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25.06.2020

Visby City Wall

The City Wall of Visby is a medieval defensive wall surrounding the Swedish city of Visby on the island of Gotland. As the strongest, most extensive and best preserved medieval city wall in Scandinavia, it is an important and integral part of Visby's World Heritage Site.

Built in two phases during the 13th and 14th centuries, it has been preserved approximately 3.44 km (2.14 miles) from its original 3.6 km (2.2 miles). Of the 29 large and 22 small towers, 27 are large and 9 small have been preserved. A number of houses that preceded the wall were included during one of the two construction phases. During the 18th century fortifications were added to the wall in several places and some of the towers were rebuilt to house cannons.

History

The oldest part of the city wall is the defensive tower, today called Kruttornet (Powder Tower), which was built at the entrance to the harbour in the 12th century, making it the oldest surviving non-religious building in Scandinavian countries. Only in the 1870s and 1280s, with the erection of the facing wall, did the construction of the proper defence of Visby begin. The height of this first wall was approximately 5-6 metres (16 to 20 feet). On the city side, the wall had an elevated archery platform with regular firing holes, while there were arrow slots between the narrow holes. According to dendrochronological studies, the Eastern Gate was not built until 1286, followed by two more in 1289: Norderport (Northern Gate) and Sneggyardsporten (Sneggyard Gate) in 1294. About 20 large towers were added between the gates in the 1290s and early 1300s.

The construction of the wall was probably connected with the conflicts that arose between the city of Visby and a piece or assembly of Gotland, which led to the civil war on the island in 1288. The part of the wall east of the Quarntonet (Mill Tower) that was destroyed probably dates back to the beginning of that war, when Visby was captured and looted.

The construction of the city walls was unusual in the Scandinavian countries during the Middle Ages, so the construction of the city wall testifies to the commercial importance of Visby at this time. In medieval Sweden, the city walls were only in Stockholm, Kalmar and Visby.

The last major reconstruction of the city wall took place in the 1350s, when the wall was fortified and its height increased by another 3-4 meters (from 9.8 to 13.1 feet). Its defence was also enhanced by about twenty new towers attached to the eastern part of the wall. When King Waldemar IV of Denmark took over the city in 1361, he ordered the demolition of part of the wall as a symbolic act. This was done to symbolize the enslavement of the city, a practice dating back to classical antiquity. The destroyed part of the wall was rebuilt in 1363. The corner tower, known as the Silverhättan, probably dates back to the period when Visby belonged to the Teutonic Knights (1398-1408). It is possible that the two smaller towers facing the sea also belong to that time. The last major attack on Visby took place in 1525, when the Lubeck army attacked the town. Traditionally, the Lübeckerbräschen (Tower of Lübeck) is considered to be the visible remnant of a breakthrough by the troops into the city, but it is most likely due to the later collapse of this part of the wall. However, it is in that part of the wall that Lübeck's troops most likely caused damage to the city's defence.

During the 17th and early 18th century two caponirs were added to the eastern part of the wall. The defensive function of the wall had completely ceased by that time and the wall has been preserved mainly as a paid barrier. When domestic payments were abolished in Sweden in 1810, the city wall was already a well-known sight, which guaranteed its survival.

The city wall was restored in 1884-1886 by the architect Emil Victor Langlet.

In 2012, the 10-meter (33-foot) part of the outer wall decoration collapsed. Restoration of the collapsed section began in 2013.

The wall is the strongest and most extensive medieval city wall in Scandinavia and is best preserved. Much of the original wall has remained untouched and it includes most of the medieval large full-size towers, the so-called "saddle towers" (small towers sitting on the wall) and the gate. In addition, large parts of the original trench system have been preserved outside the wall. The city wall is mostly free of modern buildings, few of which can be seen from the outside of the wall. Overall, this provides a unique and authentic picture of what the medieval city wall was like in its original state.

Construction

The wall was built during two periods, the 13th and 14th centuries. It is made of local quarry limestone, crushed limestone filler, fat lime and clay mortar. The first wall was lower than at present and was built as two thin walls of solid limestone with crushed stone, which were used to fill the gap between them. When the height of the wall was increased during the second phase of construction, hard limestone stabilized with lime mortar was added to the top of the first wall. As a result, two thinner outer layers of the first wall stone carry most of the weight of the wall. The joints of the lime mortar in these layers were reinforced with stronger cement during the restorations of the 20th century.

Originally the wall had 29 large regular towers and 22 small towers located at the top of the wall, of which 27 large and 9 small towers remained. It was about 3.6 km (2.2 miles), of which 3.44 km (2.14 miles) still stands.

The wall surrounds the old town of Visby, built on a steep slope overlooking the Baltic Sea. The western part of the wall closest to the sea is built on land, approximately 2 meters (6.6 feet) above sea level. From north and south the wall rises on a slope known as Klinten to the east, where the height above sea level reaches about 40 meters (130 feet).

 

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