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Published: July 19th 2015
After leaving Stockholm we headed down the east coast of Sweden with a goal of going to the island of Gotland. It is located 56 miles from the Swedish coastline and is only 81 miles from Latvia. This strategic location made the island a chess piece in the military and economic history of the Baltic. The almost constant warfare between the Scandinavian countries and the northern European countries explains the walled city of Visby which was built in the 12th
century. Sweden has had a military presence on the island for at least 200 years. Throughout its history it has been occupied by several other countries including Finland, Denmark and the Teutonic Knights of Prussia.
We had heard that the city of Visby on the island of Gotland was well worth visiting as it is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Scandinavia. Fortunately for us it appeared that we could make it here in time for their Medieval Festival which has been going on annually since 1984. With this information in hand, we knew where our next goal was. As the distance between Stockholm to Visby was 200 nautical miles we decided to treat ourselves to another night at
anchor to break up the trip. The coastline of Sweden is dotted with thousands of islands so it isn’t that difficult to find a place to stop for the night. One thing you do need to be careful of is not anchoring near anyone’s home – it is courteous to do this and we do try to go with local custom of keeping our distance from people’s homes. There were a few spots we thought looked good on the chart, but when we rounded the island we would find a home located there. Not a real problem, as you just go on to the next bay or island. We found a lovely spot for the night and enjoyed the peace & quiet that comes with anchoring out. As much as we enjoy exploring new towns, we thoroughly enjoy this part of cruising as well.
Fortunately for us Visby has two areas where you can “dock” your boat. Luckily we had a chance to talk to some friends on the radio that had just recently been in Visby so they gave us some recent knowledge of the set up. Going into a new place with information on the docking arrangements
A Beautiful Spot to Anchor
but couldn't get a good hold here so moved to another location
is always a plus! The word “docking” is used loosely as there are no finger piers, just a bulkhead that you head into & then tie your stern to mooring balls and your bow to the bulkhead. After checking in to the marina we searched out information on the festival and schedule of events to “plan” out our stay. We found out that many of the activities were for the participants in teaching them various medieval skills (kind of like a summer camp for people hooked on medieval history), but there were plenty of things to see and do for the “common” tourists.
One of the first things that strike you in Visby is the massive wall surrounding the whole town. It was first constructed in the 12th
century and was raised to its current height of 13 feet with towers added in the 13th
century. As we soon learned this area was fought over by many countries over the years. Now for the history lesson - In 1361 the island of Gotland was conquered by Valdemar IV of Denmark. He made demands of its citizens of gold and silver and they gave him what he wanted rather than
be pillaged. They were able to comply by stripping the numerous churches of their valuables. With his new found riches Valdemar now added a new title, “King of Gotland”. When he did this Gotland had been part of the Hanseatic League (for those of you that have followed our blog may remember this name first came up on our travels when we explored northern Germany earlier in the year last season). The Hanseatic League went to war with Denmark, but Valdemar held his ground and maintained control of the city of Visby. The fighting did not end here as pirates that were plying the Baltic seas in the late 1300’s took over the city of Visby and in 1398 the island of Gotland was conquered by the Teutonic Knights. This resulted in the destruction of the city of Visby. A few years later in 1409 the island was sold to Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Not to be outdone, in 1411 King Eric of Pomerania had the castle built but pirates returned to the area killing all normal commerce in the area. In 1525 the merchants that were here fought with Lubeck (currently part of Germany). At this
Watching the "Show" in the Sky
one of the things we enjoy doing when at anchor
time all the churches in Visby were burnt down with the exception of the Cathedral. The ruins of these churches remain to this day as a reminder of these times. In 1645 Sweden came back into the picture after 300 years of Danish control. Sweden loses its control for just a short time in 1808 when Russia conquers Gotland, but Sweden regained control and has maintained that until the present day. Why all the fighting over this island? If you look at a map of the Baltic you will see that the island is strategically located. Now however, the island is a mecca for tourism, many of them from mainland Sweden. Gotland is known for being the location in Sweden to have the most hours of sunshine. In 2012 there were more than 1.5 million visitors to the island brought here by the ferries that ply this route regularly.
Walking through the town you can see how easily you are taken back in time with the architecture of the homes and town wall. The fact that many of the people walking around the town were dressed in medieval garb for the festival definitely helped us to be transported back
The View From Our Anchorage
where we stopped on the way to Visby
to an earlier time. Of course we were quickly brought back to the present day when you’d see any of those dressed in medieval garb talking on their cell phone!
When you walk up the hill and overlooked the town the number of churches in ruin was quite impressive. They definitely tell of the importance the church had in earlier times. Now many of the ruins are being used for other purposes – we saw one which was now being used as an outdoor café and another used as an outdoor theatre. Quite a clever way to have the past and the present work together.
As we had a date to meet up with our good friends, Denise and Jean-Pierre in Kalmar for our 40th wedding anniversary (yes, both couples were married on the same date in the same year) we needed to move on. The next day we headed to Borgholm and used it just as a quick stop over. We didn’t even take the time to explore the area arriving after a long day of sailing and knew we wanted to leave early in the AM to get to Kalmar. From the marina we could see
that there appeared to be a castle on the hill which did tempt us, but our tiredness took over and we crashed early. Sometimes logic does take control of our plans! Since leaving there we did check out the Borgholm Castle on line and it appears that we unfortunately missed a good one. We have found in our travels that we can’t fit everything in – unfortunately sometimes we are forced to make difficult choices.
We have been thoroughly enjoying our time cruising in Swedish waters and having a chance to visit some interesting places.
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