UNESCO World Heritage Site #207: Town Hall and Roland on the Marketplace of Bremen

UNESCO World Heritage Site #207: Town Hall and Roland on the Marketplace of Bremen
UNESCO World Heritage Site #207: Town Hall and Roland on the Marketplace of Bremen

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Bremen Town Hall and Roland are an outstanding ensemble representing civic autonomy and market freedom, as developed in the Holy Roman Empire. The town hall represents the medieval Saalgeschossbau-type of hall construction, as well as being an outstanding example of the so-called Weser Renaissance in northern Germany. The Bremen Roland is the most representative and one of the oldest of the Roland statues erected as a symbol of commercial rights and freedom.

The city of Bremen is situated in north-western Germany, on the river Weser. The site of the medieval town has an oblong form, limited by the river on the south side and by the Stadtgraben, the water moat of the ancient defence system, on the north side. The town hall is situated in the centre of the eastern part of the old city area, separating the market in the south from the Domshof, the cathedral square in the north. The statue of Roland is located in the centre of the market place. The town hall is placed between two churches: the Dom (cathedral church of St Peter) is located on the east side, and the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) on the west. Across the market is the Schütting, the seat of the ancient merchant guilds. On the east side of the market is the Modernist building for the municipal institutions, the Haus der Bürgerschaft, built in the 1960s.

The World Heritage site consists of the town hall and the Roland statue; the buffer zone encloses the market and the cathedral square. The town hall has two parts: the Old Town Hall, on the north side of the market place, which was built in 1405-9, and renovated in 1595-1612, and the New Town Hall that was built in the early 20th century as an addition facing the cathedral square.

The town hall (rathaus in German) of Bremen is a very interesting world heritage site. Through sheer luck, the building was untouched in WWII. It was expanded significantly in 20th Century, so a large part of it is somewhat new. The old part of the building, however, is quite well preserved and is a great example of a medieval town hall.

The facade of the building is fine enough, but in many respects it is outshone by the merchants building across the square and it is dominated in size by the cathedral next door. The real treasure of the building can be found inside in the upstairs of the old part of the town hall.

The main meeting area is a fantastic display of old German art, woodworking and Hanseatic symbols. Many of the large pantings date back hundreds of years and all tell a part of the story of the city. One of the paintings is entirely text and is a mixture of Old German, Flemish and English. A sort of pidegon language used by Hanseatic traders in the region.

The ground floor of the old building is a museum and the cellar is now a restaurant. The new town hall is still used as such by the city of Bremen.

Part of this site, and it is included in its official name, is the statue of Roland in the front of the building. I knew very little of the story of Roland before I arrived, but you can find statues of Roland all over Europe. He became a symbol of independent cities of the Hanseatic League, which is why his statue is featured so prominently in Bremen.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #206: Hanseatic City of Lübeck

UNESCO World Heritage Site #206: Hanseatic City of Lübeck
UNESCO World Heritage Site #206: Hanseatic City of Lübeck

From the World Heritage inscription:

Lübeck is the city which, more than any other, exemplifies the power and historic role of the Hanseatic League. Founded in 1143 by Heinrich der Löwe (Henry the Lion) on a small island of the Baltic coast, Lübeck was the former capital and Queen City of the Hanseatic League from 1230 to 1535. As such it was one of the principal cities of this league of merchant cities which monopolized the trade of the Baltic and the North Sea, just as Venice and Genoa exerted their control over the Mediterranean.

The plan of Lübeck, with its blade-like outline determined by two parallel traffic routes running along the crest of the island, dates to the beginnings of the site and testifies to the expansion of the commercial centre of Northern Europe. To the west lay the richest quarters with the trading houses and the homes of the rich merchants and to the east were small traders and artisans. The very strict socio-economic organization emerges through the singular disposition of the Buden (small workshops) set in the back courtyards of the rich homes, which were accessed through a narrow network of alleyways (Gänge); other lots on the courtyard (Stiftungshöfe) illustrated the charity of the merchants who housed there the impoverished widows of their colleagues.

Lübeck remained an urban monument characteristic of a significant historical structure, but the city was severely damaged during the Second World War, in which almost 20% of it, including the most famous monumental complexes, were destroyed – the cathedral, the churches of St Peter and St Mary and especially the Gründungsviertel, the hilltop quarter where the gabled houses of the rich merchants clustered. Selective reconstruction has permitted the replacement of the most important churches and monuments.

