Complex of medieval city fortifications, Toruń
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Complex of medieval city fortifications

Toruń

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One of the surviving systems of fortifications once common in the cities and towns of the southern Baltic coast, influenced by the principles of castle architecture devised during the era of the Crusades as well as by the design of fortifications in Flanders and other Hanseatic cities of Western Pomerania, Brandenburg and Lübeck. The surviving complex shows traces of numerous alterations reflecting the changes in the art of warfare. The entire complex 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

Originally, the chartered town located within the boundaries of the so-called Island (Werde), was surrounded by a ring of wooden and earthen fortifications and a moat filled with water from the Struga Toruńska canal. The construction of the brick walls around the Old Town district began after 1249, with the entire ring being completed between 1262 and 1272. The first sections to be erected were the northern and western section, with the oldest part of the perimeter walls, believed to originate from the period between 1246/9 and 1262, being located alongside what is known today as the Rapacki square. The eastern side of the complex, initially protected by the waters of the Struga Toruńska canal, as well as the southern side which enjoyed relative safety due to the presence of the Vistula river, were both secured by means of new fortifications towards the end of the 13th century. The individual sections of the walls, constructed during different phases, differ in terms of both the thickness of the walls and the type of the machicolations or brattices used, with some resting on brick arcades, overhanging arches supported by corbels or stepped, projecting supports, while others took the form wooden hoardings supported by thick, wooden beams. In the early 14th century, a low pre-wall was constructed along the entire length of the walls, with the exception of the section running alongside the Vistula river and separating the Przedmieście Portowe (Port Suburb) district from the Old Town. The construction of the New Town district fortifications commenced some time after the city was originally chartered in 1264 and continued at least until the late 13th/early 14th century. The works on the front section of the New Town wall commenced in 1338.

The 13th-century walls, up to 5.5 metres in height, came equipped wide merlons (ca. 2.75 metres each), with every second merlon featuring an arrowslit. The walls erected during the later period reached the level of 8-9.5 metres.

The course of the eastern wall protecting the Old Town is interrupted by the complex of castle fortifications positioned along its southern section as well as by the Dominican monastery situated along the northern section of the wall. Even after New Town was officially chartered, the wall was suffered to remain and served as an internal fortified structure.

The outer ring of the walls is surrounded by a walled moat, its width varying between 20 and 40 metres. A section of the inner ring of the walls is also protected by a moat. A brick bridge leading up to the Paulist Gate spans the moat below.

Neither the typology nor the determination of the actual dates of construction of individual fortified structures are issues which have been fully and satisfactory resolved. It is now accepted that the construction of the earliest fortified towers began in the early 14th century, if not earlier. These towers (or actually half-towers, since their rear section was left open), erected on a rectangular floor plan, were not much taller than the walls themselves and were topped with crenellated parapets. The early 15th-century fortified towers, on the other hand - the Monstrance Tower, the Cat’s Tail Tower and the Cat’s Head Tower - were designed on a polygonal plan, making them more useful for defenders equipped with firearms. The sources vary in terms of the number of medieval fortified towers forming part of the complex, with the number stated for Old Town and New Town being between 29 and 33 and between 15 and 18 respectively.

In the early 15th century, the city walls and the existing towers were extended upwards, with the crenellated parapets being removed in the process. The existing open-gorged towers were converted into full towers, with the open sections at the back replaced by timber-framed walls; this, as well as the addition of roofs, was a necessary precaution intended to prevent the exposure of explosives and gunpowder to moisture.

In 1406, the Old Town had eight gates in total: the Old Toruń Gate (Antique Thor) in the west, the Chełmno Gate (Culmer Thor) in the north, the Paulist Gate (Paulińska Gate, Pauler Thor) in the east (in the inner wall, at the end of Szewska street) accompanied by the Coppersmiths’ Gate at the end of Szeroka street, as well as the Bridge Gate (Veerthor), the Bath House Gate (Schell Thor), the Sailors’ Gate (Segeler Thor) and the Monastery Gate (Sancti Spiritus, Grossthor) in the south. During the same period, the walls of the New Town featured four gatehouses, i.e. the Gate of the Righteous (Gerechtethor) in the north-west, at the end of Prosta street, the St Catherine’s Gate (Katharinenthor, Viehtor) in the north-east, the St James’s Gate (Jacobsthor) in the east and the Tanners’ Gate (Gerberthor) leading towards the grounds between the perimeter wall and the pre-wall. In addition, various wicket gates existed which facilitated access to both the pre-wall area and the Teutonic Castle.

