Meet Toruń, the Polish town coined by UNESCO to be a remarkably well preserved example of a medieval European trading and administrative centre. Situated on the banks of Vistula River, Toruń was founded when Christianity was being spread through Eastern Europe by the military monks of the Teutonic order and expanding trade between the countries of the Baltic Sea and Eastern Europe was being driven forward by the Hanseatic League (The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe in the 1100s). The town went on to become a leading member of the Hanseatic League in the territories ruled by the Teutonic Order.
The town can be divided into three parts – The Teutonic Castle, the Old Town and the New Town. The combination of the castle with the two towns, surrounded by a circuit of defensive walls, represents a rare form of medieval settlement agglomeration.
The Toruń Castle
The castle was one of the pioneering ones built by the Teutonic order in the land succeeded to them by the Duke Conrad of Mazovia. The castle took a hundred years to build, since it’s conception in the 13th century. The palace’s historic value comes from the fact that it was the base for the Teutonic Knights when they began their first mission to colonize pagan Old Prussians, and subsequently the formation of the Teutonic state. The majority of the castle – which was built in a horseshoe-shaped plan in the mid-13th century as a base for the conquest and evangelization of Prussia was destroyed during an uprising in 1454, when the local townspeople revolted against the Teutonic Order. The city rebelled on 4 February, and a few days later the small Teutonic garrison negotiated a surrender. They were allowed to leave the castle and the city. Shortly afterward, on 8 February, the castle was plundered, and then the Toruń city council decided that it would be demolished to prevent the Teutonic Knights from reoccupying it. This event marked the beginning of the Thirteen Years’ War.
The ruins and the archaeological remains have been excavated and safeguarded.
The Old Town and New Town
The Old Town was granted an urban charter in 1233, which swiftly led to its expansion as a major commercial trading centre. The adjacent New Town developed from 1264, mainly as a centre for crafts and handiwork. Both urban areas bear witness to the interchange and creative adaptation of artistic experience that took place among the Hanseatic towns.
An exceptionally complete picture of the medieval way of life is illustrated in the original street patterns and early buildings of Toruń. Both the Old Town and the New Town have Gothic parish churches and numerous fine medieval brick townhouses, many of which have retained their original Gothic facades, partition walls, stucco-decorated ceilings, vaulted cellars, and painted decoration. Many townhouses in Toruń were used for both residential and commercial purposes. A fine example is the house in which Nicolas Copernicus was reputedly born in 1473.
Medieval nature of the town
All the elements that sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the Medieval Town of Toruń are located within the boundaries of the property. The property’s medieval urban layout encircled by a ring of defenses remains intact, including two market squares, Town Hall, townhouses, churches, and the Teutonic Castle. This layout and Toruń’s compact, cohesive architectural fabric are substantially of medieval origin. The historic panoramas of the town are unaltered, shaped by the monumental silhouettes of the Gothic churches and Town Hall that dominate the skyline, rising above multiple varieties of townhouses with diverse facades and various geometries of ceramic-tiled roofs. The administrative, commercial, and tourist functions of contemporary Toruń (concentrated within the Old Town) do not pose a threat to the property, which does not suffer from adverse effects of development and/or neglect.
The Medieval Town of Toruń is remarkably authentic in terms of its location and setting, forms and designs, and materials and substances. It is an original, unchanged example of medieval town planning based on a regular grid of quarters, streets, and building blocks, designed in keeping with 13th-century regulations and extant in a recognizable form. The authenticity of the Teutonic Castle, built in a horseshoe-shaped plan surrounded by a curtain wall and moats, is attested by conservation records, its structure, the functions of its rooms, and its historic fabric, even though the castle survives only in the form of ruins. Its location between two medieval towns, set on the high bank of the Vistula River, is entirely authentic. The material substance of the buildings is likewise authentic: the Gothic origins of the city walls, gates, towers, churches, walls defining building plots, and townhouses are evidenced by their structures, cellars, interior walls, elevations, architectural details, and interior decor.
The authenticity of the urban planning concept linking Toruń with Hanseatic Europe, and of the surviving architectural structures, provide evidence of the continuity of traditional construction techniques and technologies incorporating templates, forms, and colour schemes widely used throughout the city and region.
Oh, and did I mention, Toruń is a UNESCO World Heritage site, making it a must see for all wanderlusters.