It`s where he stopped the Sun and moved the Earth. The City of Nicolaus Copernicus, famous gingerbreads and 800-year old history. I am taking you to one of the oldest and full of historical monuments Polish city.
Toruń – the medieval city on UNESCO World Heritage List
One of the most beautiful historic cities of Poland, it belongs to one of the oldest ones as well. Contrary to Warsaw, Gdańsk and some other Polish towns, Toruń suffered no damage during World War II, which is why it has retained its authentic character. It has numerous and rich monuments, which has 800-year testimony of history.
Toruń extends along two rivers: the Vistula and the Drwecy. Right-bank part belongs to Pomeranian voivodeship while the left-bank part to Kuyavian one. It has been propagating its traditional economy and openness to the world for nearly eight centuries. Toruń is located in an area, where ancient trade routes used to intersect.
Toruń has the largest number of preserved Gothic houses in Poland, many with Gothic wall paintings or wood-beam ceilings from the 16th to the 18th century. Old town’s group, which gained a reputation in many plebiscites, specially approaches attention of many people. In 1997 it was added to the World Heritage of UNESCO and serves as the representative of the national competition in Europe, because there is the seat of the League of Polish Cities of UNESCO.
The Gothic buildings of Toruń Old Quarter present proof of economic, cultural and intellectual ties of Toruń with the leading cities of Europe associated in the Hanseatic League dating back to the Middle Ages. These traditional ties have been propagated to this day by the contemporary residents of the city of Copernicus.
The settlement of Toruń and its vicinity dates back since 90 centuries before Christ
The city was founded on December 28th, 1233. Toruń was originally located by a crossing on the Vistula River – in Old Toruń. There, the Teutons built their first settlement in the Land of Chełmno – according to a legend – on a mighty oak, and then located a town, which was soon relocated to its present site in 1236 r due to recurrent floods.
The settling in the today’s Old Town area began in the region of so called “Island”. The “Isle” is supposed to have been a defensive post, surrounded by a rampart which shielded first settlers from occasional dangers. Later on, when bulwarks and subsequently town walls were built, the “Island” lost its defensive role, the ground was levelled and new houses were built to become welcome lodgings for the richest merchants and councillors – as they were located close to the Market.
Location in the river area was in favour where the transport and the hunting could conveniently develop. Through the city constructed was also the amber trade route what additionally supported the development of the trade. A Sorbian settlement has a beginning in 1100 BC. Still had been extended created the classical Slav wooden castle till the 9th century.
Toruń owes its appropriate being to Teutonic Knights which in the 13th century created the fortification there for the defence crossing on the Vistula River. In this period the city was also accepted to Hanza what influenced its more further development. Here were concluded the first Toruń peace after the war with Teutonic Knights and here had place anti-Teutonic Knights uprising which was the beginning of thirty-hundred years war, after which the city entered the Polish state and received the privileged position. In the 17th century it was one of the wealthiest cities in the country. Then a period of the regression came. Swedes, Napoleon, partition of Poland, the WWI and WWII – influenced on destroying and worsening the position of city. However, after the war revival came, mainly scientific and cultural of Toruń.
The medieval old town of Toruń is a birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus, the most famous and the most outstanding citizen of Toruń was born here on February 19th, 1473 at St. Anne Street, today 17 Copernicus Street, which now houses a museum dedicated to the astronomer.
The fame of Copernicus is connected with his astronomical theory – the heliocentric theory – which assured Copernicus a place among the most outstanding scientists in history. That was him who metaphorically stopped the Sun and moved the Earth which means Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to prove that the Earth was not a static center of the universe but merely one of the planets circling the Sun along their orbits.
Nicolaus had three siblings: a brother Andrew and two sisters, Barbara and Catherine. He spent his early childhood probably at a home at 36 Old-Town Market Square. It`s where the present Powszechny Dom Towarowy (General Department Store) is located. After his father’s death, the financial situation of the family worsened so much that a rich uncle, bishop Łukasz Watzenrode, took care of them. Nicolaus began his education at a municipal school at St. John’s church (the corner of Łazienna Str. and St. John’s Str.). The basic knowledge that he acquired there enabled him to continue his education. He started to study at a university department of liberal arts. At the age of 18, under the influence of his uncle Watzenrode, Nicolaus began to study at the University of Cracow. At that time he left his home city, but he never forgot his origins.