Initially, all gatehouses were simply elaborate wicket gates, with some of the larger gatehouses being designed in a manner similar to the crenellated towers and equipped with larger gateways. The existing gatehouses were being successively enlarged from the first half of the 14th century onwards. After some time, two major types of city gates came into being, namely the tall gatehouses designed on a roughly square plan as well as wide gatehouses of the kind more commonly seen in the Flanders region. From the early 14th century onwards, the land gates would also come equipped with foregates. The St James’s Gate came equipped with a double foregate, flanked by a pair of towers. The Old Toruń Gate and the Chełmno Gate came equipped with full barbicans. The former, erected by the master brickmasons Anselm and Vinkelczayl, was completed in 1429, while the second one was constructed by master Lukas in the years 1448-52.

In 1432, the Bridge Gate was redesigned by Hans Gotland in order to make it more useful in a new type of warfare, based on the use of firearms. The complex of medieval walls was constantly repaired and modernised in the early modern period, despite the ring of bastion-type fortifications also being erected.

It was only after the Old and New Town were merged into a single entity that the inner section of the walls has lost its significance. The former fortified towers were adapted to serve as granaries. In 1482, the Paulist Gate was adapted to serve as a prison. A large number of substandard dwellings have been erected alongside the tall wall, seeming to cling to its surface.

Somewhere around the year 1500, the polygonal corner towers around the Old Town were converted into low round bastions, adapted for artillery warfare.

In 1649, the low wall and moat leading along the eastern section of the New Town walls were removed and replaced by an earthen rampart protecting the cavalier. During the clashes that ensued in 1658 when the Polish forces attempted to drive away the invading Swedish army, the fortifications were heavily damaged. The reconstruction of the fortifications commenced in 1673. When the Swedish forces took over the city once again, they have attempted to diminish its defence potential by demolishing both of the barbicans, a substantial section of the walls protecting the New Town district near St Catherine’s Gate as well as the corner roundels - the Cat’s Tail and the Cat’s Head Towers, which, however, were later reconstructed during the 18th century. During the same period, the eastern section of the New Town walls has seen substantial alterations, including the introduction of the early modern foregate which now preceded St James’s Gate.

When the city was incorporated into Prussia once again after the Treaty of Vienna, the modernisation of the medieval fortifications has begun. Some of the fortified towers positioned along the southern section of the wall have been demolished, as have the Bath House Gate and the Sailors’ Gate, although in the latter case the demolition was not complete, for the curtain walls and the gates themselves have been left intact. The Crane Tower was merged with the nearby Swedish Granary, which now served as the fortress warehouse, and came equipped with a newly added hoist. The top section of the city walls was lowered and levelled, with the surface of the walls now pierced with vertical embrasures; in addition, terrepleins (platforms for riflemen) were also added, with the design of the section of the fortifications running alongside the river banks resembling that of a Carnot wall.

When barrel rifling became a common technique in firearms production during the second half of the 19th century, the rings of medieval and early modern fortifications have lost much of their former defensive value, with the process of their gradual demolition commencing in 1875. As a result, almost all gatehouses and towers in the western and northern sections of the wall protecting the Old and New Town districts have been torn down, leaving only a short section between the Cat’s Tail Roundel and the end of Prosta street as well as two gates within the inner wall, i.e. the Paulist Gate and the Coppersmiths’ Gate. The Bath House Gate was also allowed to remain, as it facilitated access to the riverside area. The inner ring of fortifications was replaced by a ring road inspired by the architecture of Vienna and accompanied by large green areas around which various public buildings have sprung up in the years that followed.

