Located on the island of Gotland, Sweden, Visby is a beautifully preserved city that vibrates with ancient history. Because of the islands lush resources and natural harbour, many experts believe it to have been inhabited since the stone age. Whether this is true or not, we do know that Visby has always been a centre of trade and merchandise, which made it an obvious partner for the Hanseatic League.
A Brief Historical Overview:
We still have surprisingly little evidence as to the origin of Visby. Our earliest accounts of the city only account from the 12th century onwards in which we have accounts of the Visby cathedral which was dedicated to Saint Mary. This same cathedral received several reconstructions during the 13th century and was only opened by the Bishop of Linköping in 1225.
The ring wall with its famous towers, were started around the 13th century, and remains largely intact today. Between 1300 and 1350, Visby enjoyed the height of its power and influence. It is also in this time that the maritime laws of Wisbury came into effect in the Baltic region, and it is thought to be mainly influenced by Visby.
In 1361, the island of Gotland was conquered by King Valdemar I of Denmark. It is his poor treatment of Visby during his time of rule there that triggered the war between the Hanseatic League and Denmark.
Visby also suffered raids from the Victual Brothers, but during 1398, the Teutonic Knights conquered Gotland and they soon dispelled the Victual Brothers, and nearly destroyed the entire town. The Teutonic Knights sold Gotland to Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1409.
In 1411, King Eric of Denmark, Sweden and Norway constructed a castle in Gotland for himself, and this marked the decline of Gotland and Visby. Soon, the city became little more than a pirates’ nest, and its status as a once proud trading centre in Scandinavia, soon crumbled.
The island of Gotland was finally taken into Swedish control in 1645, with only a brief period of Russian rule in 1808.
Visby in the Hanseatic League:
Visby entered into a treaty with Henry the Lion as early as 1161, which would later secure its trading with German merchants, as well as its position in the Hanseatic League. During its time in the Hanseatic League, Visby flourished economically, and exercised great influence in the Baltic region.
The Hanseatic League, knowing how important Visby was for their organization even came to their aid and entered a war with Denmark after King Valdemar I conquered Visby. While the Hanseatic League managed to get 15% of all profits made from Danish trade, Visby still remained under Danish control.
Circumstances unfortunately never improved for Visby in the Hanseatic League. Shortly after King Eric of Pomerania had the castle Visborg built, Visby declined, and its status as a member city of the Hanseatic League was soon thereafter revoked.
Today Visby is a city that prides itself on its history. The city is wonderfully kept intact with most of its medieval structures still remaining.
Visby is full of history, and has a unique medieval feeling, but is mostly a quiet city that is a favourite vacation spot for Scandinavians and international visitors alike.
- Visby is one of the best-preserved cities in Scandinavia and was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995.
- The coast surrounding Gotland is famous for its many “sea stacks” great natural rocks and rock formations.
- The city’s oldest standing tower, Kruttornet, was built as early as the 1100s, and was nicknamed the powder tower in the 1800s as the city stored their gun powder there.