vrijdag 21 juni 2013

Sweden, Hanseatic Town of Visby

A former Viking site on the island of Gotland, Visby was the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic from the 12th to the 14th century. Its 13th-century ramparts and more than 200 warehouses and wealthy merchants' dwellings from the same period make it the best-preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe.


Visby is an outstanding example of a north European medieval walled trading town which preserves with remarkable completeness a townscape and assemblage of high-quality ancient buildings that illustrate graphically the form and function of this type of significant human settlement. The urban fabric and overall townscape of Visby is its most important quality.
By virtue of its position, Gotland has played a dominant role in Baltic trade for many centuries between Western Europe (Schleswig, Frisia, England) and Russia. Excavations have indicated that there was a trading settlement in the early Viking Age on the site of Visby. These trading settlements banded together for the protection of their chains of trading posts and to assert their interests vis-à-vis the rulers of the territories through which they passed (and also against their rivals) into a federation or Hansa. By the 12th century Visby dominated this trade: all the commercial routes of the Baltic were channelled through the town. German merchants began to expand their sphere of interest into the Baltic and to settle in Visby, henceforward the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic. The Germans were followed by Russian and Danish traders; guild houses and churches were built in the town, and stone warehouses were constructed along the harbour. The earlier small wooden buildings were replaced during the 13th century by large stone houses, built in parallel rows eastwards from the harbour. Pressure on the original centre was such that the surrounding land was used for housing, as well as the erection of churches and guild houses. Visby changed from a simple Gotland village to an impressive international town, enclosed by a strong defensive wall, and increasingly divorced from its rural hinterland. The 14th century saw Visby losing its leading position in the Hanseatic League, following a series of disasters: the Black Death struck in 1350, the occupation by the Danish army in 1361, the pirates known as the 'Vitalian Brothers' in 1396, driven out two years later by the Teutonic Knights, who occupied the island in their turn. The end of Visby's greatness came in 1525, when it was stormed by an army from Lübeck which burned the northern parts of the town.
The area is enclosed by the medieval City Wall built in the 13th century and substantially modified in the 14th century. From the town gates in the north, east, and south roads (possibly prehistoric in origin) lead from the cliff to the harbour, giving Visby its characteristic townscape. Dating in its present form mainly from the 13th century, the streets are irregularly laid out, suddenly becoming broad or narrow in places. A similar street pattern existed in the heart of the later city in Viking times and can still be traced from the plan.
Medieval Visby had more churches than any other town in Sweden - fifteen within the walls and two outside, which served various functions: parish churches, guild churches, monastic churches, and hospital church. Also there are over 200 secular buildings with substantial medieval elements surviving. They are all relatively similar in shape and size: rectangular in plan, with gables end-on to the street, and of between five and seven storeys. The top storeys are often vaulted in stone, as a fire-protection measure. Decoration is used sparingly, generally restricted to quoins, stepped gables, and door surrounds: the main constructional material is limestone, with decorative elements in brick and tiled roofs. The best preserved and most complete of these medieval warehouses is the 'Old Pharmacy' on Strandgatan, with vaulted rooms on the ground and top floors, a latrine cellar, a medieval well, and original surrounds on doors, windows, and apertures. Other notable buildings are von Lingen's House on St Hansgatan and a number of houses in the narrow streets running down to the harbour. The 'Old Residence' and the Burmeister House on Strandgatan, both from the mid-17th century, have lavishly painted interiors.
In the eastern part of the town, within the walls and below the cliff, the medieval vegetable plots were built over in the 1740s with small wooden houses of horizontal plank construction, which survive intact, as do the late 18th century houses in Swedish vernacular style built on the site of Visborg castle, blown up by the Danes when they left the island in the late 17th century. New buildings in stone were added in the 19th century: schools, a hospital, a prison and the growth of a small shopping area on one of the main streets.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

By virtue of its position, Gotland has played a dominant role in Baltic trade for many centuries. Gotlanders were among the first to recognize the enormous potential resources of Russia in furs, wax, tar, and timber, and they founded trading houses along the coasts and rivers leading into the heart of Russia. Russian goods were being shipped from Gotland into Western Europe, to Schleswig, Frisia, and England
Excavations have indicated that there was a trading settlement in the early Viking Age on the site of Visby, among others along the coasts of the island. These banded together for the protection of their chains of trading posts and to assert their interests vis-à-vis the rulers of the territories through which they passed (and also against their rivals) into a federation or Hansa. By the 12th century Visby had come to dominate this trade: all the commercial routes of the Baltic were channeled through the town.
With the foundation of Lübeck in 1158-59 German merchants began to expand their sphere of interest into the Baltic. Good relations were established between Lübeck and Gotland. German merchants settled in Visby, which became the only trading place on the island with the privilege of trading with German towns, and hence the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic. The Germans were followed by Russian and Danish traders; guild houses and churches were built in the town, and stone warehouses were constructed along the harbour. The earlier small wooden buildings were replaced during the 13th century by large stone houses, built in parallel rows eastwards from the harbour. Pressure on the original centre was such that the surrounding land was used for housing, as well as the erection of Churches and guild houses. During the 13th century Visby changed from a simple Gotland village to an impressive international town, enclosed by a strong defensive wall, and increasingly divorced from its rural hinterland.
The 14th century saw Visby losing its leading position in the Hanseatic League, following a series of disasters. The Black Death struck in 1350, when over 8000 people died in the town. The island was occupied by the Danish army in 1361, to be followed by the pirates known as the Vitalian Brothers in 1396; they were driven out two years later by the Order of Teutonic Knights, who occupied the island in their turn. The incessant warfare and piracy of the 15th century severely affected trade in the Baltic and the economy of Visby deteriorated. The 15th century saw further misfortunes for Visby, when it was the centre of prolonged battles between the Danes and the deposed Swedish king, Erik of Pomerania, who made it the headquarters for his attempts to win back his kingdom. The end of Visby's greatness came in 1525, when it was stormed by an army from Lübeck which put the northern parts of the town to the torch.
In the 18th century, a hundred years after Gotland returned to Swedish rule, Visby experienced a revival Of trade and industry. New buildings were added, both on the ruins of earlier ones and in new areas on the cliff and around Visborg castle. The Swedish law of 1757 that exempted those who built in stone from taxes, in order to conserve timber, was of crucial importance for Visby, which continued to grow and prosper. The 19th century saw the construction of schools, a hospital, and a prison and the growth of a small shopping area on one of the main streets.

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