During the four years spent at the university in Cracow, Nicolaus was exposed to many scientific disciplines and listened to lectures by many great scholars, among others, in Grammar, Rhetoric, Poetics, and also in Astronomy which had a considerable influence on his future. Thanks to these lectures he learnt all the secrets of Astronomy. The most likely it was during that time in the mind of Nicolaus the germ of a revolutionary theory formed. Theory of the construction of the world that was different from the one universally acknowledged at that time.
In autumn 1495, he went to Frombork called “The Jewel of Warmia”, the historical and picturesque region of northern Poland. Helped by his uncle, he was to assume the position of the canon of the chapter at the local cathedral. However, already after 1496 he left for Italy and began studies at the University of Bologna. Except for taking legal courses, he himself carried out his first astronomical observations. Because he learnt Greek, he could also use original texts of ancient scholars in the development of his passion. In 1500 he got to Rome, where he continued astronomical observations, and also practiced ecclesiastical law at the Papal Curia. In 1501, after he had returned to Frombork in Warmia, Copernicus was given consent to continue his medical studies in Padua. He perfected his Greek there and continued to broaden his astronomical knowledge. In 1503 Copernicus obtained a PhD in Canon Law from Ferrara.
In autumn 1503 he went to Lidzbark in the Warmia Land where he lived at bishop Watzenrode’s court for several years. In those days he was travelling with his uncle to conventions of the states of King’s Prussia and to meetings with Polish kings. Already in Lidzbark, around 1507, Copernicus worked out the first heliocentric sketch of the construction of the universe, the so-called “Little Commentary”. It contained three thesis about the triple movement of the Earth and it moved the Sun to the foreground in the universe.
After 1510 Copernicus left for Frombork, where he gave up the church and his political career, and devoted himself to astronomy. He carried out astronomical observations in the privacy of his house and on one of the towers of the Frombork fortress. However, after his uncle bishop Watzenrode’s death he did not have much time for scientific work because he held many responsible administrative functions then, for example, the chancellor of the chapter. As the Warmia canon, holding many positions in the administration of the bishopric, he also dealt with matters connected with the defences of Olsztyn. He also wrote economic dissertations and advised the Polish king on matters connected with monetary circulation.
At that time monetary relationships were complicated as there were 4 mints: in Toruń, Elbląg, Gdańsk and Königsberg. A frequent practice was the melting down of a good coin to a worse one, great benefits of which went not only to the mentioned cities but also to the Teutonic Knights Order. To counteract this, Nicolaus Copernicus made a speech at a Prussian Parliament. He wrote and read a dissertation about the manner of coinage entitled “Modus cudendi monetam”. However, he devoted most of his time to his great astronomical deed, for which he collected data from observations carried out in Olsztyn (the capital of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, northeastern Poland) and Frombork and from the literature that he criticized. He supported and continuously enriched his heliocentric theory with many statements.
The first edition of the work “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” (“On the Revolutions of Celestial Bodies”) was ready in 1530. Nonetheless, out of fear of the reaction of church authorities, Copernicus did not want to publish it. Only the arrival at Frombork of the young professor of Mathematics, Jerzy Joachim Retyk (best known for his trigonometric tables), who was an advocate of Copernicus’s views, disposed the astronomer to publish the work. At last, it appeared in print in March 1543. It rationally presented the real existence of the world and was to cause a revolution in the opinions on the construction of the universe. However, at the end of 1542 Copernicus fell heavily ill, having stroke and paralysis of the right side and was unable to see his work printed.
On the 24th of May, 1543, Copernicus died in Frombork and was buried in the local cathedral. In 1853 a monument in honour of the great astronomer was erected in Toruń, and the street in which he was born was named after him. One of the best Polish universities bears the name of the great astronomer: The University of Nicolaus Copernicus in Toruń, and also the producer of the most famous Polish cookies, the Toruń gingerbread cookies: The Confectionary Factory “Kopernik” (Fabryka Cukiernicza “Kopernik”).
