Toruń - Old and New Town, Toruń
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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Toruń (originally Thorn) is possibly the most ‘medieval’ of Poland’s cities. It boasts one of the most beautiful city panoramas, encompassing a broad stretch of the River Vistula with images of Gothic buildings and fortifications reflected in its waters. The Teutonic grand master Hermann von Salza granted Toruń a charter in 1233, though the original settlement was located several kilometres downstream. In 1236, on the city’s the present-day site, the Teutonic Knights built a fortress (later remodelled), and the city of Toruń gradually grew around it. The influx of settlers led to the foundation of the New Town in 1264, complete with its own market square and parish church. The Old Town was the city’s trade centre, whilst craft production was concentrated in the New Town. In the Middle Ages small sea-going vessels could easily navigate their way this far up the Vistula, where overland routes to Lesser Poland, Ruthenia and Silesia terminated. The entity most commonly associated with Toruń (other than Nicolaus Copernicus) is gingerbread - favoured by the nobility as the ideal snack to accompany a chalice of Hungarian wine. In the 17th century “Gdańsk’s vodka, Warsaw’s shoes, Toruń’s gingerbread and Cracow’s maidens” were regarded as the best in Poland.

The citizens of Toruń managed to turn the favourable location of their town into a stream of gold pouring straight into their coffers. During the Great War waged against the Teutonic Order they welcomed the armies of Ladislaus Jagiełło (1410); hit with punitive sanctions, they joined the Prussian Union (1440) and took part in an anti-Teutonic insurrection (1454), which sparked the Thirteen Years’ War. Under the terms of the Peace of Thorn signed in 1466 the city was awarded to Poland. As a member of the Hanseatic League and with the right to mint its own coins, Toruń was considered one of the wealthiest cities of the Polish-Lithanian Commonwealth, and as a haven of Protestantism. During the Swedish invasions in the latter half of the 17th century and first half of the 18th century the city fell into decline, and its annexation by Prussia in 1793 brought its 600-year-long autonomy to an end. In 1872-1892 it was transformed into a modern fortress city.

To this day Toruń retains its urban layout and sensational assemblage of town houses representing virtually all architectural styles and their variations. Among these tall, narrow, Gothic buildings, some embellished with Mannerist or Baroque gables (14th­-18th-century), the most famous is the beautifully restored house of Nicolaus Copernicus (late Gothic, c. 1480). The Old Town Hall, built in the late 14th century by Master Andrzej, is an architectural gem representing one of the finest public buildings in Europe. Its tall tower, surmounted by a helm roof in 1430, was ultimately enveloped by the main body of the town hall. In 1602-1605 the height of the building was raised and gables and turrets were added. In 1703 a shell fired by Swedish forces set the building ablaze; its renovation (encompassing the Royal Room and Soviet Room as well as the Grand Hall and Judicial Hall) did not ensue until the 1730s.

One of Toruń’s most striking landmarks is the Old Town’s parish church, dedicated to St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist. Its construction probably commenced in the first half of the 13th century, and expansion took place in the 15th century. Its interiors are filled with Gothic, Mannerist and Baroque treasures dating from the 14th to 18th centuries, including the St Wolfgang triptych of c. 1502-1506 above the main altar, a brass plaque (c. 1360) from the tomb of Mayor Jan von Soest and his wife, and an impressive 14th-century crucifix. It was here that civic ceremonies were held and masses were celebrated with visiting kings of Poland in attendance. In 1500 a bell known as the Tuba Dei (God’s Trumpet) - second largest after Cracow’s Zygmuntbell - was installed in the tower. Rivalling the parish church is the Gothic Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, raised in the 13th century and developed into a three-aisled hall church in 1350-1370. Between 1557 and 1724 it served as a Protestant house of worship. In 1636 a Baroque chapel was added - a mausoleum for Anna Vasa, sister of King Sigismund III Vasa. The 15th-century Gothic stalls and the organ case (the oldest in the country) above the minstrels’ gallery are also notable.

The New Town’s parish church of St James, founded by the Teutonic Knights, was a Gothic basilica with an elongated chancel. The main body was completed in 1340, a tower (49 m high) being added 100 years later, and chapels adjoining the aisles appearing in 1359-1424. The building was covered with stellar vaults (in the nave and chancel), cross-ribbed vaults (in the aisles) and groined vaults (in the entry porch). A highlight among the church’s furnishings is a vivid, late 14th-century crucifix known as the Mystical Christ Crucified on the Tree of Life.

All that remains of the Teutonic castle is its garderobe and assorted ruins. In 1454 the citizens of Toruń, unwilling to play host to the armies of the Teutonic Knights, or to those of Casimir the Jagiellonian, demolished the castle. In contrast, the extant sections of the city walls (dating from the turn of the 13th century, extended in 1420-1449) survive in good condition, complete with gates and towers. The oldest feature is the Bridge Gate, built in 1432, whilst the most famous is the Crooked Tower - raised at the turn of the 13th century, it is one of the city’s highlights. The structure began to lean soon after its construction was completed (it stands at an angle of c. 140 cm). From at least the 17th century repairs were carried out on earlier buildings in Toruń, with attempts being made to retain their original form. The care taken with the city’s cultural heritage has allowed its authenticity and charm to survive to this day.

General information

  • Type: urban layout
  • Chronology: XIII - XVIII w.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Toruń
  • Location: Voivodeship kujawsko-pomorskie, district Toruń, commune Toruń
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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