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Torun: the medieval jewel of Poland

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Torun is an important river port and a city of around two hundred thousand inhabitants. The city is also the capital of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian (Województwo kujawsko-pomorskie) voivodeship together with the city of Bydgoszcz. Torun is after Krakow, the second best preserved city in Poland and one of the most important tourist destinations in the country. Located on the Vistula River it was founded in 1231 by the Teutonic Knights, as a basis for the evangelization of Prussia. It later became the largest city in the Teutonic state and an important commercial center of the Hanseatic League.

In 1454, the city became part of Poland, losing its commercial importance, obscured by the rise of the port of Gdansk on the Baltic Sea. Despite this, it managed to become an important center of science and culture during the reform and renaissance. In Torun, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was born, a famous astronomer and founder of modern astronomy. In 1793, it was annexed to Prussia. The city remained part of Germany with the name of Thorn until 1920.

In 1997, UNESCO included the medieval city of Torun on the list of world heritage sites.

WHAT TO SEE: THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF TORUN

Torun is a small historic merchant city which still maintains its ancient medieval appearance with its streets and palaces. Fortunately, in fact, the city did not undergo any particular destruction during the Second World War, and is very well preserved. Another positive aspect for the visitor is that today its historic center is almost entirely a pedestrian precinct.

The ancient part of the city is made up of three urban sections: the Old City (1233), the New City (1264) and the Teutonic Castle (mid-13th century). Both in the Old Town and in the New Town there are many palaces and buildings, public and private, of the XIV and XV centuries (including also the house of Nicolaus Copernicus).

The Gothic of its buildings is the main attraction of Torun, here you can find numerous Gothic churches and palaces, which testify to the importance of the city between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

THE CITY WALL AND THE CASTLE

The whole ancient part of the city (Stare Miasto) was once surrounded by a fortified medieval wall, built between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The city wall was 4 kilometers long, had 11 access gates, and was reinforced by 54 bastions (33 in the Old City and 21 in the New City). The walls were also formed by a double line of fortified walls divided between them by a moat full of water. In fact, only on the side of the Vistula river did the walls have a single line of defense.

Today Torun still retains part of the city walls, tracts remain for a total of 1,000 meters. The remains of the walls are mainly found along the Vistula. 9 bastions and 3 of the ancient gates, built in the fifteenth century, are visible: Gate of the Monastery (Brama Klasztorna), Gate of the Bridge (Brama Mostowa) and the Gate of the Sailors (Brama Żeglarska).

On a small elevation along the banks of the Vistula, there are the ruins of the Castle of the Knights of the Teutonic Order (Zamek Krzyżacki), built between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was the first castle built by the Teutons in Poland. The castle was destroyed during the popular revolt against the Knights of the Teutonic Order of 1454. Today there are suggestive ruins including the Gdanisko tower.

THE OLD TOWN

THE OLD TOWN HALL

Our visit to the city can begin from the so-called Old Town. This part of the inhabited center was built starting from 1233. The central square of this sector of the city is the one where the Old Town Hall (Ratusz Staromiejski) is located. One of the largest medieval town halls in Europe. Monumental building rich in sumptuous interiors, built in the second half of the thirteenth century in the style of the Flanders town halls. The palace was remodeled in the Renaissance style in the 17th century. In 1703 part of the building was destroyed by fire. The building is flanked by a 40 meters high tower from which you have a beautiful view over the city.

Another valuable building in the square is the House at the sign of the Star (Kamienica Pod Gwiazda), built between the 14th and 15th centuries. It was enlarged at the end of the 16th century, becoming one of the most sumptuous Baroque houses in the city. Remarkable the rich facade, the house houses a museum dedicated to the Orient. On the square is the monument to Nicolaus Copernicus and there is also the Arthus Palace (Dwor Artusa). A neo-Renaissance building from the end of the 19th century, built in place of the fifteenth-century building which housed the St George Brotherhood. Also nearby is the Church of the Holy Spirit (Kosciol Sw. Ducha), an 18th century building, originally a Lutheran church.

Near the town hall square is the Franciscan Church of Saint Mary (Kosciol Mariacki), a 14th century Gothic building. Inside you can see interesting frescoes from the second half of the fourteenth century, a beautiful organ, and a Baroque altar. While in the presbytery is the baroque mausoleum of Anne Vasa (1568-1625), sister of the king of Poland Sigismundus III.

THE COPERNICO MUSEUM

Probably the most visited museum in the city is the one located in the House of Nicolaus Copernicus (Dom Mikołaja Kopernika). This museum consists of two typical 15th century merchant houses with a beautiful Gothic facade, one of which was the family home of Nicolaus Copernicus. The museum is dedicated to the figure of the great astronomer.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist (Bazylika katedralna św. Janow w Toruniu) is another of the city’s three Gothic churches. Built starting from the thirteenth century, its construction was completed in the fifteenth century. Inside there are Gothic sculptures. While the presbytery contains some 16th century frescoes. From the bell tower of the cathedral you can admire a beautiful panorama of the city. We therefore find the Stanislaw Dambski Palace (Palac Dambskich), built in 1693 by Bishop Stanislaw Dambski, it is a Baroque palace with a richly decorated facade in floral stucco. Today it houses the University’s Fine Arts department.