One of the benefits of visiting world heritage sites is that it often takes me to places that I might not otherwise have visited. Lübeck is one such city.

I knew nothing about Lübeck prior to my visits to Stralsund and Wismar, which were both Hanseatic cities. Lübeck was not only a Hanseatic city, but was where the Hanseatic League was founded in 1159. It was one of the largest cities in the alliance and served as its de facto capital for several hundred years.

Because of its prominence in the Hansa, many architectural features which originally appeared in Lübeck can be found in other cities around the Baltic.

The building in the photo is the Holsten Gate, which is probably the best known structure in Lübeck. If it looks like it is tilting inward it isn’t an optical illusion. It is titling inward…and forward….and sinking. It is literally twisting in all three dimensions due to the ground beneath it shifting.

There is an argument to be made that Lübeck should have been listed with Stralsund and Wismar as part of their serial site, however the historic importance of Lübeck as a city is enough to set it apart.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #205: Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar

UNESCO World Heritage Site #205: Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar
UNESCO World Heritage Site #205: Historic Centres of Stralsund and Wismar

From the World Heritage inscription:

Wismar and Stralsund, leading centres of the Wendish section of the Hanseatic League from the 13th to the 15th centuries and major administrative and defence centres in the Swedish kingdom in the 17th and 18th centuries, contributed to the development and diffusion of brick construction techniques and building types, characteristic features of Hanseatic towns in the Baltic region, as well as the development of defence systems in the Swedish period.

The historic towns of Wismar and Stralsund are situated in north-eastern Germany on the Baltic Sea coast. The cities were founded as part of the German colonization of the Slav territories in the late 12th or early 13th centuries. Both cities emerged as important trading places in the 14th century as part of the Hanseatic League. After the Thirty Years’ War, the towns came under Swedish rule from the 17th to the early 19th centuries. Under the subsequent changing political situations there was a period of stagnation, but from the second half of the 19th century a gradual economic improvement began. The historic centres survived the Second World War bombardments and were part of the German Democratic Republic until unification.

The two towns demonstrate features that are often similar, although there are also differences that make them complementary. The town of Wismar was originally surrounded by moats, but these were filled on the landward side. The medieval port on the north side has been largely preserved. The so-called Grube is today testimony of the old man-made canal that used to link the harbour area in the north with ponds in the south-east. The almost circular old town is now surrounded by urban development that began in the second half of the 19th century. The streets of the old town retain their medieval form; the main east-west street is the Lübsche Strasse, tracing the ancient trade route of the Via Regia, which passes through the central market place with the town hall. The overall form and the silhouette of the town have retained their historic aspect.

The town of Stralsund was built on an island slightly oval in shape. The overall form and silhouette of the town have been particularly well preserved for this reason. The two focal points in the town are the old market in the north and the new market in the south. The old market is delimited by the rather exceptional ensemble of the Church of St Nicholas and the town hall. Both towns were subject to the Lübeck Building Code, which regulated the size and form of each lot. The cities differed somewhat in their economic structures. Stralsund was oriented towards the long-distance and intermediate trade of the Hanseatic League, requiring more warehouse space, whereas Wismar laid emphasis on production and so housed large numbers of craftsmen and agriculturalists. As a result the houses of Stralsund are larger than those of Wismar, where the total number of gabled houses is more numerous.

I had the pleasure of visiting both Stralsund and Wismar during my 2013 German World Heritage trip.

Both cities were former members of the Hanseatic League, were controlled by Sweden for significant periods of time and were very rich by the standards of the 12-15th centuries.

Stralsund
Formerly known as the “Pearl of the Hanesa”, Stralsund is home to several architecturally significant buildings. The town hall (Rathaus) is best known for its facade and is one of the best examples of a mideval German town hall in existence. The opulence of the facade is evidence of the wealth the city as is the sheer size of St. James church, which is the size of most cathedrals in Europe. There are also many excellent examples of step-gabled gothic merchant houses in the city.

Wismar
One of the first cities in the Hanseatic League, Wismar was home to over 180 breweries for a population of 5,000. Beer production and trading make Wismar a wealthy city. St. Gregory’s church and St. Mary’s church in Wismar are both cathedral size buildings, standing only a few blocks from each other, which were built by the merchants and tradesmen of the city. Damaged during WWII and during the communist era, both churches are no longer used for their intended purpose. St. Gregory’s was rebuilt and is used for concerts and events, where as St. Mary’s was mostly destroyed by the GDR and now only the clock tower stands. Both churches were some of the largest brick buildings in the world at the time of their construction.

