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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Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.