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Jan 05 2016

Discovering Toruń

Discovering TorunSurprisingly, the beautiful, medieval city of Toruń, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city where Nicolaus Copernicus was born and raised, turned out to be the most challenging city for me during my stay in Poland.  As a result, it took me a bit of time to warm to it.

I arrived by bus, and walked into the city centre.   As soon as I found a place to eat that had WiFi, I stopped, ate, and used the WiFi to find a place to stay for the night.  I hadn’t organised anything in advance because often I don’t, and it was a last minute decision to go there.  As it was getting dark, I decided to find the place I had just booked for the night.  The thing is, I couldn’t find it.  I walked around and around, but I kept ending up at the puppet theatre.  I wondered if that was it, but, since it was all in darkness and there was no one else around, I didn’t think it was the correct place.  I tried ringing the number I had, but my phablet wasn’t working properly, which meant the person on the other end couldn’t hear me.  That was frustrating.  To add to that, the battery on my netbook was so low that I couldn’t even use Skype.  With no way of contacting anyone, I was in a bit of a bind.  It seemed as if my only option was to search, on foot, for  another place to stay,  That was until I spotted the city police.  I went over, and spoke to a female police officer, who was fantastic.  She could speak English, so I explained the situation to her.  She phoned the place I had booked and spoke to the owner.  When her face dropped, I knew something wasn’t right.  She went with me to the puppet theatre, which is where the accommodation was.  Someone met us there, and explained to the police officer that I couldn’t stay.   It went between I couldn’t stay and I could stay, and in the end I didn’t want to stay there because it was an odd situation and the place looked creepy at night.  From what I could understand, renting out rooms was a new venture, to make use of the rooms that were vacant in the theatre building, but they weren’t ready to accept guests even though they were advertising and the accommodation request went through without any problems.

I decided not to stay there, and search for alternative accommodation on foot even though it was dark.  The police woman was great.  She gave me directions to a hostel I had seen when I first arrived in the city, and she told me that she would be where I first met her if I needed anything else.  Thankfully, I found the hostel easily and booked the only room they had left, which happened to be a 3-bed private room.

The following morning, I checked out, but left my backpack at reception.  I needed to decide whether to stay another night or move on, but I had the day to decide and a city to explore.  Here are just a few of the things I discovered during my day in Toruń.

Toruń Castle

Torun CastleIt is one of the oldest castles of the Teutonic Knights in northern, central Poland.  It was built in the 13th century on the site of an old fortress.  In the middle of the 15th century, the citizens of Toruń attacked and captured the castle because they were fed up with the oppressive rule of the Teutonic Knights.  After that, the town council had the castle demolished and it became a rubbish dump. Today, you can only see remnants of the castle moat, walls, and lower parts of the main castle building and the tower.  

Dragon of Toruń

The Dragon of Torun Street ArtThere’s some pretty street art, which tells the story of a carpenter, Johann Georg Hieronimi and a soldier’s wife, Kataharina Storchin, who, were convinced they had seen a dragon.  Apparently, the flying dragon appeared near a river before it flew away towards the castle ruins.

Toruń Donkey

Donkey in TorunThis bronze sculpture of a donkey in the square, which replaced a wooden donkey from medieval times that once stood on that exact spot, reminded me of Donkey in Shrek.  It wasn’t cute and funny like Donkey, though, because it was used to punish criminals. The metal rod you can see that runs along the length of its back was originally razor sharp.  Criminals were forced to sit on the donkey, tied down, and flogged.  Some even had their legs weighted down.  It might be a little comfortable if you sit on the bronze donkey nowadays, but it won’t be anywhere near as painful as it once was.  

The Old Town Hall

Torun Old Town Hall

Apparently, it’s one of the largest brick built buildings of its kind in Europe.  It’s certainly the main focus in the square.  It was the administrative and commercial hub of the city.

Although it was built in the 14th century, the oldest part of the building is the lower part of the tower, which was constructed in the late 13th century.  It’s a Gothic building that was remodelled in the Dutch Renaissance style in the 17th century.  It was burnt down during the Swedish invasion at the turn of the 18th century.

There seems to be a lot of legends in Poland.  This Town Hall has one.  As the legend goes, the building was originally constructed to resemble a calendar.  If this were true, it would be an even more incredible piece of architecture because the tower is supposed to be one year; the gates are the four seasons; the large halls are the twelve months; and the number of windows is supposed to be equal to the number of days in a year, which would be 365.  ‘What about the leap years, though?’, I hear you ask.  Well, they thought about those, too.  Apparently, another window was added somewhere so the architectural calendar would equate to the Gregorian calendar.  That would be amazing it it were true.  I kind of hope it is.

The one thing I didn’t get to do that I wish I had done was to climb to the top of the tower for the views.  I’ll definitely do it when I go back because I will return to explore the city more one day.

Medieval Gates

Monastery/Holy Spirit GateOnly three of twelve medieval gates have survived – Bridge Gate, Monastery Gate, and Sailors’ Gate.   The above photo is of Monastery Gate, which I’ve also seen referred to as Convent Gate and the Gate of the Holy Spirit, was built in the early 14th century.  It was a massive gateway with an alcove that has a grate which could be raised and lowered.  There are also openings in the gate where stones could be hurled at attackers, and they could pour boiling hot water or hot porridge over them.  It was converted into cells in the 19th century.  

Ceramic Townspeople

Ceramic Townspeople in TorunThe city walls and some buildings are decorated with ceramic sculptures which represent the medieval townspeople.  These figures, inspired by a 15th century painting of the medieval townspeople know as the Toruń Passion from St James’s Church.  It’s a cute little addition to the city, so make sure you look up as you wander around.

Riverside walk

Riverside in TorunIf you venture outside the old city walls, you could take a relaxing walk along the riverside.    

The Leaning Tower of Toruń

  The Leaning Tower of TorunThere really is one, and it does lean.  It was built in the 13th century to help defend the town.  It leans because the ground it was built on was soft and crumbly.

My Thoughts

Toruń is a small city, but, in hindsight, I wish I had taken a bit longer and spent another night there.  I really didn’t have time to see and do everything.  It’s the sort of place where you can soak up the ambience of this pretty, little, historic city while enjoying a coffee   I definitely want to go return, so I can see and do all the things I didn’t have time for, which includes climbing to the top of the tower in the Old Town Hall.

Location

Here is where Toruń is located in Poland:

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Have your say

Have you been to Toruń?  If so, what was your favourite bit?  If not, would you consider visiting on your next trip to Poland?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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