Lübeck – the former capital and Queen City of the Hanseatic League – was founded in the 12th century and prospered until the 16th century as the major trading centre for northern Europe. It has remained a centre for maritime commerce to this day, particularly with the Nordic countries. Despite the damage it suffered during the Second World War, the basic structure of the old city, consisting mainly of 15th- and 16th-century patrician residences, public monuments (the famous Holstentor brick gate), churches and salt storehouses, remains unaltered.
Hanseatic City of Lübeck
© Hanseatic City of Lübeck
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.
Omitting the zones that have been entirely reconstructed, the World Heritage site includes several areas of significance in the history of Lübeck:
- Zone 1: The site of the Burgkloster, a Dominican convent built in fulfilment of a vow made at the battle of Bornhöved (1227), contains the original foundations of the castle built by Count Adolf von Schauenburg on the Buku isthmus. The Koberg site preserves an entire late 18th-century neighbourhood built around a public square bordered by two important monuments, the Jakobikirche and the Heilig-Geist-Hospital. The sections between the Glockengiesserstrasse and the Aegidienstrasse retain their original layout and contain a remarkable number of medieval structures.
- Zone 2: Between the two large churches that mark its boundaries - the Petrikirche to the north and the cathedral to the south - this area includes rows of superb patrician residences from the 15th and 16th centuries. The enclave on the left bank of the Trave, with its salt storehouses and the Holstentor, reinforces the monumental aspect of an area that was entirely renovated at the height of the Hansa epoch, when Lübeck dominated trade in Northern Europe.
- Zone 3: Located at the heart of the medieval city, the Marienkirche, the Rathaus, and the Marktplatz bear the tragic scars of the heavy bombing suffered during the Second World War.