Visby is a 12th century Hanseatic town with an old city center that looks like it came straight from a painting – it is no wonder many Stockholm residents choose to spend their summer months here!
From Stockholm, you can take a 1 hour transfer bus and then a 3 hour ferry to arrive in Visby, the harbour and capital city of Gotland, an island in the middle of the Baltic Sea.
On Tuesday afternoon, I had the privilege to get a walking tour from Louise Hoffman, World Heritage coordinator/ Site Manager in Visby. She showed me where the harbour used to be, and we walked along the incredibly well-preserved old city wall. On the way, we walked past several impressive ruins and the beautiful St Mary’s Cathedral.
At one point, Louise pointed towards a part of the wall that had fallen down a few years before, due to an old renovation that used cement in between the bricks – instead of the more elastic limestone. She explained the importance of mapping the entire wall for weak spots and fortifying them, a large-scale project that is still going on!
Of course we also discussed climate change and its impact on the island/ the island’s heritage. As Visby is an island, it is particularly vulnerable to changing weather conditions such as storms, heavy rainfall, droughts, and rising sea levels. Especially droughts has been a big issue in recent years… During summer, there have been campaigns to encourage people to be more frugal with their water usage – which is very much necessary.
Another interesting aspect of the city’s sustainability is the preservation of its traditional knowledge with regards to renovating the old houses inside the city center. Using the island’s own natural resources (mainly limestone) and traditional techniques to preserve these houses in a low-cost and ecological way, can definitely be seen as a way to use heritage as a mitigation tool for climate change.
We also talked about the difficult balance between preserving heritage and incorporating ‘new’ solutions such as isolation and solar panels, a complicated and challenging topic.
In conclusion, the town of Visby has charming cobblestone streets, numerous little shops and even a wonderful botanical garden – perfect for spending a couple of relaxing days. Next time I hope I have time to visit the other towns and natural reserves in Gotland, which are rich with tens of thousands of cultural artifacts!