From old days to nowadays
The city, which has always been open to new ideas, being involved in multi-faceted discourses, gathered intellectual elites, providing them with great conditions for creative life. This situation has remained to this day: Toruń is one of the most recognized academic centres. The Nicolaus Copernicus University, a successor of traditions of the Stefan Batory University of Vilnius, puts its primary focus on propagation and creative development of the fine arts, literature, history, and astronomy. The so-called Toruń school of preservation of cultural properties has been widely known throughout the world. Accomplishments of the Astronomical Research Centre of the University are highly regarded by scientists.
The Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń (NCU)
Founded in 1945 it is the biggest university in northern Poland and is outstanding both in terms of its scientific potential as well as the courses of study on offer, forms of education, and numbers of students and graduates. In the recent press rankings, NCU has been granted the honorable position among the first five best universities in Poland.
Nicolaus Copernicus House
Copernicus’ House is a medieval burgher’s house which belonged to the Copernicus family in the second half of the 15th century. Many historians point to the house as a birthplace (1473) of the renowned astronomer. It is the biographical museum of the most eminent Toruń citizen. It is located in two beautiful Gothic houses: in his family house (No. 17; exhibition devoted only to Copernicus) and adjoined neighbouring patrician house (No. 15; show of the interiors of a typical medieval merchant house). Obviously it is the most popular with tourists museum in Toruń.
The most famous product of Toruń is the gingerbread. The tradition of the baking of these aromatic cookies in the town of Copernicus is almost as long and old as the history of the city itself. One says that no visitor to Toruń can leave the place without gingerbread. If you ever get there, don`t resist tradition and get charmed by taste, smell and look of delicious gingerbread which engages all the senses.
The products used for the Toruń gingerbread are: top quality flour, oriental spicy flavouring, and honey that is exceptional in taste, and in which abound only the forests and fields around Toruń that are situated on the Vistula river. Doesn`t it sound like a definition of good whisky? No whisky is good except to the one made in Scotland.
As mentioned above, in the past the beautiful, old Hanseatic Toruń was located at the crossing of the most important European trade routes. Therefore, there were no problems with transporting from the Levant countries some of the ingredients indispensable for the baking of gingerbread: ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, etc.
The Toruń masters of gingerbread craft jealously guarded the secrets of their product. The recopies were kept hidden not only from the competition from Nürnberg or Königsberg, where one attempted reproducing the excellent taste of the gingerbread from Toruń, but also from other local bakers. The gingerbread resembles the wines coming from the best vineyards of France or Italy in the respect that it suffices to taste the Toruń gingerbread and recognize it by its sophisticated taste from which the Toruń bakery is famous for. Today the only immediate heir and continuator of the great Toruń tradition of gingerbread making is the Confectionery Factory “Copernicus” S.A. which was established in 1760 by Johann Weese, the baker. (Fabryka Cukiernicza “Kopernik” S.A.)
The present technologies of gingerbread baking are based on old recipes and methods whose immediate tradition dates back to the experiences of gingerbread masters from the 16th century. The Toruń gingerbread, as the only true one, is sold, among others, in all countries of the European Union, in Canada, the United States, Kuwait, Israel and Japan. Because of its taste and quality, prominent guests have been presented with gingerbread designed especially for them since the Middle Ages. Pope John Paul II received such a gift in Toruń, gingerbread was also given to presidents, emperors, kings and Nobel prize winners who visited Toruń. Down in history went the gingerbread baked in 1778 for Tsarina Catherine. The gingerbread was about two metres long and 30 cm thick. Pope John Paul II received an occasional gingerbread in the shape of the heliocentric system known from the work of Nicholas of Copernicus “De Revolutionibus…” from the delegation of the Toruń gingerbread makers. Frederic Chopin loved the gingerbread of Toruń. In August 1825, he even described them in a letter to his friend:
“(…) but leaving aside Copernicus, who was born in Toruń, I will begin about the Toruń gingerbread. (…) According to the custom of local gingerbread makers, the shops for gingerbread are halls of tenements surrounded by boxes with key-locks, in which there rests gingerbread arranged in dozens and sorted according to its kind. (…) I will say more, when we meet, but I will write to you now that the greatest impression on me made the gingerbread. I did see, it is true, the whole fortification from all sides of the city, with all details, (…) moreover, churches of Gothic construction, founded by the Teutonic Knights, one of which was erected in 1231. I saw the leaning tower, like in Pisa, the famous town hall, whose greatest curiosity is, from outside as well as inside, that it has as many windows as the year has days, as many halls as months, as many rooms as weeks, and as many towers as seasons, and that the whole building is the most splendid in the Gothic taste. This, however, does not surpass the gingerbread, oh the gingerbread (…)”.