Description

The best-preserved sections of the medieval fortifications can be seen between the relics of the Old Toruń Gate complex, at the western edge of the medieval city, and along the Vistula river banks; the fortifications then turn north, near the Patrician Hall, and continue along Podmurna street towards the Cat’s Head Roundel, located at the corner of the complex. Further to the east there are also surviving remnants of the New Town walls in the form of the sections leading along the Wały gen. Sikorskiego street and Międzymurze street. Other, relatively short sections of the fortifications survive along the Św. Jakuba street as well as behind the former castle infirmary, on a plot of land on Wielkie Garbary street.

Remnants of the Old Toruń Gate complex - including the reconstructed ground-floor level of the gorge and the outer lining of the barbican moat - can be seen at the western end of Kopernika street. Further to the south lies a section of the wall leading up to the Leaning Tower, featuring reconstructed 13th-century crenellation as well as fragments of a brattice (hoarding) supported by an offset section of the wall and by wooden beams. The outer side of the wall features massive, stepped buttresses. A reconstructed ground-floor level of a now-defunct fortified tower can be seen in the area between the former gatehouse and the Leaning Tower. The Leaning Tower had originally been an open-gorged structure, with its timber-framed rear wall only added in the 15th century. It is a four-storey structure, its individual storeys separated by friezes. A reconstructed dansker can be seen in the south-western corner, formed by the city wall and the side of the Leaning Tower. In the 18th century, the Leaning Tower was transformed into a women’s prison, while during the 19th century it was adapted to serve as a residential building. The section of the city walls positioned between the Leaning Tower and the Monastery Gate underwent alteration works in the early modern period, with the new sections of the wall distinguishable due to the use of the so-called Dutch bond; further modifications were introduced in the 19th century. There is also a wicket gate, leading through the wall and towards the gateway to the Vistula riverside barracks. The Monastery Gate, located at the end of the Św. Ducha street, underwent alteration works on numerous occasions. Initially conceived as a pair of fortified towers flanking a single gateway in the centre, it was subsequently redesigned during the 14th and the 15th century; in the year 1500, it was extended upwards through the addition of a single storey, equipped with embrasures designed with riflemen in mind. The appearance of the gatehouse changed substantially in the early 19th century as well as towards the end of the same century.

Further to the east there is a wall running towards the so-called Dovecote Tower, its upper sections repaired in the 19th century. The Dovecote Tower was erected in the early 15th century, one of its walls based on an older, 13th-century defensive wall. It was designed as an enclosed structure right from the start, making it fit for the use of firearms; its embrasures were designed with arquebusiers in mind, allowing for the arquebus - a type of long gun - to be steadied against a hard surface when firing. The southern side of the tower is adorned with blind windows incorporating faux painted tracery. The tower was subsequently redesigned in the 1880s, resulting in an increase in the number of storeys to five in total, with the two uppermost storeys now serving as a dovecote for homing pigeons used by the military - hence its name. During the interwar period, the tower was adapted to serve residential purposes. The further section of the defensive walls was heavily modified in the 1820s. Tall buttresses can still be seen where the now-vanished fortified towers had once stood. An earthen bank originally designed as a terreplein can be seen near the Sailors’ Gate, on the city side. The Sailors’ Gate, positioned at the end of Żeglarska street (Sailors’ street), was originally constructed back in the 13th century and underwent subsequent alteration works in the 15th century. Despite being positioned near the water, the gate may have originally had a foregate - a feature which none of its counterparts in the city had. Somewhere around the year 1823, the gate underwent a substantial redesign. All that was left of the original gatehouse structure was a curtain wall with a passage, supported by two monumental pillars with decorative top sections on the inner side of the wall. Towards the end of the 19th century, two side wicket gates flanking the main gateway were punched through the solid defensive wall. The sections of the walls between the Sailors’ Gate and the end of Łazienna street feature an easily discernible outline of the crenellated parapet dating back to the 13th century. A reconstructed ground-floor section of one of the now-defunct fortified towers can be seen between the buttresses supporting the wall. At the level of Łazienna street, the course of the wall is interrupted. The gatehouse which had once existed here was first redesigned in a manner similar to that to the Sailors’ Gate, and then demolished completely towards the end of the 19th century. A shallow caponier, constructed during the period of the 19th-century modernisation of the fortifications, can be seen ahead of the Crane Tower, on the western side thereof. The tower itself retains its original, medieval floor plan, with the storeys positioned above the decorative frieze consisting of diagonally positioned bricks having been modified somewhere around the year 1823, as the tower was being adapted to accommodate a hoisting device designed to handle the various goods stored inside the granary behind the tower, which now served as the warehouse for food supplies. It is from this very period that the wide, segment-headed loading apertures in its southern façade originate, as does the timber-framed wall dormer projecting from the garret, wherein the hoisting device was installed. Inside, the tower features a reconstructed drum hoist mechanism.