Continuing from the Cathedral to the Teutonic Castle we find the Eskens House (Dom Eskenow), a large Renaissance patrician house, transformed into a barn in the nineteenth century, now home to the museum of archeology and history. Near the Castle and the Vistula there is the Palace St George Brotherhood (Dwor Bractwa sw. Jerzego), a Gothic-style palace of the fifteenth century, was one of the residences of the St George Brotherhood. The structure incorporated a watchtower (Wieża Wartownia) of the city walls.

THE NEW CITY

Moving on to the New Town built from 1264, it is worth visiting: the St. Jacob’s Church (Kosciol Sw. Jakuba). This is the main church in this part of the city, a Gothic basilica built in the thirteenth century. Inside there are precious Gothic frescoes of the fourteenth century. Next to the church is the Benedictine cloister. Throughout the historic city, the facades of old stately homes are to be found, Torun has the largest concentration of Gothic houses in Poland, about 200, many with original frescoes and ceilings from the 16th-17th centuries.

A sight not to be missed is the view of the city at night, numerous buildings and the city walls are masterfully illuminated, creating a beautiful scenic effect.

WHAT TO SEE: MUSEUMS IN TORUN

There are five main museums in the city, they are part of the so-called Museum District of Torun (Muzeum Okręgowego w Toruniu):

THE COPERNICO MUSEUM

The House of Nicolaus Copernicus (Dom Mikołaja Kopernika), museum located in two typical 15th century merchant houses, one of which is his family house with a beautiful Gothic facade. The museum is dedicated to the figure of the great astronomer and has 6 different permanent exhibitions: the model of the reconstruction of the medieval Toruń. Mercantile culture in Toruń at the time of Nicolaus Copernicus. Nicolaus Copernicus: his life and his work. The reconstruction of Copernicus’ oldest memorabilia collection. The world of Torun gingerbread. The study of a schoolboy.

THE OLD TOWN HALL

The Old Town Hall (Ratusz Staromiejski): inside this monumental building, one of the largest medieval town halls in Europe, full of sumptuous interiors, there are 8 permanent exhibitions. The Gothic art gallery (sculptures, sacred paintings, medieval art , painted windows). The artistic crafts of old Torun, 1233-1793. Torun mint and coins, 1233 / 1238-1765 (numismatic); the court; the citizens’ gallery (portraits of illustrious citizens); the royal hall (portraits of the king of Poland); gallery of Polish painters from the 18th to the 20th century (Matejko, Kossak, Chelmonski, Wyspianski, Witkiewicz, Grottger); the treasures Skrwilno and Nieszawa (ancient gold works from the 14th to the 20th century).

THE STAR HOUSE

The House at the sign of the Star (Kamienica Pod Gwiazda), in one of the most sumptuous Baroque houses in the city. There is a museum dedicated to the Eastern world, with objects of ancient art, weapons, sculptures, ceramics from China, Japan, Korea, India, Vietnam, etc.

THE ESKENS HOUSE

The Eskens House (Dom Eskenow), this archeology and history museum is located inside a large Renaissance patrician house, it has 3 permanent exhibitions: discovering the past (archeology exhibition, with finds from the late Paleolithic to the early Middle Ages). Torun 1793-1920, the border town (relating to the political, cultural, social and economic history of Torun and its region during the Prussian era). Armaments from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the 20th century (collection of European and Oriental weapons, including medieval swords, muskets from the 16th-17th centuries, etc.).

THE MUSEUM OF EXPLORERS

The Tony Halik Museum of Explorers (Muzeum Podroznikow), a museum dedicated to travel and housed in an old barn, houses photographs taken by Polish explorers from around the world.

Torun’s other interesting museums include the Gingerbread Museum (Muzeum Piernika), the Ethnographic Museum and Park (Muzeum i Park Etnograficzny). University Natural History Museum (Muzeum Przyrodnicze Uniwersytetu Mikolaja Kopernika), the Fishing and Fishing Museum. ‘Agriculture (Zagroda Rybacko-Rolnicza). The University Astronomical Observatory Niccolò Copernico (Obserwatorium Astronomiczne Uniwersytetu Mikolaja Kopernika), the Planetarium (Planetarium im. Wladyslawa Dziewulskiego). Prussian Battery Museum Park (1895-1897) (Skansierdecz Forty Bateria AB IV).

HOW TO GET TO TORUN

Plane: Torun does not have its own airport, the nearest airports are located in Gdansk (Gdansk) (180 km), Poznan (150 km) and Warsaw (210 km).

Bus: There are international bus connections of the Sira-Sokol and Eurolines Polska companies, which reach Torun from some European countries. Other international bus companies have regular connections to Torun from Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands. The bus station (Dworzec Autobusowy) is located in the city center (8-24, Dabrowskiego Street), where both local and international buses arrive.

Train: Torun is well connected by train with all major Polish cities. The rail service is guaranteed by the PKP (Polish National Railways). The train station is located in the city center.

The climate of Torun.

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