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Welcome to Toruń

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CITY

Rich in historical monuments, Toruń ranks among the most beautiful cities in Poland. It was established in 1233 on the right bank of the Vistula River, on the borderline between the Kujawy and Chelmno regions, originally on an as yet unidentified site some 7 kilometres further west on the Vistula. Several years later the town was moved to its present location, which was at th at time occupied by an earlier, probably destroyed, fortified settIement.

Within the emerging state of the Teutonic Order Toruń enjoyed a period of dynamic growth culminating in the 14th century. As aresult, Toruń became one of the leading commercial centres in this part of Europe. One of the essential factors determining its growth was the convenient location on the Vistula, which at that time was the main water transport route in this part of Europe. During some periods, sea-going vessels could go as far up-river as Toruń. The affluent town successfully competed with such commercial giants as Lübeck, Bruges and Hamburg.

This role of the city left a mark on the layout of the Old Town, where even today some characteristics typical of medieval port cities can be seen. The Old Town, the New Town (established in 1264), and the Teutonic Knights' Castle form one of the best preserved settiement complexes in Northern Europe. All three were surrounded by walls, which also separated the Old Town from the New. The entire Old Town complex of Toruń became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

The city's magnificent monuments of Gothic architecture bring back those days of splendour. The rapid development of the town and the prosperity of its residents created by their bustling commercial activity resulted in such projects as the conversion of the existing building of the old town hall into one of Europes grandest buildings of that kind. The burgher community growing in such a favourable environment undoubtedly also shaped the personality of Nicolaus Copernicus who was born in Toruń in 1473 and spent his childhood and early adolescence here.

Half way through the 15th century Toruń passed under the rule of the Polish monarchy, together with the entire Vistula Pomeranian region. In the 16th century the town had to surrender its position in European commerce to Gdansk, while remaining a major centre of Renaissance cultural, religious, and academie life. The academie High School, established in 1568, became a centre of intellectual activity. The heyday of the city's cultural prominence was marked by the reconstruction of the Town Hall in the early 1600s, as a result of which it became one of the most remarkable buildings of its kind in Europe.

However, the Swedish wars in the 17th and early 18th centuries brought an end to the prosperity of the city on the Vistula. Mounting religious controversies in the city led to the outbreak of the so-called Toruń Tumult in 1724 and, consequently, to the decline of the city when, following the 2nd partition of Poland, it fell under Prussian rule. After the Napoleonic wars, Toruń was systematically transformed into a fortress guarding the border between Prussia and Russia on the river Drweca, which obviously did not facilitate the general development of the city. The situation remained unchanged until 1920, when Toruń was made the capital of the huge Pomeranian Voivodship within the reinstated Republic.

An important event in Toruń's history was the establishment of Nicolaus Copernicus University in 1945, to continue the traditions of Stefan Batory University of Vilnius. After a number of relatively unsuccessful attempts to industrialise it in the postwar days, Toruń, with its 200,000 inhabitants, remains chiefly a vibrant cultural and academie centre, while its numerous monuments and cultural events continue to attract a great number of tourists.

MAJOR ARCHITECTURAL MONUMENTS

Old Town Hall Artus Hall Church of the Holy Ghost Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary The Star residence Church of SS. Johns Copernicus Museum Eskens' Palace Dambski Palace Zeglarska Gate Vistula embankment and Mostowa Gate Burghers' Court Tuetonic Knights' Castle Church of the Holy Trinity St James' Church Garrison Church of St Catherine Torun Scientific Scociety Site of the non-extant Dominican monastery and St Nicholas' Church Ethnographic Museum Wilan Horzyka Theatre Collegium Maius Collegium Minus Leaning Tower Toruń map

  1. Old Town Hall
  2. Artus Hall
  3. Church of the Holy Ghost
  4. Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  5. The Star residence
  6. Church of SS. Johns
  7. Copernicus Museum
  8. Eskens' Palace
  9. Dambski Palace
  10. Zeglarska Gate
  11. Vistula embankment and Mostowa Gate
  12. Burghers' Court
  13. Tuetonic Knights' Castle
  14. Church of the Holy Trinity
  15. St James' Church
  16. Garrison Church of St Catherine
  17. Torun Scientific Scociety
  18. Site of the non-extant Dominican monastery and St Nicholas' Church
  19. Ethnographic Museum
  20. Wilan Horzyka Theatre
  21. Collegium Maius
  22. Collegium Minus
  23. Leaning Tower

The Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall and in particular the Statue of Nicolaus Copernicus in front of it (cast in bronze according to F. Tieck's design, unveiled in 1853) have come to serve as a meeting point for both the city's inhabitants and visitors. The surroundings of the statue, formerly converted to fit a tramline, returned to their original shape in 2003. The present Town Hall dates back to the end of the 14th century, when the existing administrative and commercial buildings erected in Old Town Market Square in the l3th and 14th centuries were incorporated into one structure. The buildings included: a merchant house and cloth hall, stalls and so-called bread benches, a tower and the first town hall, as well as a courthouse and town-scales. In l393 when the City Council was granted a privilege to build a new town hall, all those separate structures were incorporated into a single two-storey quadrangle which fulfilled all the functions listed above. The work was carried out by Master Andrzej, the city master-builder of that time. The years 1603-1604 saw a thorough reconstruction of the Town Hall. A third storey was added, as were mannerist corner turrets and gables on the axes of the facades, and the interiors were richly furnished. The Town Hall, a symbol of the city's merchant wealth, was a place where Polish kings would stay on their visits to Toruń. In 1501 King John Olbracht died here, in the King's Hall. Between 1722-1737 the Town Hall was restored after the damage caused by the Swedish 1703 siege (the late-Baroque gables and some of the furnishings, e.g. the beautiful inlaid doors date back to that period). The Town Hall now houses the District Museum. Located on the Vistula River route, Toruń used to attract rafters transporting goods up and down the river. Today the Rafters Fountain located in Old Town Market Square commemorates the old rafter's tradition of Toruń. The statue of a young fiddler surrounded by frogs standing in the middle of the fountain is one of the best-established symbols of Toruń. Legend has it that, charming them with his music, the young rafter led out of town frogs that had been plaguing its powerless residents with their burdensome presence for quite a long time.

Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall
Artus Hall
Artus Hall

Artus Hall

Artus Hall (located on the south side of Old Town Market Square) was the heart of Toruńs patrician cultural life. It was also the scene of many historie events, such as the signing of the second Toruń Peace Agreement in 1466, which ended the Thirteen Years' War with the Teutonic Knights and Royal Prussia became the exclusive property of the Polish king and Polish kingdom. The region possessed certain privileges such as the minting of its own coins, its own military, and its own administrative usage of the German language. The impressive neo-Renaissance structure we see today was erected towards the end of the 19th century on the site of a medieval court.

Church of the Holy Ghost

The present Jesuit Church of the Holy Ghost (in the south-west corner of Old Town Market Square) was built in the 18th century as an evangelical chapel (according to the design by A. Bähr and F. Schöger). The massive neo-Baroque steeple (designed by K. Schäfer and H. Hartung) was added to the late-Baroque three-aisle hall church much later, at the end of the 19th century.

Church of the Holy Ghost
Church of the Holy Ghost
Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Church of the Blessed Virgin Maria

The brick Gothic Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary with three stellar-vaulted aisles, all 27-metre-high, is one of the prime examples ofthe so-called high hall. It was built in stages during the 14th century as the church of the Franciscan monastery, established in Toruń before 1239. The northern aisle of the church incorporates the former southern cloister, above which a gallery was constructed. Some late 14th century frescos, and early 15th century oaken stalIs have been preserved from the Franciscan period. In the mid 1500s the church was taken over by the Lutherans. In the presbytery stands the early-Baroque tomb of Anna Vasa, Sigismund III's famous sister, a Lutheran. We can also find here numerous epitaphs oflocal patricians, including that of the Neissers, with the oldest existing panorama of Toruń (1594) and a 1609 organ, all of which are associated with the Protestant period. After 1724 the church was taken over by the Bernardine monks, in whose possession it remained until the beginning of the 19th century. Most of the Baroque interior decor dates back to this period, including the late-Baroque high altar (1731). When the monastery was Iiquidated in 1821 the monastery buildings, which had been damaged during the sieges of the city in 1806 and 1813, were pulled down, while the church, after the necessary repairs, became a parish church.