The Bridge Gate is located at the end of the Mostowa street (Bridge street). The structure was erected in 1432 by Hans Gotland. The corners of the building are rounded, their design dictated by the needs of modern warfare based on the use of firearms. The gatehouse features a single passage, with a tall niche positioned on its southern side. It is topped by a crenellated parapet below which runs a frieze adorned with tracery decoration. The façade on the city side is accentuated by a trio of pointed-arch niches, which had - according to the available sources - originally incorporated painted decorations. Originally, the gatehouse was covered with a tall hip roof with rounded edges. In the early 19th century, the roof structure was replaced by a bomb-proof ceiling. The city wall on the Bridge Gate side runs towards the corner fortified tower known as the Watchtower, originally forming part of the castle grounds defensive complex and later incorporated into the structure of the townhouse of the Fraternity of St George (the Patrician Hall) after the castle itself was demolished in 1454. This section of the wall has been reduced substantially compared to its original height, which occurred after additional revetments were added to the so-called Gall zwinger positioned south of the wall. The wall positioned north of the Patrician Hall originally formed part of the castle defences. This section of the wall was modified on numerous occasions. A wicket gate originating from the late medieval period, constructed after 1484, is positioned on the axis of Ciasna street. The section of the wall located further away from the gate was remodelled in the early modern period. Fragments of a medieval wall have been preserved in the western façade of the building at 10 Podmurna street. All that remains of the section of the wall leading up to the Monstrance Tower are medieval foundations which serve as a basis for a much more recent, 19th-century wall. The Monstrance Tower itself is a polygonal structure, designed on an octagonal floor plan. It was erected after the year 1454. Its design made it possible for the crew of the tower to maintain enfilade fire using both firearms and crossbows. The tower is covered with a pyramid roof, reconstructed in the 1950s. The structure of the defensive walls is reinforced from the inside by a system of wall footings. The sections where the walls of the tower are bound with those of the defensive walls can be clearly seen in the southern and northern façades of the structure. Remnants of the now-vanished Coppersmiths’ Gate can still be seen at the crossing of Podmurna and Szeroka streets in the form of an outline on the street pavement, with the actual foundations of the structure being preserved below the ground level. Along a section of Podmurna street, between Szeroka and Szewska streets, vestiges of a low head wall can be seen in the structure of the peripheral walls of buildings located in the rear part of the plot of land positioned on the eastern side of the street. A pair of 13th-century fortified towers, designed on a rectangular floor plan, can be seen on the plots of land no. 26 and 30. Both of these towers had originally been open-gorged structures. In the 15th century, the towers were extended upwards, with each of them receiving a rear (western) wall and a roof. Later on, the former fortified towers were adapted to serve storage and residential purposes. At the extension of Szewska street, on the site of the now-vanished Paulist Gate, the spans of a medieval bridge are concealed beneath the ground, their level of preservation estimated at approximately 35%. In the 18th century, a tenement house owned by the municipal treasury office (Kämmerei) was erected on the site of the former bridge, standing on the subterranean remnants of its structure. On the eastern side of Podmurna street, between the junction with Szewska street and the Cat’s Head Tower, there is a tall wall featuring numerous external supports and putlock holes, the latter being a reminder of the rickety, squalid dwellings and shacks that clustered around the city walls from the Middle Ages onwards. On the parcel no. 60 stands a fortified tower which can trace its roots to the medieval period. Having started its life as an open-gorged tower, it was later converted into an enclosed structure through the addition of a timber-framed wall and a pyramid roof. During the 18th century, the tower was converted into a granary, with a crane being added in the 19th century. Somewhere around the year 1911, the tower was incorporated into a newly erected tenement house. The tower was reconstructed in the 1980s. In its northern façade there is a bricked-up doorway which had originally led to the brattice and the fighting platform on the top of the defensive wall. The fortified tower known as the Cat’s Head Tower, preceded by a Gothic wall, is positioned alongside the end section of the northern part of Podmurna street. The lower section of the tower takes the form of a round bastion, erected somewhere around the year 1500 on the site of the former polygonal tower. The original roundel was destroyed using explosives in 1703, yet it was later rebuilt before the century was over. Towards the end of the 19th century, the structure was in a state of utter ruin. Its interior served as a yard with a pit latrine. The tower was later thoroughly restored and extended upwards by a single storey in 1907, its top section now graced by a crenellated parapet. On the basement level, fragments of a corner section of 13th-century defensive walls can still be admired. A fragment of a similar round bastion known as the Cat’s Tail Tower, which had once protected the north-western corner of the Old Town district, has been preserved in the cellar of the detention centre administrative building on the Fosa Staromiejska street.

