The place where Visby later was built, was a marketplace already in the 7th century but excavations at Stora Torget have found settlements dating back to Stone Age. In 1161 the place was mentioned as “Coast of Gotland” in the treaty between the German Duke Henry the Lion and the Gotlanders. This treaty was the beginning of what came to be the powerful and important Hanseatic League. Visby had a leading position until mid 1300's and is then considered the most powerful city of Northern Europe. The name Visby appears for the first time in a Latvian chronicle from 1203. Already in 1231 Visby had a German and a Gotlandic city council, each with their mayor, which shows the importance of the city. Gotlandic Law was valid on the merchant's side of the river in Veliky Novgorod – trade between Gotland and Novgorod flourished already during the Viking Age.
A number of churches and monasteries were build during the first half of the 13th century. Both the Dominicans and the Fransiscans built centrally located premises and St Mary's Church was inaugurated in 1225 as the main church of the German merchants. An evidence on the importance of Visby for the Hanseatic trade on Novgorod was a chest with four locks that stood in this church, and contained the important trading documents. The four keys to the locks were in the hands of the mayors of Visby, Lübeck, Soest and Dortmund. They – or their representatives- had to come together in Visby twice a year to open the chest.
In 1361 Gotland was conquered by the Danish king Valdemar. The final battle stood outside Visby's city walls. Many Gotlanders were killed but the merchants of the town didn't take part. They paid a contribution to the Danish king and were allowed to go on with their businesses as before.
Towards the end of the 14th century the Hanseatic trade had diminished and Visby had lost its position in the Hansa. The German Order came to power on Gotland and held the island during 10 years (1398-1408) but ceded it to the ruling Kalmar Union ( union between Denmark, Sweden, Norway). During the next decade a castle was built in Visby, that was destroyed when Denmark finally lost Gotland in the late 17th century after a vain attempt to conquer the island once more. Piracy ruled along the shores of Gotland. Sören Norrby, Danish governor, is the most renown pirate.
In 1645, after a war between Denmark and Sweden, Gotland became Swedish. By then the glorious days of Visby belonged to the past and the city declined even more during the next two centuries. The reformation closed the monasteries and the city could afford to maintain only one church: St Mary's Church. During the 19th century the interest for Visby as valuable historical site awoke, and towards the end of the century an arising tourism could be noticed.
Visby is a charming authentic medieval city. Narrow lanes, medieval ruins, the cathedral, well kept buildings, shops, cafés, restaurants make Visby to an attractive destination. In the County Museum you can follow the rich past of Gotland and Visby. A walk along the 3,5 km long city wall is an unique experience all the year round. In St Mary's Cathedral services and concerts are available most days of the week. St Nicolas is now being converted into a modern concert hall without losing its characer of a ruin. In the summertime concerts are frequently offered here. The newly opened Wisby Strand Congress&Event hosts not only meetings but is also the venue of many concerts.
Two main festivals take place in the summer: The Medieval Week and the Almedalen Week. The Medieval Week always takes places from Sunday to Sunday during the first full week of August. During this festival the Hanseatic times are revived: markets, theatres, concerts, tournaments fill both days and nights. Medieval costumes are as frequent as modern clothings in the streets of Visby during this week. The Almedalen Week takes place during the first week of July (W27). All political parties in Sweden, organizations, federations, media come together to focus on the public debate. More than 1300 seminars are offered during this week. The international context becomes more and more obvious each year, with special focus on Baltic Sea topics.