Medieval Town of Torun

Toruń, Poland

Toruń is a small historic trading city that preserves to a remarkable extent its original street pattern and outstanding early buildings, providing an exceptionally complete picture of the medieval way of life. These buildings in Toruń represent the highest achievements of medieval architecture in brick. The unique spatial layout of Toruń has survived almost intact and provides valuable source material for the history of town development in medieval Europe.

Toruń is situated in the region known in the Middle Ages as the Land of Chelmno. It was granted a town charter in 1233; a fort had been built in the early medieval period to the south-east of the town, facing the river, and this was rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Teutonic Order. The original function of Toruń was a base for the conquest and colonization of Prussia. However, the Old Town had quickly developed as a major commercial centre for trade between the Baltic and Eastern Europe, along the Vistula to towns such as Pskov, Novgorod and Vladimir. This commercial role expanded as the century proceeded. Toruń became the leading member of the Hanseatic League in the territories ruled by the Teutonic Order. The New Town developed from 1264 to the north of the castle and the east of the Old Town as a centre for crafts and industry. Toruń was one of the most important artistic centres, in particular in architecture, in this part of Europe. It was endowed with many architectural masterpieces, which were to exert a powerful influence on the Teutonic state and neighbouring countries. The astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Toruń in 1473 and spent his youth there. The Swedish wars and the crisis in Poland in the 17th century brought the town"s prosperity to an end.

The Old Town, which forms the western part of the complex, is laid out around its central Market Place. The street pattern to the south, up to the river, is regular, with five parallel streets running down to the river intersected by cross-streets. The part to the north is also based on perpendicular streets, but they are laid out in a less regular fashion. The main feature of the Market Square is the imposing Old Town Hall, built in 1391-99 using some elements, including the tower of 1274, from its predecessor. An additional storey was added, in full conformity with the Gothic form of the building, in 1602-5. The Parish Church of St John (Cathedral of Toruń since 1992) was built in stages. The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, formerly the church of the Grey Friars (Franciscans), contains 14th-century wall paintings, as well as some fine Baroque furnishings. The Old Town was fortified progressively between 1250 and 1300 with a double wall strengthened by bastions; these fortifications were reconstructed in 1420-49 and partly dismantled in the 19th century, but most of the southern sector facing the river survives intact, with gates and towers.

In the New Town, the Parish Church of St James is another fine building in late Gothic style. Its interior contains many Baroque furnishings. The Blackfriars (Dominican) Church of St Nicholas was almost entirely demolished in the 19th century. However, the remains of the church and its cloister have been excavated and laid out as a public park. Most of the Castle of the Teutonic Order was destroyed during the uprising of 1454. The remains have been excavated and laid out for public presentation as a museum. Both the Old and the New Town are rich in fine medieval brick burgher houses, many of which retain their original Gothic facades and interior fittings (partition walls, ceilings, painted decoration). Because of the survival of so many houses from this period, the medieval plots are for the most part still preserved, delineated by their original brick boundary walls.

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