Visby in Gotland, Sweden, is a unique example of a northern European medieval walled trading town with a well-preserved townscape and collection of historic buildings. As a Hanseatic Town (a part of the Hanseatic League), Visby has historically been a thriving trading port and town, with a powerful trade alliance originating in Lubeck, Germany.
History of Visby
Visby is located on the Island of Gotland, around 100km east of the mainland in the Baltic Sea. It is located on a shore with a natural harbour, and as a strategic point along Baltic trade routes, Visby has attracted commercial interest since the Viking Age and, from the twelfth century onwards, German, Russian and Danish tradesmen flocked to the town.
Perhaps the clearest evidence of Visby’s importance in commercial terms is its imposing stone fortifications. Dating back to the thirteenth century, the 3.6km wall with its fifty towers which surround Visby was erected to protect the town from pirates and other seaborne threats.
Other historic and impressive buildings include Visby Cathedral, which dates to the 12th century, and was prominent as Visby grew in power. It is one of Medieval Visby’s 15 churches, which in total had more churches than any other town in Sweden.
Visby’s prominence as a trading and political centre came to an end in 1525, when it was stormed by an army from Lubeck and the northern parts were burnt. In the 18th century, Visby revived, and many warehouses were refurbished and houses and new buildings were created. It thus began to expand beyond the medieval wall.
Visby’s city walls still dominate the town today and the area within the defensive walls has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995.
It is a hugely popular tourist attraction, receiving thousands of tourists every year, and is by far the most populous Swedish locality outside the Swedish mainland.
It is worth visiting the historic main square, Stora Torget, which has cobblestone streets lined with cafes and restaurants.
Getting to Visby
Visby is the sole county seat in Sweden accessible from the mainland only by boat and air. From the centre of Gothenburg, a trip to Visby isn’t easy, taking around 10 hours via public transport – first, a few connecting trains from Göteborg Centralstation, then followed by a ferry across the water. By car, the route is similar, and takes around 7-8 hours via Route 40 and Visby – Oskarshamn.
If there’s one thing that the popularity of Visby proves, though, it’s that it’s worth making the journey!