The Star residence

Close to the statue of Nicolaus Copernicus, on the eastern side of Old Town Market Square, stands The Star residence, owned in the years 1465-1466 by the famous ltalian humanist and tutor of King Casimir Jagiellonians sons, Filippo Buonacorsi, also known as Callimachus. Its magnificent Baroque facade (1697) with characteristic fruit-and-flower ornamentation as well as the richly decorated spiral staircase inside date back to the period of the thorough reconstruction of the residence which was completed in 1697. The layout of the interior with a high anteroom has preserved the characteristic features of burgher residences typical of 15th century Northern Europe. The building now houses the Far Eastern Art section of the District Museum in Toruń.

Star Residence
Star Residence
Church of SS Johns
Church of SS Johns

Old Town parish Church of SS Johns

Walking from Old Town Market Square towards the Vistula along Zeglarska Street, we approach Toruń's oldest church which dominates the panorama of the city, the former Old Town parish Church of SS Iohns, now the cathedral of the Toruń diocese, established in 1992. Construction works were initiated in 1260, but the church was given its present form - a high three-aisle hall with a characteristic monumental steeple - in the 1Sth century. Its belfry houses the second largest bell in Poland, named "Tuba Dei", cast in 1500. Inside, among the rich decor accrued over the ages, we find a medieval baptismal font where Nicolaus Copernicus is said to have been baptized, an epitaph commemorating Copernicus erected in the 16th century by Melchior Pirnesius, a Toruń burgher, as well as the oldest (l8th century) monument to the great astronomer. A 14th century wall painting showing the Crucifixion on the Tree of Life has survived in the presbytery, as have murals representing SS Johns at the back behind the altar. The main altar contains a late-Gothic triptych made in a Toruń workshop. The wooden figures represent SS Wolfgang (in the centre), Bartholomew and James the Great. Over the altar there is a 16th century crucifix. The tombstone of Mayor Johann von Soest and his wife Margarete in the presbytery, made in a workshop in Bruges around 1360, is an outstanding example of medieval art. Also in the presbytery, by the entrance to the sacristy, is a stone console with a bust of Moses (ca. 1390). Along with the Beautiful Madonna from Toruń, missing since 1944 (a copy is now displayed), the console was part of a non-extant altar.

Nicolaus Copernicus Museum

Near SS Johns'vChurch, in Kopernika Street, stand two Gothic townhouses: No. 17 (late 15th century facade) and No. 15 (mid 14th century). It is said that Copernicus was born in one of the houses on 19 February 1473. The building now houses the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum. Among the exhibits is a model of 15th century Toruń. The house at No. 15 has a well preserved medieval layout and some of the original furnishings.

Nicolaus Copernicus Museum
Nicolaus Copernicus Museum
Esken Palace
Esken Palace
Esken Palace

The Esken Palace (situated behind the Church of SS Johns at 16, Lazienna Street) is a Gothic house which was reconstructed in the late 16th century in the Renaissance style as a palace of the Eskens, a Toruń patrician family. The entrance portal (ca. 1590) is attributed to Willem van den Blocke, a Gdansk sculptor. In the 19th century, the house was converted into a granary - hence its name: the Red Granary. At present, following restoration works, the palace houses the History and Archaeology Department of the District Museum.

Dambski Palace

Near the Zeglarska Gate, at 8, Zeglarska Street, stands the baroque Dambski Palace built in 1693 by bishop Stanislaw Dambski, whose facade is decorated with festoon stucco-work. The palace currently houses the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Nicolaus Copernicus University.

Dambski Mansion
Dambski Mansion
Zeglarska Gate
Zeglarska Gate

Zeglarska Gate

Passing through the Zeglarska Gate, we walk east along the surviving city walls with numerous gates and towers facing the Vistula. These walls, together with the fragments of fortifications in Podmurna Street and Rapackiego Square, are the remains of a huge Old Town defensive system dating back to the 13th century. In addition to a double line of walls, the system comprised 8 gates and some 30 towers: the main wall was 120 cm thick on average and up to 6 m high. For nearly 500 years the walls successfully withstood attacks of enemies to finally succumb at the beginning of the 18th century to the Swedes, who partially destroyed them. The walls were pulled down in the second half of the 19th century.

Vistula embankment and Mostowa Gate

The Vistula embankment, now a boulevard, is a favourite walking area. As late as the 1960s it still served the same function as in the Middle Ages: that of a port. Marek Piwowski immortalized the embankment in his film The Cruise. Two bridges - a railway bridge built in the years 1870-1873, and a road bridge built in the 1920s and 30s - mark the limits of the embankment. Going along the embankment we reach the most impressive of Toruń's existing gates, the Mostowa Gate. Until the second half of the 19th century it opened onto the oldest wooden bridge in Toruil constructed towards the end of the 15th century.

