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UNESCO World Heritage Site Hanseatic City of Lübeck

An island full of treasures in Lübeck’s Old Town

UNESCO listed the medieval heart of Lübeck’s Old Town as a World Heritage Site. This was the first time that the honour had been granted to an entire district of a town in northern Europe. It owed its inclusion to the outline of the town which was built to a plan and preserved to this day, the original historical buildings and the unmistakeable cityscape with the five Gothic brick churches and their seven spires. Go for a stroll through the Old Town and you will be walking through this unique World Heritage Site, along the axes running parallel from North to South and the cobbled streets leading down to the Trave and the canal like so many thousands before you who either lived in Lübeck or visited it in past centuries. Discover the small and large treasures and find out how people live their lives today behind the old walls.


to keep the earth attached to the sky, people hammered church spires into it: seven copper nails that could never be matched by gold.

Reiner Kunze

© Shutterstock

What forms part of Lübeck’s World Heritage Site?

The World Heritage Site of the Old Town comprises three areas which have retained their historical character to this day and give a glimpse of the power and historical significance which Lübeck once possessed as Queen of the Hanseatic League.

1. Zone 1 in the North and East of the Old Town

Zone 1 comprises the Old Town district in the North and East bounded by Fischergrube, Pfaffenstraße, Königstraße, Mühlenstraße, An der Mauer Straße and the Castle Gate. Here there are numerous individual listed buildings along the historical network of streets, the former Domincan Castle Monastery and the Castle Gate as part of the old town’s fortifications. Another important element is Koberg, an almost completely preserved district from the late 13th century with St. Jacob’s Church and the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. St. Giles' church and St. Catherine's church together with St. Catherine’s Monastery as well as St. Anne’s Monastery also form part of the district.

2. Zone 2 in the South-West area of the Old Town

The second area lies between St. Peter’s church and the cathedral and contains magnificent patrician houses from the 15th and 16th centuries. Holsten Gate and the old salt warehouses reinforce the district’s character as one full of venerable monuments. Almost all the structures originate from the time when the Hanseatic League had reached the apex of its power and Lübeck controlled long-distance trade in the whole of Northern Europe. There is also a large, coherent area of historical alleys here.

3. Zone 3 around the market

The third zone comprises the area around the market with St. Mary’s church and the Town Hall in the heart of the Old Town. It contains a reminder of the founding district from the 12th century which borders this zone on the West, a district that fell victim to an air raid in 1942. Extensive excavations were carried out here for many years before the district was rebuilt on the old walls based on the historical model. A modern urban construction project in harmony with the preservation of historical monuments that you definitely should not miss!

The area below ground in the three Old Town zones is also part of the World Heritage Site, and archaeological excavations are part of everyday life in this “Troy of the North”.

Did you know?


Take a walk through “Große Petersgrube” and you will see all the architectural styles of Lübeck’s history. The cobbled street leading up from Obertrave to St. Peter’s is first mentioned in documents in 1285. It is the only completely preserved street in Lübeck. Today you can find a kaleidoscope of architectural diversity here with façades in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Classical style. The oldest house, number 13 – a former bakery – originates from the 14th century. There is a simple reason for this diversity. Not all residents of Lübeck could afford to change the architectural style of their façades to fit in with the latest trend over the course of centuries. Today, behind the façades of 22 listed houses, Große Petersgrube plays host to the renowned Lübeck University of Music, founded as a “music conservatory” in 1911 on the private initiative of a Lübeck music teacher and where today around 500 young students from around the world study the art of music-making, composing and conducting. Incidentally, Große Petersgrube became a movie star in 2008 when it featured as one of the outside locations where the new version of “Buddenbrooks” was shot, directed by Heinrich Breloer. Truly something to be seen!


The oldest chemist’s in Lübeck is Löwen-Apotheke which was founded in 1812 and is located in one of the oldest burgher houses in the Old Town. This partially Roman structure goes back to the time before the major fires of the 13th century. The wife of Emperor Charles IV resided in this building in 1375 when the imperial couple visited Lübeck. Visitors today are charmed by the whiff of alchemy in the chemist’s in which remedies are still mixed using centuries-old formulae. Take a look inside!

To Löwenapotheke

While performing excavation work on the site of today’s Academy of Music in 1984, digger driver Jürgen Köpsel found a unique collection of coins from the 16th century. The roughly 24,000 gold and silver coins had been hidden in the ground for more than 450 years. This major Lübeck coin hoard is like a snapshot from the business life of a merchant or shopkeeper. His change till holding the proceeds of the previous months contained coins which had been minted in around 84 different European mints. They illustrate the regions of the world which were already trading with Lübeck around 1530. The value of the collection was EUR 1.8 million (converted). The digger driver was rewarded with DM 250,000 for his find.


