The medieval towns of Wismar and Stralsund were major trading centres of the Hanseatic League in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries they became Swedish administrative and defensive centres for the German territories. They contributed to the development of the characteristic building types and techniques of Brick Gothic in the Baltic region, as exemplified in several important brick cathedrals, the Town Hall of Stralsund, and the series of houses for residential, commercial and crafts use, representing its evolution over several centuries. Due the valuable remnants of the Hanseatic time, Brick Gothic, renaissance, baroque, historicist and Jugendstil buildings Stralsund old town island and near Wismar are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The heart of the old town is the Old Market Square (Alter Markt), with the Gothic Town Hall (13th century). Behind the town hall soars the imposing Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas' Church), built in 1270–1360. The square is surrounded by houses from different periods, including the Gothic Wulflamhaus (a 14th-century patrician house, today a restaurant), and the Baroque Commandantenhus of 1751, the old headquarters of the Swedish military commander.
In the Middle Ages, the Stralsund area was part of the West Slavic Principality of Rügen. In 1168, the Principality of Rügen became a part of Kingdom of Denmark. In the course of German Ostsiedlung, many German settlers, gentry and merchants were called into the principality, and eventually populated the Strale settlement. Merchants from other countries as well as locals were attracted to the area and made up for one third of the town's population. The Danish navy used the isle as well. When the settlement had grown to town size, prince Wizlaw I of Rügen granted Lübeck law to 'our town Stralow' in 1234, although a significant settlement had existed long before the formal founding. In 1240, when the prince gave additional land to the town, he called it Stralesund.
The success of the settlement challenged the powerful Free City of Lübeck, which burnt Stralsund down in 1249. Afterwards the town was rebuilt with a massive town wall having 11 town gates and 30 watchtowers. The Neustadt, a town-like suburb, was merged to Stralsund by 1361. Schadegard, a twin town to Stralsund also founded by Wizlaw I nearby, but was not granted German law, served as the principal stronghold and enclosed a fort. It was given up and torn down by 1269 under the pressure of the Stralsund Bürger.
In 1293 Stralsund became a member of the Hanseatic League. A total of 300 ships flying the flag of Stralsund cruised the Baltic Sea in the 14th century. In 1325, the Principality of Rügen became part of the Duchy of Pomerania, Stralsund however maintained a considerable independence.
In the 17th century, Stralsund became a theatre in the Thirty Years' War. In the Battle of Stralsund (1628), the town was besieged by Albrecht von Wallenstein after the council refused to accept the Capitulation of Franzburg. Stralsund resisted with Danish and Swedish support. The Swedish garrison in Stralsund was the first on German soil in history. With the Treaty of Stettin (1630), the town became a major Swedish fort in the Duchy of Pomerania.
After the war, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the Treaty of Stettin (1653) made Stralsund part of Swedish Pomerania. Lost to Brandenburg in the Battle of Stralsund (1678), it was restored to Sweden in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1679). In the Great Northern War in 1715 Charles XII led the defence of Stralsund for a year against the united European armies. Stralsund remained under Swedish control until the Battle of Stralsund (1807), when it was seized by Napoleon Bonaparte's army. Seized by Ferdinand von Schill's freikorps in 1809, it was subsequently re-gained by France, with Schill killed in action. In the Congress of Vienna (1815), Stralsund became a part of the Prussian Province of Pomerania and the seat of a government region resembling the former Swedish Pomerania. From 1949 until German Reunification in 1990, Stralsund was part of the German Democratic Republic.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.