Neither Wismar nor Stralsund get the same level of attention as larger cities in Germany, but I found both to be highly educational and provided a unique insite into the period of time of the Hanseatic League. The cities are a 90 minute drive from each other and can be visited as part of a larger trip visiting other former Hanseatic League cities such as Lübeck.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #204: Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany

UNESCO World Heritage Site #204: Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany
UNESCO World Heritage Site #204: Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany are a serial property comprising fifteen components. They represent an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests and exhibit the most complete and comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure stands of European beech across a variety of environmental conditions. They contain an invaluable genetic reservoir of beech and many species associated and dependent on these forest habitats.

The Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany are indispensable to understanding the history and evolution of the genus Fagus, which, given its wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere and its ecological importance, is globally significant. These undisturbed, complex temperate forests exhibit the most complete and comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure stands of European beech across a variety of environmental conditions and represent all altitudinal zones from seashore up to the forest line in the mountains. Beech is one of the most important elements of forests in the Temperate Broad-leaf Forest Biome and represents an outstanding example of the re-colonization and development of terrestrial ecosystems and communities after the last ice age, a process which is still ongoing. They represent key aspects of processes essential for the long term conservation of natural beech forests and illustrate how one single tree species came to absolute dominance across a variety of environmental parameters.

This world heritage site is serial site comprised of 15 locations spread across three different countries (Germany, Ukraine and Slovakia).

The site I visited was Jasmund National Park in Germany.

Jasmund is the smallest national park in Germany and is only a 45 minute drive from the city of Stralsund. Oddly enough, although Jasmund is on the world heritage list because of its beech forests, its main attraction is its chalk cliffs which overlook the Baltic Sea.

Even though the park is small, there is enough to do to make for an interesting visit. There are many kilomters of hiking trails and the visitor center is located at the chalk cliffs. There are also local municipal buses which run regularly from the nearby city of Sassnitz. Jasmund also has one of the best interpretative centers I have ever seen. A significant amount of time, money and effort went into it. Audio tours of the center are available in German and English.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Gary’s Big German World Heritage Adventure

The route of my road trip
Starting Monday, March 11 I will spend 2-weeks driving around Germany with the goal of exploring 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 27 of which I have not previously visited.*

I am excited to be doing this trip for several reasons. I love road trips because there is a freedom you have when driving that doesn’t exist when you are traveling by train or plane. I love visiting UNESCO sites and Germany has the 5th highest number of them in the world (37). My ancestors also came from Germany in the 19th Century. Outside of a great aunt who spoke German, I didn’t experience much in the way of German culture growing up. (Being German became highly unfashionable in the United States with its entry into WWI.)

The sites are a mix of 19th century industrial sites, forests, cathedrals, monasteries, Roman ruins, paleontology digs and gardens.
Continue reading “Gary’s Big German World Heritage Adventure”

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park

UNESCO World Heritage Site #203: Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park
UNESCO World Heritage Site #203: Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is an exceptional cultural monument in which the natural landscape was used as the setting for a symbolic representation in the form of chapels and avenues of the events of the Passion of Christ. The result is a cultural landscape of great beauty and spiritual quality in which natural and man-made elements combine in a harmonious manner. The Counter Reformation in the late 16th century led to a flowering in the creation of Calvaries in Europe. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is an outstanding example of this type of large-scale landscape design, which incorporates natural beauty with spiritual objectives and the principles of Baroque park design.

The official name of this site is: Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park. I think that just might be the longest name of any World Heritage site on Earth.

That aside, is the one of the more questionable world heritage sites I’ve visited. I don’t really think that the architecture is that much different than you will see in hundreds of other churches around Europe. I’m also not sure that a glorified stations of the cross is really worth of world heritage status.

Nonetheless, this is a popular pilgrimage site for Polish people and there is quite a bit both inside and outside the main cathedral devoted to the visits of Pope John Paul II, both as a boy, a bishop and pope. You can see a statue of him in the photo above.