I will tell you about the sights which Frederic Chopin was writing about but getting back to our „tasty” subject, in the old days the Toruń gingerbread was, among others, in the shape of carriages, coats of arms, knights, townsmen and townswomen at work, hearts, and first of all, Katarzynki, which is one of the most famous Toruń gingerbread. The history is silent about who invented the gingerbread of that shape and why it bears this name, but there are several beautiful legends. In one of them, the gingerbread of the characteristic shape and name was invented by a young, modest journeyman, who was in love with beautiful Catherine, the daughter of his gingerbread master, in order to win the heart of his beloved as well as recognition of the future father-in-law.
Gingerbread Museum came into being in Toruń – city of Copernicus – also famed for its gingerbread. But seeing and tasting is not enough – it is also worthwhile participating in the process of making the aromatic dough. Add some honey, crushed cardamom, cloves and even a pinch of pepper all by yourself… then knead the dough, roll it, put in into a beautifully ornamented form, and while waiting for your own gingerbread to bake in an antique oven, listen to some legends about Toruń…
The Old Quarter
In Toruń, particularly attractive is the oldest part of the city, i.e. the Old Quarter, with innumerable cozy alleys and the most important tourist attractions. It encloses three medieval elements: the Old City (1233), the New City (1264) and the Teutonic Castle (mid.-13th century), which comprise most of the highlights of Toruń. Here, every step brings you closer to the real Gothic architecture and Nicolaus Copernicus’s spirit pervading the city for over 500 years. The whole Old Quarter Complex – as mentioned earlier – has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, gaining prestige and recognition on a world scale. Toruń uniqueness is an immediate consequence of its unquestionable contribution to the general history and the history of cities developing in medieval Europe, as well as the monumental authentic medieval buildings, both religious and secular, being the best achievements of Gothic brick architecture in Europe. The surviving examples of Gothic residential architecture form the largest and best preserved complex of this kind in Northern Europe.
Old City Town Hall
Begun in 1274, extended and rebuilt between 1391 and 1399, and extended at the end of the 16th century, the monumental Old City Town Hall, which houses the District Museum, is one of the biggest and most magnificent buildings of its kind in Europe. It is also one of the European largest brick buildings of that style and the most important historical monument within the Old Town of Toruń. For centuries it served as the administrative and commercial hub of the city. Numerous trade fairs, homage ceremonies, knight tournaments or even public executions took part in the vicinity of this imposing edifice. And most of all The Town Hall is a monument to Toruń glory as the former trade empire of Hansa.
The Town Hall was erected in the Gothic style at the end of the 14th century incorporating in its structure a tower which had been built over a century before. The tower was additionally raised and was crowned with a pointed-helmet spire. The original building was a two-storey structure with a spacious courtyard, modeled on the best examples of the Flanders architecture. Every day, its interior filled with a crowd of hucksters, merchants, traders, town councilors and pickpockets. The tower housed a treasury, the town archive and a prison, and the basement was used as brewery and wine cellars. On the ground floor there were cloth halls, bread stalls, dozens of little stalls and a courtroom, whereas the first floor contained the town council conference room and the Grand Hall which was frequently used a reception hall for Polish kings. For one of the kings, John I Albert, the Town Hall became in 1501 the site of his premature death. The king’s heart, who was said to be fond of the beauty of local women, was buried in SS. John’s cathedral.
The Town Hall also has an interesting legend which claims that the edifice was constructed so that it resembled a calendar. The tower stands for one year, the four gates reflect the four seasons, twelve large halls correspond to twelve months in a year, and the number of windows is supposed to be equal to the number of days in a year. The legend has it that the burghers added yet another window in leap years so that the architectural calendar was correct. Today, few people attempt to prove the correctness of the legend, it is far more pleasurable to admire the carved figures of townsfolk from past centuries, which were based on the images depicted in one of the sacral paintings in a Toruń church. Climbing the town hall tower also provides unforgettable experience and the view of the historical city and the Vistula river flowing along its walls is truly breathtaking.
