Torun – UNESCO City

The medieval town of Torun is undoubtedly beautiful and its heritage was recognised by UNESCO in 1997 when it was added to the official register World Heritage sites. There are 16 such listed sites in Poland and this is the sixth that I’ve visited.

Pinching UNESCO’s text:

“Toruń in northern Poland is a remarkably well preserved example of a medieval European trading and administrative centre, located on the Vistula River. Toruń was founded in the period when Christianity was being spread through Eastern Europe by the military monks of the Teutonic Order, and when rapid growth in trade between the countries of the Baltic Sea and Eastern Europe was being spurred by the Hanseatic League. Toruń became a leading member of the Hanseatic League in the territories ruled by the Teutonic Order.

The Medieval Town of Toruń is comprised of three elements: the ruins of 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 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 ruins and the archaeological remains have been excavated and safeguarded. 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 façades, 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 Nicolaus Copernicus was reputedly born in 1473; it has been preserved as a museum devoted to the famous astronomer’s life and achievements. The townhouses often included storage facilities and remarkable brick granaries, some of which were up to five storeys high. Because so many houses have survived from this period, the medieval plots are for the most part still preserved, delineated by their original brick boundary walls.

Criterion (ii): The small historic medieval trading and administrative city of Toruń preserves to a remarkable extent its original street pattern and outstanding early buildings. It set a standard for the evolution of towns in this region during Eastern Europe’s urbanisation process in the 13th and 14th centuries. The combination of two towns with a castle is a rare form of medieval settlement agglomeration that has survived almost intact, and numerous buildings of considerable intrinsic value have been faithfully preserved within the town. In its heyday, Toruń boasted a wide range of architectural masterpieces, which exerted a powerful influence on the whole of the Teutonic state and the neighbouring countries.

Criterion (iv): Toruń provides an exceptionally complete picture of the medieval way of life. Its spatial layout provides valuable source material for research into the history of urban development in medieval Europe, and many of its buildings represent the highest achievements in medieval ecclesiastical, military, and civil brick-built architecture.”