Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where in the World is Gotland?

Map picture

Today, I present you with a new challenge – where in the world is Gotland? I will give you a clue or two. It is located smack dab in the middle of the Baltic Sea, and its capital city is Visby. It is an extremely popular summer destination, with the population of the island nearly doubling during the holiday season. Today, however, with the summer season having ended, it was quiet and very laid back.

Gotland is the largest island in Sweden. Besides being yet another very idyllic island, it is filled with history and extremely well preserved medieval ruins. The Medieval city of Visby was granted World Heritage Status in 1995. Note the emphasis on “Preserved.” The locals decry what other nations do in “restoring” their treasures. Here in Gotland the emphasis is on preservation, and the results were stunning. Most Medieval cities in Europe today are vacant of life, and simply exist to house shops and services for the tourists. Not so in Visby. It is a vibrant and living city. Even a small old home in the inner city cost well over $1,000,000 to purchase.

Like yesterday in Aland, we were here in Visby for only 5 hours, and since the ship had to anchor outside the small harbor which was full, our time ashore was shortened by having to transfer on and off the ship by tender. Unlike yesterday, we had arranged for a private car, and a local guide, who it turns out, was the English teacher on the island’s High School.

Our tour started with a drive south of the city to the small town of Stenkumla. Here was located one of the oldest and best preserved early churches on the island.

Visby, SwedenThe church was built in the 1100’s and is still very much in use today. Because the air on the island is so clean and the environment so pristine, these early structures have survived to this day in virtually their original state.

Visby, SwedenOn the interior walls, drawings still survive testament to their original artist’s creativity since they are still clearly visible and un-restored. Indeed the plain interior is like something right out of the past – because that is exactly what it is. Outside to one side of the church is the graveyard. It struck me that most of the headstones were not all that old. Our guide pointed out that here on the island, it is traditional to bury one generation on top of the previous ones. She had me note that the level of the grave yard was actually above the plain of the church itself.

When we finished that visit, we drove back into Visby, and she showed us the modern town, but clearly the highlight of this city is the walled inner city. Visby grew in importance and wealth as a member of the Hanseatic League, becoming one of the most important cities in the Baltic region in the 12th and 13th centuries. The city’s medieval architecture was dominated by majestic stone buildings, of which over 200 survive today.

Visby, Sweden In the late 13th century, the city undertook to surround itself with a massive series of stone walls to protect against foreign intruders. Today over 3 miles of these original walls still remain, along with all three of the city’s main gates, and 36 of its massive guard towers.

We started our visit by visiting an overlook of the massive wall and its towers. From there, since the holiday season had ended, our driver was even allowed to drive us around the narrow streets of the city.

Visby, SwedenWe got some amazing photographs of the Santa Maria Cathedral which dates from the late 12th century. Besides this massive cathedral, the city is home to over 200 other churches which is somewhat of a mystery to historians as to why so many churches were built for such a small city. Following our drive, we parked and took the opportunity to just walk the narrow cobblestone streets, and paid a visit to the Botanical Gardens – an amazing micro-climate that withstands the harsh winters of the region.

Visby, Sweden

All too soon it was time to re-board our ship. Gotland was a fun and very historic place, and not to sound too much like a broken record – do look at the pictures, because they tell the story so well.


No comments: