What more suitable place to host a medieval week than a former, powerful Hanseatic city? Visby, the capital of the Swedish island of Gotland, is one. And once a year, in week 32, a time jump takes place: Visby is once again a Hanseatic city in 1361, and has been for over thirty years by now….
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This article contains promotional links* and unpaid promotional content in the form of attribution, linking, location. This trip was supported by the Swedish-Baltic EU project Explore HANSA.
A mighty ring wall about 3.5 kilometers long surrounds Visby’s old town, many of the towers have been preserved. The cobblestones of the winding little streets date back to the Middle Ages, as do the ruins of the churches. The Powder Tower is still standing, old climbing and hollyhock roses take care of the facades. The whole thing is always impressive, no matter what time of year you visit Visby. It is not without reason that the city is a World Heritage Site. But it becomes almost unbelievable when all this becomes the backdrop. To the backdrop of a medieval spectacle: the medeltidsveckan!
Since 1984, Stiftelsen Medeltidsveckan has organized the annual time jump. The initiator, Viveka Schwartz, a dynamic 86-year-old lady, still seems to have the same verve as back then. She reports with fervor, facial expressions and gestures and knows exactly what is going on. About everything that has to do with the Middle Ages Week.
The streets of the island’s capital are bustling with activity: jugglers vie for attention, artisans want to sell their leather, jewelry and furs, market criers make themselves heard, noble ladies present their latest garments, and beggars and colorful foot soldiers are everywhere. Here and there a monk sneaks through the crowd or a knight pushes through with his heavy armor. Accompanied by minstrel songs. Or drums.
Most of the 40,000 visitors come in medieval costumes. Especially the Gotlänningar themselves, attach great importance to the authenticity of their clothes, hairstyles and accessories and prepare them lovingly. Indeed, the medeltidveckan is by no means an event for foreign tourists. Currently, only just under 15 percent of visitors are not Swedes.
The heart or center of the medieval week seems to be the medieval market. Here one bids and bargains, laughs and celebrates. Of course, the physical well-being is also taken care of. There is beer and mead against thirst, grilled meat and vegetables against hunger.
Well fortified, you can then indulge in the highlight of the week: The knight games. They are the highlight of the week. After all, it’s all about glory and honor!
8 the games unfortunately had to be cancelled – It was just too warm. The spectacle would have been too much for the knights with the heavy armor, as well as the horses, circulation-wise. A few knights defied the temperatures and fought anyway. On a smaller scale.
Even without the knights’ games, it’s not like it could get boring during Medieval Week: A total of around 500 events take place. Spread over the entire island. This is also how the 40,000 visitors are distributed among the various attractions. And the program is varied: there are lectures, concerts, readings, guided tours, workshops, street theater, spontaneous fights and much more. For example, it can happen that you suddenly find yourself as a spectator of a hard-hitting barbarian soccer match.
Something very special are the concerts in the various church ruins. The impressive ruins of St. Nikolai, a former monastery church, are used for this purpose in particular. There, bands like Corvus Corax
from Berlin take the audience back to the Middle Ages, even acoustically.
- The Medieval Week in Visby on Gotland is the biggest medieval festival in the north and really worth a visit (even if you haven’t considered yourself a medieval fan before, it’s not hard to get excited anyway).
- This year (2019) it will take place from August 4 to 11.
- The journey is either by ferry from Nynäshamn, Oskarshamn (each just under three hours drive) or from Västervik (just under 2 hours drive). From Stockholm (about 40 min), Gothenburg and Malmö there are direct flights to Visby.
- If you don’t want to stay in a hotel, you can camp on the festival grounds: there is a medieval area and a section for modern tents. Those who want to check into a hotel or guesthouse should book early: Hotels in Visby*
- Visby also gets medieval in the winter: from December 7 to 9, the medieval Christmas festival takes place.
- More information about the medieval week on Gotland can be found on this website: Medeltidsveckan
How about you: Middle Ages yay or nay?!
This article was written in cooperation with the Swedish-Baltic EU project Explore HANSA (“Hanseativ Approach to New Sustainable Alliances”). I was invited on the trip. Central Baltic Programme 2014-2020, #exploreHANSA
Text and photos: Rike Jütte
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