Visby: Most-Preserved Medieval City in Scandinavia

Located on the island of Gotland, also known as the City of Roses, Visby is the most well-preserved medieval city in Scandinavia. Historians estimate that Visby was probably already a commerce center in the 10th century. Today, Visby has a population of nearly 24,500 and is a popular tourist attraction.

visby during sunset
Kirsi Söderberg

The city is also on the UNESCO heritage list due to its medieval identity. Visby was first and foremost a Hanseatic city. The Hanseatic League was a federation of merchants and markets from Central and Northern Europe. Visby was their center in the Baltic for centuries.

visby city walls ruins

One of the oldest structures in the city is the Visby Cathedral which dates back to the late 13th century. The cathedral was originally built as a church for the German traders coming to the city. Although Scandinavia was mostly Christian at that point, the people of Visby did not use the cathedral until the Germans permanently settled in the city.

the visby cathedral
Fabian Reich

The cathedral is 58 meters tall and it developed over centuries. More towers, some height, Gothic windows, and a new large attic were some of the additions. The locals wanted to make the cathedral look as dominating as possible which was a characteristic of Gothic architecture.

the cathedral towers
Kirsi Söderberg

In the 14th century, Sweden and Denmark went to war, and the Danish won. After the battle, Visby became a Danish province. The Danish ordered that Visby could only keep one church and one only. So, they had to choose a church out of many in the town and chose the cathedral. After this decision, the other churches soon fell into despair. Gradually, the churches decayed more and more and today only the ruins of them remain.

the church ruins

The other medieval icon of the city is the Visby City Walls. These are extensive defensive walls that surround Visby for over 3.5 kilometers. Since their first construction in the 12th century, they have proved useful against threats and they play a huge role in Visby’s recognition as a medieval site. Today, the Visby City Walls are the oldest non-religious structure in Scandinavia.

the city walls
Fabian Reich

Another attraction of the city is the “Cramérska huset” which is the oldest house in Sweden. Its construction dates back to the early 13th century and what is more interesting is that the house is still in use. While its doors saw some changes in the following years, the central part of the house remains authentic.

the oldest house in sweden
Bene Riobó

Whether it is the city harbor, the old square, or the remains of churches and walls and houses, the city of Visby is an immensely valuable site both for Sweden and the world. It holds the distinction of being the most preserved medieval city in Scandinavia and presents modern-day people with a chance to experience those times.

visby columns
Fabian Reich