Mostowa Gate
Mostowa Gate
Burghers Hall
Burgher's Hall

Burgher's Hall

Beyond the Mostowa Gate we pass the Burghers' Hall (the summer residence of the Brotherhood of St. George) built in 1489 which was a social meeting place along with the adjoining garden and moat. At the beginning of the 19th century it became municipal property and was converted into a tenement house. Currently it is the seat of the Association for Cooperation with the Twin Towns of Toruń.

Remains of the Teutonic Knight's Castle

We enter the grounds of the remains of the Teutonic Knights' CastIe established after 1236 on the site of an older castle; its horseshoe plan is unusual for such later castles. The castle was the headquarters of a Commander and of one of the most important convents of the Teutonic Knights. It was torn down during the 1454 burgher uprising against the Teutonic Knights. From 1958 to 1966 the remains were examined by archaeologists, tidied up, and preserved. The "Gdanisko" tower linked with the castle by means of a porch supported by arcades, used to serve as a latrine.

Teutonic Knights Castle
Teutonic Knights Castle
Church of the Holy Trinity
Church of the Holy Trinity

Church of the Holy Trinity

After leaving the castle premises, we go down Przedzamcze and Królowej Jadwigi streets until we enter New Town Market Square. In its centre, where originally stood the New Town Hall, later used as an Evangelical church, there towers the massive neo-Gothic structure of the Church of the Holy Trinity built in the 19th century. Completed in 1824, the building had been designed in cooperation with the prominent German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The church served the Lutheran congregation of Toruń until World War I. Later, in the mid-war period, it was handed over to the congregation of Russian Orthodox exiles who would come and settle in Toruń in big numbers. At present the building serves as the seat of the TUMULT Foundation. One of the eighteenth-century baroque townhouses surrounding the square is a café called Blue Apron Inn. The original name of the inn that existed there in the Middle Ages has been maintained to preserve the old tradition of the place.

St. James' Church

From New Town Market Square we see the most precious building in this part of Toruń, the three-aisle basilica-type Gothic St. James's Church (the New Town parish church) dating back to the mid 14th century, with its characteristic "double saddie" roof. This parish church was originally administered by the Cistercian nuns and subsequently by the Benedictine nuns. In the years 1557-1667 it was a protestant church. It was then returned to the Benedictine nuns, in whose care it remained until the dissolution of the order in 1834. The interior furnishings come, for the most part, from a non-extant Dominican church (e.g. the late 14th century Gothic "Mystical" crucifix in the south aisle). The interior is decorated with 14th - and 15th -century paintings representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, and popular Medieval Saints. In the presbytery hangs a magnificent passion painting from the second half of the 15th century. The main altar with a painting of St. James is a Baroque piece from the first half of the 18th century. Most of the side altars and the arch between the presbytery and the nave are Baroque as well.

St James Church
St James Church
St Catherine Church
St Catherine Church

Garrison Church of St. Catherine

Outside the perimeter of the New Town stands the Neo-Gothic garrison Church of St. Catherine, built in the years 1894-1897, whose steeple (86 m) is the tallest in Toruri; already in the Middle Ages a suburban St. Catberine's Chapel stood on this spot.

Seat of the Toruń Scientific Society

Close to Prosta Street, the main street of the New Town, at the intersection of Wysoka and Dominikanska Street, is the seat of the Toruń Scientific Society erected in 1881. In the days of the partitions this institution, established in 1875, served as the centre of Polish academie and cultural life. To this day it is one of the most active scientific societies in Poland.

Scientific Society
Scientific Society
Dominican Monastery
Dominican Monastery

St. Nicholas' Dominican monastery and church

Prior to 1834 the area across Dominikanska Street was occupied by St. Nicholas' Dominican monastery and church. The Dominican monastery was established here in the 14th century and torn down in 1834 at the order of the Prussian authorities. Beautiful 14th-century stained-glass windows were moved from the monastery to Malbork Castle and some of the pieces that survived war damage are now on display in the District Museum in the Old Town Hall, while many sculptures and paintings are now in St. James's Church. The recently exposed foundations of the church have been made accesible to visitors. The post-Dominican premises were built over with military buildings in the 19th century, among which there was a massive food storehouse, the so-called ew Arsenal, which now houses offices and service centres. Next to the Arsenal, located in Waly Generata Sikorskiego street, stands a former Calvinist church. Called St. Stephen's Church today, it serves the Augsburg Evangelical congregation of Toruń. This neo-Gothic building was constructed in 1903-1904 to a design by the architect Heinrich Gans from Berlin. In 1921-1945 the church was used by Polish Evangelists. Its interior boasts an early eighteenth-century painting, which is the only element that has remained from the original furnishings of the former Church of the Holy Trinity.

