Medieval Sweden – The Annual Visby Festival

Medieval Sweden

The Annual Medieval Festival in Visby

I’m going to try to write occasionally about some of the interesting but less well known places I’ve visited. This time around it’s the annual Visby Medieval Festival. This is an annual affair that takes place from Sunday to Sunday in the 32nd month of the year (beginning of August). There are about 22 000 people who live in this lively Medieval city. The number of visitors during the festival however is close to 40 000! Visby is on the Swedish island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

Medival play in Visby - a Jester watches a KingAbout Medieval Visby

UNESCO calls Visby “the best-preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe”. It was the centre of Baltic commerce from about the 11th to 14th centuries. Visby was partially burned in the 15th century but retains 17 Medieval churches (2 outside the walls). There are also over 200 other buildings with substantial Medieval elements remaining. The 12th century Visby cathedral predates the city wall. There is also the 3.4km long 13th century wall remains intact today.

The Medieval Festival

The Medieval festival in Visby is taken a bit more seriously than the more touristy Carcassone in south-western France. It was interesting to see that some of the visitors left their money “somewhere else” and camped rough in the Botanical Gardens, taking on the role of Medieval beggars. The tourists wearing Medieval clothing appeared to outnumber those of us who foolishly wore jeans and t-shirts. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but there are thousands who do dress up. Those who forgot, can buy or rent their clothing and sandals, made locally in the Medieval tradition. Much of the food and drink offered is the same as was offered in the 14th century. And of course those selling crafts during the festival can only sell those they made themselves using Medieval techniques.

Medival peasants in Visby sit at a tableNo Medieval festival would be complete without jousting, jesters, music and the occasional reenactment where a woman gets built into the wall for having let the Danes in.

Visby Medieval Festival - Death stalks a peasant girlWhat Else for the Tourist?

Visby boasts some very nice restaurants that are far from Medieval by any standards. The Botanical Gardens are another must see (Swedes call Visby the City of Roses). The island of Gotland is quite flat with a sparse population. This makes it an ideal place for cycling from place to place. There are a number of sights including Medieval churches (if you didn’t get enough in Visby) and some pleasant beaches. Visby and the rest of Gotland make an excellent 1-2 week escape from modern times.

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