable combination of an idyllic, hundred-year-old small town and a big medieval town. 

Sweden 1975. World Cultural Heritage. Visby and its village church.

It is a typical Hanseatic town with a ring-wall, a well-preserved street grid, and buildings from the Middle Ages onwards. 

Medieval church ruins and warehouses blend with the low houses of wood and stone from later periods. 

  • Sweden 1975.  Visby and its village church. 

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Gotlandic trade and shipping played a major part in the Baltic area. As a centre of international trade and culture with a strong German element, Visby became an important town. 

A wall of limestone was built to enclose the town. Visby ring-wall is 3.6 kilometres long and is the best-preserved in Northern Europe. It was constructed in the thirteenth century, as were most of the 17 medieval churches and a large number of dwelling houses. The big churches were erected by different monastic orders, which also built a school and a House of the Holy Spirit for the poor, sick, and travellers. 

  • Sweden 1965.  The northern port of the ring-wall from the inside. From a booklet pane, and coil stamps, respectively. 

Sweden 1965. World Cultural Heritage. Visby. Northern port of the ring-wall from the inside. Stamp #1 of two.

Sweden 1965. World Cultural Heritage. Visby. Northern port of the ring-wall from the inside. Stamp #2 of two.

When the Hanseatic League acquired a firm organization in the mid-fourteenth century, Visby was given the leadership of the north-eastern towns. 

Sweden 2002. World Cultural Heritage. Se-tenant set of four stamps with iews of Visby.

The Hansa was a political and commercial league of German merchants and towns in the North Sea and Baltic area. Visby played a central role in Gotlandic-German trade in Novgorod and was also the starting point for German crusades against Latvia. 

The conditions for Baltic trade gradually changed and Visby declined in importance. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, Sweden, Denmark, and Mecklenburg all laid claim to the town, with varying success. 

  • Sweden 2002.  Se-tenant set of four stamps with views of Visby. 

Not only a Hanseatic town, Visby was also the starting point for the Swedish Vikings to explore Russia. 

Sweden 1990. World Cultural Heritage. Set of eight se-tenant stamps. Vikings at Visby.

Visby's gradual but general decline in the subsequent centuries led to the decay of its buildings. At the same time, it meant that church ruins, the ring-wall, and merchants' houses were spared active demolition. At the start of the nineteenth century there was a growing interest, chiefly among authors and artists, in Visby as a historical monument. At the same time, cultural and economic life in Visby developed. The town expanded outside the wall, with new homes, small industries, railway installations and military barracks. In the mid-nineteenth century the first tourism began, and by 1900 it was a firmly established industry. 

Other World Heritage Sites in Sweden (on this website). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Sweden section, for further information about the individual properties. 

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Revised 21 jul 2006  
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