zaterdag 31 maart 2012

Poland, Medieval Town of Toruń

Torun owes its origins to the Teutonic Order, which built a castle there in the mid-13th century as a base for the conquest and evangelization of Prussia. It soon developed a commercial role as part of the Hanseatic League. In the Old and New Town, the many imposing public and private buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries (among them the house of Copernicus) are striking evidence of Torun's importance.



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. Some of them, moreover, influenced the evolution of certain types of building. The town sets a standard for the evolution of towns in the region: the combination of two towns with a castle is a rare form of medieval settlement agglomeration. The unique spatial layout of Toruń has survived almost intact and provides valuable source material for the history of town development in medieval Europe. It is an outstanding masterpiece of the human creative mind. Toruń displays evidence of cultural contacts with the leading centres of European art, and in particular that of the large mercantile cities of northern Europe such as Bruges and Ghent. It therefore bears witness to the interchange and creative adaptation of artistic experience, and in particular among the Hanseatic towns.
Toruń is situated in the region known in the Middle Ages as the Land of Chelmno (Terra Culmensis ). 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.

Historical Description

Torun is situated in the region known in the Middle Ages as the Land of Chelmno (Terra Culmensis), which acted as a buffer zone in the l2th and early 13th centuries between Poland and the regions occupied by the pagan Prussian tribes. It was granted a town charter in 1233, at that time for a site 7km down the Vistula river from which it moved to that part of the Old Town lying between the Old Town Square and the river in 1236. It progressively expanded during the 13th century to occupy the area of the Old Town, and was enclosed by defensive walls.
A fort bad 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 as a castle. The original function of Torun was to act as a base for the conquest and colonization of Prussia by the Order. 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, trading grain, timber, metals, furs, and wax in exchange for western cloth, fish, and luxury goods, expanded as the century proceeded. Torun became the leading member of the Hanseatic League in the territories ruled by the Teutonic Order. The New Town developed from 1264 onwards to the north of the castle and the east of the Old Town, mainly as a centre for crafts and industry.
The peak of Torun's prosperity was in the second half of the 14th and the first half of the 15th century. At the same time tension developed between the citizens and the Teutonic Order, leading eventually to an uprising in 1454, followed by the expulsion of the Knights and the incorporation of the town and its surrounding region into the Kingdom of Po land. The town gained a number of privileges as a result, but lost its commercial supremacy to Gdansk.
Two periods, 1350-1410 and 1470-1520, stand out in the cultural and artistic history of Torun. It was one of the most important artistic centres, in particular in respect of architecture, in this part of Europe. The town was endowed at this time with many architectural masterpieces, which were to exert a powerful influence on the whole Teutonic state and neighbouring countries. It is worth y of mention that the great astronomer, Nicholas Copemicus, was born in Tonm in 1473 and spent his youth there.
The Swedish wars and the crisis in Poland in the 17th century brought Torun's prosperity to an end. It came under Prussian rule in 1793, when it became known under its German name, Thom, and was transformed into the main fortress on the frontier between Prussia and Russia. After World War I it was part of the reunited Polish state.


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