Teutonic Castle Ruins
It was the very first castle of the Teutonic Knights from which the colonization of pagan Prussians and creating Teutonic state started. The Castle was the residence of a Teutonic Commander. It was destroyed in 1454 during the burgher uprising against the Teutonic Knights what in succession caused the 13-years Polish-Teutonic War ended by signing famous Second Toruń Treaty in 1466. It was only 1966 (the thousandth anniversary of Christianization of Poland) when the ruins was explored and prepared for tourists. The area of the castle remnants comprises the main castle ruin with the cellars and Gdanisko Tower preserved.
Fort IV of Fortress Toruń
City fortifications, begun in the 13th century, extended between the 14th and 15th centuries, mostly demolished in the 19th century, but partially preserved with a few city gates and watchtowers (among them the so-called Leaning Tower) from the Vistula side. This system was built in Toruń due to its strategic location – the city was situated at that time on the border line of Prussia and Russia, which border ran along the Drwęca river. Thanks to Prussian fortifications Toruń was added to the list of cities-fortresses.
The Leaning Tower
The Leaning Tower is a medieval defensive tower which owes its name to its considerable tilt. A legend has it that the creation of the tower was connected with an offence of one of the Teutonic Knights from Toruń who, against the monastic rule, fell in love and dated a beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant.
Planetarium in Toruń
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Toruń is Planetarium. It is the most technically advanced planetarium in Poland. Due to its characteristic architectural design – the semicircular dome and rotunda shape, the building is easily recognisable among other structures of Toruń Old Town.
Planetarium has been working since February 1994. Its main activity is to show astronomical presentations covering wide range of topics in the field of astronomy.
The heart of planetarium is ZEISS RFP projector, which reconstructs the image of the sky with great fidelity, from any moment and place on Earth. Thus, on the dome one can present the configuration of 6000 stars visible to the naked eye and also the configuration of planets relating to the zodiac, the arrangement of constellations, the phases of the Moon, eclipses of the Sun and all phenomena that can be seen on the real sky, but what is the most important – far faster than in the reality. Thanks to special projection of 360-angle panorama we can see the sky above Toruń Old Town towers but also to visualise the landscapes of other places on our planet. We can also visit the Moon, for instance the landing site of the APPOLLO 17, Mars with its volcanoes and canyons covered with layers of frost, or Venus, brightened up by series of lightning. The visual image of panorama may be improved by the All-Sky system, which covers the dome with a slide picture. The audience is surrounded by the picture and gets the impression of being ‘inside’ nebulas or star-clusters. Of course, except for being ‘inside’ specifically astronomical objects, the audience has a possibility to suddenly appear in a forest, inside a cave, or a cathedral.
In the Planetarium in Torun you can watch several shows. At the present moment, 5 of them are available in English.
The unique and carefully cherished beauty of Toruń
The unique and carefully cherished beauty of Toruń creates a spiritual climate facilitating artistic activity. That’s why talented artists and culture propagators have settled there. Their activity in the field of art makes Toruń one of the European cities renowned for organization of prestigious music, theatrical and art festivals such as the “Europe-Toruń. Music and Architecture Summer Festival”, “Probaltica” Music and Art Festival of the Baltic Countries, “Kontakt” International Theatrical Festival, International Biennale Exhibition of Children and Youth’s Graphic Arts and many others.
Nearly eight-centuries old Toruń is young enough to teem with life. It is vibrant city with the past looking forward to the future. Its residents, predominated by young, educated and ambitious people, can be described by entrepreneurship, which is always appreciated there. It contributes to development of industry, trade and various services.
Toruń, with its everlasting beauty of medieval architecture, decorated with colorful palette of squares and gardens, a plethora of cozy cafes, restaurants and comfortable hotels, invites to its always open and hospitable gates.
And now our trip to Toruń does terminate. I hope I have encouraged you to go there and I can assure you that once you visit the city, you will always try to come back there.
See you there next time then!
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
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