Ethnographic Museum Complex

To the north of the Old Town, in the former Chelrninskie district, on the site of the non-extant St. Lawrences Church, is the Ethnographic Museum complex, whose most notable piece of architecture is the classicistic Prussian arsenal from 1824. Behind the museum established in 1959, there is an ethnographic park featuring traditional rural buildings of the Kujawy and Pomerania regions (such as Kujawy, Kaszuby, and Tuehola farmhouses and a windmill).

Ethnographic Museum
Ethnographic Museum
Wilam Horzyca Theatre
Wilam Horzyca Theatre

Wilam Horzyca Theatre

Closer to the edge of the Old Town, on what used to be the moat, at the end of Chelrninska Street, stands the striking bright building of the Wilam Horzyca Theatre built in an eclectic style with Secessionist elements according to the design by the Viennese F. Fellner and H. Helmer, opened in 1904.

Collegium Maius

Past the theatre, walking along the northern and western perimeter of the Old Town, we pass three buildings of Nicolaus Copernicus University. One of them is the Collegium Maius, located in the former vocational school erected in the years 1906-1907. The edifice, which served as the Provincial Administration Office before the last war, now houses various departments of the Faculty of Language and Literature Studies.

Collegium Maius
Collegium Maius
Collegium Minus
Collegium Minus

Collegium Minus

The second is the Collegium Minus, also known as the Accordion, housing the Faculty of Humanities, built in 1935 according to the design by J. Wierzbicki. Before the last war, the National Bailiwick was located here. The building, very innovative in the days when it was built, is an example of Constructivism. The third new-renaissance building called Collegium Maximum (housing the university museum) is located in Rapacki Square (Plac Rapackiego). This former Reich's Bank was designed by the Berlin architect Julius Habicht.

Leaning Tower

Walking across one of the city's major junctions, Rapacki Square, teeming with greenery in the summer, and crossing Kopernika Street, we reach a picturesque fragment of the city walls by the non-extant Starotorunska Gate. One of the towers in this stretch of the wall is the famous Leaning Tower of Toruń. It was connected to the town ramparts by a shooting gallery which ran through openings in the side walls of the tower. The tower lost its defensive function in the 18th century. A front wall facing the city was added and the ceilings levelled. The Leaning Tower became a prison, later converted into a dwelling house. Because of a considerable shiftiness of the ground the tower has deviated from the perpendicular by 146 cm.

Leaning Tower
Leaning Tower
Torun
Torun

SITES OUTSIDE THE HISTORICAL CITY CENTRE

SS Peter and Paul's Church and the Monastery of the Reformati Order

The Baroque SS Peter and Paul's Church and the Monastery of the Reformati Order (now a parish church) founded in 1644 by the Dybów bailiff and Bydgoszcz Castellan, Stanislaw Sokolowski, is located on the left bank of the Vistula in Podgórz, a town which was not incorporated into Toruń until 1938.

Dybów Castle

Also on the left bank of the Vistula, close to the road bridge, are the remains of Dybów Castle built in the times of Vladislav Jagiello. During the period when Toruń belonged to the Polish Commonwealth, the castle was the seat of the king's bailiff. On many occasions the castle served as a residence of Polish kings. It went to rack and ruin during the Swedish wars in the mid 17th century. Only the lower parts of the residential building and the wall of the external yard with fragments of the gate tower have survived to this day.

Stronghold fortifications On the outskirts of the city, on most of the routes leading into the city, we can see structures erected by the Prussians in the 1880s, all of which form a part of the stronghold fortifications. At that time several hundred structures, including 15 massive forts (with a garrison of 700-1000 men), formed a ring of fortifications measuring 7-8 km in diameter. The fort in Polna Street is a place of martyrdom where many Poles from Toruń and the surrounding regions were killed between October 1939 and January 1940.


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