European countries trace their origins to the ethnical groups that settled down around the continent after the great migration. Rudimentary at the beginning they slowly emerged into the city states that would later morph into countries and empires. During the late middle age and early modern times there was a strange formation on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. Its name was the Hanseatic League or simply Hansa. It wasn’t really a state, but rather an association of merchant guilds joined together to enhance their commerce.
Most of the cities of the Hanseatic League were port towns on the Baltic coast, but their influence stretched deep inside today’s Germany, Poland, Netherlands and Belgium. Several foreign posts across the sea were associated to the league including London, Bruges, Bergen and Novgorod in Russia. Its capital Lübeck, became a base for merchants from Saxony and Westphalia in the 12th century, and was a role model for merchants from all over the region. Typical merchant houses from that period were multi-storey buildings with steep roofs and crow-stepped gables. Usually painted with earth colours the red/brown brick was the material by excellence.
Although we are talking about a relatively distant period of time there is still a significant heritage related to the Hanseatic League.
Some of the best examples and important cities of the Hanseatic League are:
Bergen is the only foreign trading post – Kontor of the Hanseatic League that still stands today. Bryggen (the dock) is a merchant neighbourhood that emerged at the end of the Vågen bay in the 12th century. In the 14th century the office of the Hanseatic League was established there and it gradually became its northernmost outpost. Current buildings in the city date back to the 18th century.
More photos of Bergen HERE
As mentioned above Lübeck was the capital and the largest city of the Hanseatic League. It was the major trade centre in Northern Europe until the 16th century. Its beautiful historical centre with many noblemen’s houses, churches and warehouses from that period is located on an island accessible through several monumental gates.
More photos of Lübeck HERE
Gdansk was an important member of the league in the 14th and 15th centuries while being part of the State of the Teutonic Order and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It’s incredibly rich architectural heritage centres around the magnificent Long Market (Długi Targ). Together with Lübeck it was the main shipbuilding center in the League. The Old Crane that can be seen today is from that period.
More photos of Gdansk HERE
Riga became a member of the League in the late 13th century, and was an integral part for almost four centuries. Many interesting buildings located in Riga’s Old Town are from that period. The most important ones are The House of the Blackheads, a German merchant guild on the Town Hall Square and the oldest building of the Three Brothers in Maza Pils Street.
Read more about Riga HERE
The league’s northernmost member Tallinn (Reval) also joined at the end of the 13th century. It served as an important connection between the League and Russian merchants from Novgorod and elsewhere. The outstanding Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. Its main buildings are located around the Town Hall Square including the 13th century Town Hall.
Read more about Tallinn HERE