North-east of the Cat’s Head Tower, behind the public buildings positioned alongside the Wały Gen. Sikorskiego street, there is a preserved section of New Town walls which had surrounded the now-defunct Dominican monastery. Parts of the original crenellated parapet adorn the walls. The remaining sections of New Town fortifications have only been preserved in small fragments; one of them is located on the northern side of the Międzymurze street (a wall with a projecting section which had once supported a brattice or hoarding), while other sections can be seen at 20 Św. Jakuba street as well as behind the Primary School no. 1 on Wielkie Garbary street. In the course of the renovation works conduced on Św. Jadwigi street, remnants of the New Town Gate have been discovered. Originally, the gate stood opposite the now-defunct Coppersmiths’ Gate and remained in use before the merger of Old Town and New Town.

Limited access to the historical monument. All of the structures forming part of the complex can be viewed from the outside. Numerous fortified structures have been converted into various eateries, a hotel, residential buildings as well as office buildings of public institutions. The remnants of the Cat’s Tail Tower are sporadically made available to visitors. Due to the changing use of each structure, visitors are advised to seek up-to-date information in this regard.

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

Bibliography

  • Gąsiorowski E., Średniowieczne obwarowania Torunia, Toruń 2007.
  • Jasiński T., Toruń XIII-XIV wieku- lokacja miast toruńskich i początki ich rozwoju (1231-1350), [in:] Historia Torunia, vol. I W czasach średniowiecza (do roku 1454), Toruń 1999.
  • Kola R., Urządzenie wyciągowe w baszcie Żuraw w Toruniu, “Inne Oblicza Historii”, online edition http://ioh.pl/artykuly/pokaz/urzdzenie-wycigowe-w-baszcie-uraw-w-Toruniu,1018/ access 16.12.2014.
  • Mikulski K., Problem tzw. „wyspy toruńskiej w świetle źródeł podatkowych z końca XIV i pierwszej połowy XV wieku, “Zapiski Historyczne” 1996, issue 1.
  • Stankiewicz J., Twierdza Toruń part 1, “Zapiski Historyczne: 1972, vol. XXXVII, issue 4.
  • Tandecki J., Toruń. Historia i rozwój przestrzenny, [in:] Atlas historyczny miast polskich vol. I: Prusy Królewskie i Warmia, issue 2: Toruń, Toruń 1995.
  • Dąbrowski P., Kucharzewska J., Dokumentacja konserwatorska: Rozwarstwienia architektoniczne murów Bramy Klasztornej w Toruniu, Toruń 2007, archive of the Municipal Monument Protection Officer in Toruń.
  • Dąbrowski P., Kucharzewska J., Dokumentacja konserwatorska: rozwarstwienia chronologiczne murów baszty „Gołębnik” w Toruniu, Toruń 2007, archive of the Municipal Monument Protection Officer in Toruń.

General information

  • Type: defensive wall
  • Chronology: XIII w. - pocz. XIV w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Toruń
  • Location: Voivodeship kujawsko-pomorskie, district Toruń, commune Toruń
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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