The island of Gotland, with its magnificent walled town of Visby, is one of Sweden's most popular summer destinations and an outstanding tourist attraction. Already settled in the Stone Age, Visby reached prominence in medieval times when it was annexed by the powerful Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchants in Northern Europe. By the 13th century, Visby was a prosperous commercial center that minted its own coins and had a code of law.
There are medieval fortifications encircling the entire settlement. The actual purpose of these massive walls, built at the end of the 13th century, was not to protect from enemy attacks, but rather to isolate the local population from the city's foreign traders. The burghers were quick to retaliate during the power struggle in 1361 between Denmark and Sweden. When the Danes took Gotland by force and advanced on Visby, the locals shut the gates and sat through the slaughter that took place outside. Inside the city, the merchants surrendered and a section of the wall was broken down to allow the Danish king to enter Visby as conqueror.
Gotland is also noted for its medieval churches. In Visby alone more than ten remain; only the Church of St. Mary's, which served the German merchants during the city's commercial heyday, is still in use. The Hanseatic Harbor at Almedalen is now a public park. On the opposite side are the lush Botanical Gardens and just beyond, the Maiden's Tower. Legend has it that a goldsmith's daughter was walled up here alive, reputedly for betraying the city to the Danes.
Tourism today strongly relies on the island's numerous beaches and temperate climate. The latter is responsible for roses blooming almost year-round, sometimes even as late as Christmas.This phenomenon has earned Visby the name 'Town of Roses and Ruins.'
With the city's medieval atmosphere intact,Visby serves as an authentic backdrop for its annual Medieval Week in August. One of the peak happenings is the joust -a medieval spectacle with knights, parades and acrobats entertaining young and old.