I went in early March, but I got the strong impression that the site is much busier in the summer. There were very few people there when I visited, yet there parking spaces for large coach buses, a restaurant and large bookstore. Almost nothing here was in English, which indicates that the site is primarily of interest to Poles.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #202: Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland

UNESCO World Heritage Site #202: Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland
UNESCO World Heritage Site #202: Wooden Churches of Southern Little Poland

From the World Heritage inscription:

The wooden churches of southern Little Poland bear exceptional testimony to the tradition of church building from the Middle Ages. They have also been preserved in the context of the vernacular village and landscape setting, and related to the liturgical and cult functions of the Roman Catholic Church in a relatively closed region in central Europe. They are exceptionally well-preserved and representative examples of the medieval Gothic church, built using the horizontal log technique, particularly impressive in their artistic and technical execution, and sponsored by noble families and rulers as symbols of prestige.

The history of Poland goes back to the unification of the Christian lands and the constitution of the kingdom in the 10th and 11th centuries. Churches have been of particular significance in the development of Polish wooden architecture, and an essential element of settlement structures, both as landmarks and as ideological symbols. They were an outward sign of the cultural identity of communities, reflecting the artistic and social aspirations of their patrons and creators. The nine sites in southern Little Poland represent different aspects of these developments.

This is a serial site of churches in nine different villages which compromise the world heritage site. They are:

  1. Archangel Michael (Binarowa)
  2. All Saints (Blizne)
  3. Archangel Michael (Debno)
  4. Blessed Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael (Haczow)
  5. St. Peter and St. Paul (Lachowice)
  6. St. Leonard (Lipnica Murowana)
  7. St. John the Baptist (Orawka)
  8. St. Philip and St. James the Apostles (Sekowa)
  9. Archangel Michael (Szalowa)

I visited St. Leonard’s in the village of Lipnica Murowana, which is the closest church in the world heritage site to Krakow.

These churches are only for hard core world heritage site enthusiasts. They are very small. St. Leonard’s was small enough that you could easily walk around the entire building in under a minute. Lipnica Murowana was about an hour’s drive from Krakow and the church wasn’t even open. It wasn’t hard to find, but it did take some effort. Once you get to the village, just look for the big white church and park near there. The smaller, darker church is very close by and walking distance.

This might just hold the record for the most obscure world heritage site that I have visited.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #201: Wieliczka Salt Mine

UNESCO World Heritage Site #201: Wieliczka Salt Mine
UNESCO World Heritage Site #201: Wieliczka Salt Mine

From the World Heritage inscription:

The salt mines of Cracow exemplify a large industrial establishment, administratively and technically well organized, the continued existence of which has been ensured by the process of adaptation since the Middle Ages. The progressive development of mining processes over the centuries is perfectly illustrated there, in all its stages, owing to the consolidation and conservation of the old galleries, each with the installations of their time. A comprehensive collection of mining tools displayed inside the mine constitutes valuable material evidence of the evolution of mining technology over a long period of European history.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine, located in southern Poland near the city of Cracow, has been worked as a source of rock salt since the late 13th century. The total length of the galleries, in which are to be found wells, corridors, labyrinths, excavations of all sorts, rooms, and even chapels cut out of the salt, with altars, pulpits and statues, is some 300 km, connecting more than 2,000 excavation chambers on nine underground levels. It extends 5 km to the east and west and 1 km to the north and south, reaching a maximum depth of 327 m below the surface. Over the centuries, miners have established a tradition of carving sculptures out of the native rock salt. As a result, the mine contains entire underground churches, altars, bas-reliefs, and dozens of life-size or larger statues. It also houses an underground museum and has a number of special-purpose chambers such as a sanatorium for people suffering from respiratory ailments. The largest of the chapels, the Chapel of the Blessed King, is located 101 m below the surface; it is over 50 m long, 15 m wide and 12 m high, with a volume of 10,000 cm3 . The subterranean lake, open to tourists since the 15th century, completes this curious complex.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the top attractions for anyone visiting Krakow.

The salt mine is most famous for the chapels and sculptures which miners have been carving for hundreds of years. I have long heard about the salt mines but I wasn’t really expecting to be as large as it was. Some of the caverns are enormous and what tourists can see is only a fraction of the mine.

There are numerous tours available throughout Krakow and you should budget at least two hours to explore the mine. Lighting conditions in the mine are poor at best, so either bring a tripod or lower your expectations.

The salt mine also has the distinction of being one of the 12 inaugural world heritage sites listed in 1978.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.