In the Middle Ages, the smallest room in the house was a cesspit in the rear courtyards. Here people sat on a wooden frame above a deep shaft and attended to their urgent business – sometimes socially in pairs, it seems, as a double seat with two holes was recently found during archaeological excavations in the founding district. It sounds curious but the stinking pit latrines of yesteryear – the best preserved in Northern Europe, by the way – are today real treasures for archaeologists as in these historical waste pits, they often discover valuable finds from long forgotten times which need to be preserved as part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Lübeck’s church construction workshop - Intangible UNESCO cultural heritage

They ensure the preservation of the five famous Old Town churches: the craftsmen of Lübeck’s church construction workshop (Kirchenbauhütte), also known as the “keepers of the seven spires”. All important masonry and carpentry work at Lübeck’s Cathedral, St. Mary’s, St. Peter’s, St. Jacob’s and St. Giles’ are carried out by the church construction workshop. In doing so, it continues the centuries-old tradition of construction workshops from the times of the large, medieval cathedral construction sites. Concentrated architectural and craft knowledge was combined in one place for the first time. A successful concept that needs to be preserved. The UNESCO shares this opinion and declared Lübeck’s church construction workshop “intangible cultural heritage of mankind”. 

Preserving the old, creating new structures

Great importance is attached to the preservation of monuments but it was not always thus. If committed citizens had not fought to save historical monuments in the 1970s and to preserve the medieval character of the town, many Old Town houses in need of restoration would have fallen victim to the urge for modernity. The Citizens’ Initiative Rettet Lübeck (BIRL) [Save Lübeck] - a voluntary organisation formed in 1975 to protest against a wave of demolished buildings in the Old Town - is still actively engaged in questions of refurbishments in the Old Town and the protection of monuments. Lübeck owes the fact that the Old Town was awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 to its dedicated citizens!

Things are happening here!

The historic UNESCO Old Town is a living witness to the eventful history of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck. But time has not stood still here. Lübeck continues to evolve, is constantly growing and readying itself for the future. A growing population, changed mobility behaviour, the desire for a high quality of life and greater sustainability – all these themes are addressed by “LÜBECK überMORGEN”. Numerous urban projects and opportunities for citizens of Lübeck to play an active role are combined under this umbrella. The roadmap to the future is traced here in conversation.


Find out more about the various concepts for the development of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck!

> To Lübeck überMORGEN (DE)

From Palm Sunday night to UNESCO World Heritage Site

During the Second World War, 234 bombers from the British Royal Air Force flew over the Queen of the Hanseatic League on the eve of Palm Sunday in 1942 in retaliation for the German attack on Coventry, dropping a hail of bombs and leaving a trail of destruction behind. The consequences of the attack were disastrous. Individual fires caused by the incendiary bombs quickly developed into widespread fires in the tight spaces. Three of the five churches caught fire, their spires collapsed. 320 people died, one fifth of the Old Town was destroyed and more than 15,000 people in Lübeck lost their homes. The fallen bells of St. Mary's still serve as a reminder of that terrible night today. It took decades before the first Western town on the Baltic Sea regained its famous skyline. For forty years, the people of Lübeck restored their churches, and the tower of St. Peter's was fully rebuilt in 1987. In the same year, Lübeck became the first old town complex in Northern Europe to receive the award of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an honour of which the people of Lübeck are still particularly proud today. A modern residential area imitating the parcel structure of the medieval town is currently being created in the founding district that was severely damaged on that Palm Sunday in 1942.



Explore what nature and man have created! Germany’s UNESCO World Heritage sites allow you to experience historical Old Town alleys, stroll through unusual industrial cultures, conquer castles and fortresses and enjoy impressive landscapes. Follow in the footsteps of man’s heritage!


In Schleswig-Holstein you find two other very special World Heritage Sites. Since 2009, the Wadden Sea with an area of about 11,500 km² has been a World Heritage Site. It stretches along the North Sea coast from the Netherlands through Germany to Denmark. In Schleswig-Holstein, this gift of nature can be explored in many ways: barefoot in the mudflats, on a horse-drawn carriage ride, on a guided hike, at the Multimar wadden sea forum or at the seal centre in Friedrichskoog. - Hereyou can dive deeper into the topic. - Since 2018, the important Viking settlement of Haithabu and the Danewerk border fortification system on the Schlei, which is at least a thousand years old, have also been part of the World Cultural Heritage Family. Follow the footsteps of the Vikings. Information can be found here.

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