Gotland – Reliving the Middle Ages

In  some  other  parts  of  hip  and  cuttingedge   Sweden,   the   country’s   medieval attractions are relegated to a touristy strip filled with shops selling kitschy Viking souvenirs. On the island of Gotland, however, the  Middle  Ages  are  treated  much  more reverentially: Gotland is rightly proud of its history,  and  throughout  the  island,  cultural  programs  actively  perpetuate  the time warp aspects of its impressive millennial heritage.

Ground  zero  for  Gotland’s  historical offerings  is  Visby,  which  offers  an  intimate  encounter  with  the  daily  life  of  an important   medieval   city   and   one-time Viking seaport. The atmospheric old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, greets  visitors  with  an  imposing  ring  of 13th-century  limestone  walls.  Along  the fortifications, 50 original watchtowers still stand, and the entire circuit is bordered by a moat. Inside the 4km (2 1 ⁄ 2 -mile) circuit lies a  pristine  skyline  straight  out  of  a  children’s fable: Visby is a lovingly preserved medieval  townscape  of  shops,  churches, and suggestive old alleys. All the architectural   elements   you’d   expect—vaulted stone  cellars,  steep  gabled  timber  roofs, and  Gothic  churches—are  represented here. There’s even a restaurant, Clematis, occupying   a   13th-century   warehouse, where  you  eat  off  wooden  plates,  drink out  of  jars,  and  eat  your  food  with  one utensil only—a knife.

But  Visby  is  much  more  than  a  manicured museum: Throughout the year, but especially  in  the  summer,  Visby  is  the stage  for  all  kinds  of  historical  reenactments that bring the Middle Ages to life for all  ages  and  all  senses.  Medieval  Week (usually   the   first   week   in   Aug;)  is the absolute culmination of these events, when jousting tournaments  are  held  in  the  grassy  common, ceremonial parades file down the streets, and a central market offers sideshows and traditional  food  stalls  and  crafts  displays. Visitors  who  really  want  to  get  into  the spirit can even rent period dress from the event’s costume warehouse.

Although  the  medieval  period  is  the main era promoted on Gotland, the island has  a  history  that  goes  back  over  10,000 years  and  is  thought  to  be  the  original homeland  of  the  “barbarian”  Goths.  Rich archaeological  finds  include  embellished coins   and   medals   and   intriguing   rune stones.   All   over   the   island,   some   94 churches  in  the  Gothic  and  Romanesque styles still stand as evocative witnesses of Gotland’s  illustrious  past.  A  visit  to  the Gotland  Historical  Museums  in  Visby helps  tie  all  the  centuries  of  heritage together.  And—this  being  Sweden—you can be assured that even as you relive the Middle  Ages  on  Gotland,  you  never  have to   forgo   design   hotels,   cool   museum shops, and trendy cafes.