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.

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