A History of Torun Poland

By Tim Lambert

Dedicated to Agata Ulanowska

Torun in The Middle Ages

Torun is a historic city in Poland. It is famous for its many Medieval buildings. The town of Torun was founded by the Teutonic Knights (an order of German knights who ruled parts of the Baltic). On 28 December 1233, Torun was given its charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). In the Middle Ages Torun was part of the Hanseatic League (An alliance of German and Baltic ports which dominated trade in the Baltic Sea and North Sea).

In the Middle Ages Torun prospered. Goods were transported to and from Torun along the River Vistula. From 1264 a new area was added to the town called New Town. The two areas, Old Town and New Town were quite different. Old Town was inhabited by rich merchants while craftsmen lived in New Town.

In 1239 Franciscan friars arrived in Torun. (Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach). In 1263 another order of Friars, the Dominicans arrived in Torun.

In the 14th century, Torun may have had a population of 15,000. That may seem small to us but in the Middle Ages towns were much smaller than they are now. By the standards of the time, Torun was a large and important town. In the 14th century, Old Town City Hall was built. St James’s Church and St Mary’s Church were also built in the 14th century. However, the rule of the Teutonic Knights ended in 1454.

Like most Medieval towns Torun was fortified. Crooked Tower was built in the 14th century. In the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights built a castle in Torun but it was destroyed by the townspeople when they lost control of the city. n The most famous son of Torun is the great astronomer n who was born there in 1473.

Modern Torun

In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation swept Europe. Torun became divided between Protestants and Catholics. Meanwhile, Torun continued to be a wealthy and important town. It may have had a population of 20,000 in the 16th century and 17th centuries.

Meanwhile, the Swedes captured Torun in 1655. They held it until 1658.

The tension between German Protestants and Polish Catholics in Torun remained in the early 18th century. It culminated in the Tumult of Torun in 1724. There was fighting between Catholics and Protestants after which 12 Protestants were executed.

In the 18th century, Torun declined and its population fell. Finally, in 1793 Torun was taken by Prussia. From 1807 to 1813 Torun was part of the Duchy of Warsaw but in 1815 the Congress of Vienna confirmed that it belonged to Prussia. The Prussians fortified Torun but it still had a smaller popular population than it did in the Middle Ages.

In the late 19th century the population of Torun grew rapidly again. Meanwhile, in 1853 a statue of Nicolaus Copernicus was unveiled in Torun. The railway reached Torun in 1861. Then in 1891 horse-drawn trams began running in the streets of Torun. In 1899 they were replaced by electric trams.

In 1920 Torun was made part of a restored Poland and its population continued to rise. However, in 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. However, in 1945, the Russians captured Torun. Also in 1945, Nicolaus Copernicus University was founded. Fortunately, the historic buildings in Torun escaped damage during the war.

In the late 20th century the population of Torun continued to grow and by the mid-1970s it had reached 150,000. The Ethnographic Museum was founded in 1959. In 1997 UNESCO designated Torun Old Town a World Heritage Center. In 2006 a Gingerbread Museum opened in Torun. Then in 2008, the Center for Contemporary Art opened.

Today Torun is flourishing. Tourism is an important industry in the city. In 2024 the population of Torun was 205,000.

Last revised 2024