1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Visby

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VISBY, or Wisby, the capital of the Swedish island and administrative district (län) of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea. Pop. (1900) 8376. It is the seat of a bishop, the port of the island, and a favourite watering-place. It is picturesquely situated on the west coast, 150 m. S. by E. of Stockholm by sea. The houses cluster beneath and above a cliff (klint) 100 ft. high, and the town is thoroughly medieval in appearance. The remains from its period of extraordinary prosperity from the 11th to the 14th century are of the highest interest. Its walls date from the end of the 13th century, replacing earlier fortifications, and enclose a space much larger than that now covered by the town. Massive towers rise at close intervals along them, and nearly forty are in good preservation. Between them are traces of bartizans. The cathedral church of St Mary dates from 1190-1225, but has been much altered in later times: it has a great square tower at the west end and two graceful octagonal towers at the east, and contains numerous memorials of the 17th century. There are ten other churches, in part ruined, none of which is used for service. Among those of chief interest St Nicholas', of the early part of the 13th century, formerly belonged to a Dominican monastery. It retains two beautiful rose-windows in the west front. The church of the Holy Ghost (Helgeands-Kyrka) in a late Romanesque style (c. 1250) is a remarkable structure with a nave of two storeys. The Romanesque St Clement's has an ornate south portal, and the churches of St Drotten and St Lars, of the 12th century, are notable for their huge towers. St Catherine's, of the middle of the 13th century, is Gothic, with a pentagonal apse. It belonged to a Franciscan convent, of the buildings of which there are slight ruins. Among ancient remains in the vicinity may be mentioned Galgberget, the place of execution, with tall stone pillars still standing; and the remarkable stone labyrinth of Tröjeborg. Modern buildings include the Gotland museum of antiquities, and the high school, with a museum and library. The artificial harbour, somewhat exposed, lies south of the ancient Hanseatic harbour, now filled up and covered with gardens. The town is the terminus of railways to north and south. It is the headquarters of the army division of Gotland troops, and there are some modern forts.

The name Visby is derived from the old Norse ve (sanctuary) and by (town). This was no doubt a place of religious sacrifice in heathen times. At any rate it was a notable trading-place and emporium as early as the Stone Age, and continued to enjoy its importance as such through the Bronze and Iron Ages, as is proved, inter alia, by the large number of Arabic, Anglo-Saxon and other coins which have been found on the island. See Gotland and Sea Laws.