Academic gymnasium boarding house, Toruń
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Academic gymnasium boarding house

Toruń

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The boarding house building remains a unique example of an educational edifice designed in the North-European Mannerist style, its silhouette and architectural detailing surviving intact to the modern era. It is the oldest building of its kind in northern Poland. Its construction was linked to an ambitious plan for the foundation of the first Protestant higher educational establishment in Royal Prussia.

The boarding house is situated in the area inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list which also forms part of the monument of history designated as “Toruń - Old and New Town District”.

History

The Toruń gymnasium was established in 1568 as a six-year Protestant middle school. In 1586, Henryk Stroband, the mayor of Toruń, initiated the process of educational reform, based on a 10-year educational cycle devised by Jan Sturm. When the 11th form, known as the “suprema curia” was introduced, the status of the school was elevated to that of an academic gymnasium in 1594.

From the moment of its establishment, the gymnasium faced numerous problems related to the premises where it functioned, with both the interiors of the school accompanying the church of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist as well as an abandoned Franciscan monastery being adapted to serve its needs. Despite being a supra-regional educational establishment, the gymnasium only had at its disposal a very modest number of rooms for students from other locations (especially those from low-income families), with the former Franciscan monastery serving as a makeshift dormitory. Even back in 1592, Henryk Stroband already emphasised the need for a dedicated boarding house, which tied in with his vision for the formation of a Protestant school of higher education that would cater for the needs of students from all around Royal Prussia. In 1596, the accommodation conditions deteriorated even further when the gymnasium lost the right to use the buildings accompanying the church of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, which was due to the fact that, by that time, the Jesuit Order had come up with a plan to open their own school on these premises. It was at that point that the Toruń city council donated 1800 florins for the construction of the boarding house, with the Gdańsk city council making an additional contribution of 666 florins. As a result, towards the end of 1598, the shell of the boarding house was completed. It took two more years to furnish and equip the building’s interiors, with the funds for that purpose being contributed mostly by private individuals. The task of overseeing the construction works fell upon Hans Eckhard the elder. On January 1, 1601, an opening ceremony was held.

The boarding house was mostly designed for youths from impoverished backgrounds, who would either be offered accommodation free of charge in exchange for minor services which they had to perform at the school or the nearby church, or would only pay a minimum weekly rent. In practice, however, there would also be students who simply paid a full rent for their accommodation. The initial interior layout of the building remains unknown. The fact that special rooms for guardians - tasked, among others, with the oversight of the student dormitories - were present on both the ground-floor level and the first-floor level indicates that both storeys of the edifice were used as student accommodation. It is also almost certain that the building had its own kitchen and refectory, since the boarding house also offered meals for its inhabitants.

Following the violent events known as the Tumult of Toruń (or Thorn, as it was then known) which erupted in 1724 as a result of a festering religious conflict, both the classrooms and the library were moved from the former Franciscan monastery to the boarding house. Thanks to the drawings produced by Georg Friedrich Steiner in the years 1738-45, we can still say how the buildings looked like back in the 18th century and what was their overall layout. In addition to the front building, the plot of land was also occupied by a two-storey, bipartite southern outbuilding as well as a two-storey rear gatehouse with a passage on the middle axis. The façade of the back building featured an overhanging gallery which was connected by means of a walkway supported by wooden posts to the rear façade of an outbuilding standing on the parcel situated north of the boarding house itself.

During the period of the Napoleonic Wars in 1807, the building was temporarily adapted to serve as an army hospital.

During the times of the Duchy of Warsaw, the gymnasium held the status of a state school. When the city of Toruń was incorporated into Prussia once again, it was renamed as the Prussian Municipal Gymnasium, which remained active inside the building on Piekary street until 1855. After that, the school moved to new premises located on Zaułek Prosowy street, while the former boarding house became an elementary school for girls and then a primary school for boys.

After Poland regained its independence, the building served as a German-language branch of the State Gymnasium of Classical and Human Sciences, which later became an autonomous lower-secondary school where German remained the official language of instruction.

After World War II, the edifice began serving as a boarding house for the students of the local secondary schools.

Today, the building belongs to the Regional Court.

Description

The boarding house is located in the western part of the Old Town. It is situated in the vicinity of the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, behind which the buildings of the gymnasium had once stood. The side-gabled building forms part of the street frontage. West of the edifice lies a large yard, separated from the Fosa Staromiejska street by a wall.

The boarding house was erected on a rectangular floor plan and features a small side building occupying the southern part of the parcel. Most of the ground-floor level is taken up by a large room located in the northern part of the building. In the western section there is a hallway with a staircase leading into the back building as well as a number of rooms which have been added at a later date. Presently, the building remains interconnected with the structures located on the neighbouring plot of land north of the boarding house.

The edifice itself is a three-storey structure with a basement, covered with a gable roof. The front façade features a pronounced wall base and follows an eight-axial layout, with a profiled crowning cornice providing the finishing touch. At the outermost edges of the wall base, one can still see the bricked-up basement entrances. The individual storeys are separated by plain friezes with a smooth plaster finish. The corners of the building are accentuated with plasterwork rustication.

A doorway set into a deep recess with chamfered edges is positioned on the second-southernmost axis of the façade. The doorway itself is topped with a round arch adorned with faux plasterwork keystones positioned in the centre of the arch as well as at its base on each side. The remaining windows are rectangular in shape, equipped with stone casings and featuring a cruciform arrangement of rectangular mullions and transoms with bevelled edges. All windows are set into shallow niches topped with basket-handle arches adorned with faux plasterwork keystones which mirror the design of the doorway. The window niches all feature chamfered edges. The areas above the lintels are covered with plaster. The niches of the uppermost storey are slightly lower than those below them. The rear façade, partially obscured by both the back building and a modern elevator shaft, follows a three-axial layout. The visible section of the façade positioned at its northern edge features a bricked-up entrance which had once led into the gallery above, its surface covered with plaster. The northern section of the string course is interrupted, indicating the spot where the gallery had once adjoined the structure. The axially positioned window openings follow the same design as those of the front façade, except that no stone casings are present.

The curvilinear gables crowning the building are partially obscured by the neighbouring structures.

On the ground-floor level there is a surviving wooden ceiling supported by cast iron columns, dating back to the 19th century. The surface of the ceiling features a painted, imitation wood grain finish designed to give it a more luxurious appearance.

Limited access to the monument. The monument can be viewed from the outside (the building houses several departments of the District Court).

compiled by Piotr Dąbrowski, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Toruń, 14-12-2014.

Bibliography

  • Tync S., Dzieje gimnazjum toruńskiego vol. I, “Rocznik Towarzystwa Naukowego w Toruniu” vol. 34: 1927, pp. 55-284.
  • Tync S., Dzieje gimnazjum toruńskiego vol. II, “Rocznik Towarzystwa Naukowego w Toruniu” vol. 53: 1948.

General information

  • Type: residential building
  • Chronology: XVI/XVII w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Piekary 49, Toruń
  • Location: Voivodeship kujawsko-pomorskie, district Toruń, commune Toruń
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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