History of Torun
The area around modern Torun was home to Slavonic settlements from the 11th century. The Teutonic Knights, brought to Poland by a prince of Masovia to defend his northern border, established the town itself in 1233. The city, also known as Thorn, was surrounded by a ring of walls and guarded by a castle built by the Teutonic Knights near the Old Town.
Torun grew quickly, attracting many merchants and craftsmen. To accommodate the newcomers, in 1264 the New Town with its own Town Hall and market square was established near the Old Town. The development of the town was uninterrupted from the 13th to the 16th century in spite of the Polish-Teutonic wars. They came to the end in 1466 when the treaty of Torun was signed, giving Poland a large strip of land from Torun to Gdansk. The town played an important role in international trade as a member of the Hanseatic League. The 16th century witnessed the growing importance of Protestants, who discriminated against the Catholic minority. During the Corpus Christi procession of 1724 a serious religious riots broke out which led to a bloody finale.
The town started to lose its glamour and significance in the 17th and 18th centuries. First, Swedish troops demolished and plundered Torun, and later it was annexed to Prussia as a result of the Second Partition of Poland. It remained Prussian for over a hundred years, with a pause during the Napoleonic Wars when it was a part of the Duchy of Warsaw.
In the 19th century Torun changed its character, becoming a border city of the Prussian state, later transformed into the German Empire. Being one of the major military bases, it was encircled by a chain of forts, built by French prisoners captured by the Prussians during the war in 1870. The fortification system, which is an outstanding example of military architecture, was untouched by both world wars. However, the forts do not exist on the tourist map of the town. The presence of Germans, which lasted more than a century, gave the town its characteristic neo-Gothic red-brick look that still can be seen today.
Torun was returned to Poland according the Treaty of Versailles after the World War I, but Poles enjoyed this independence for quite a short time. Following the September Campaign in 1939 the city was occupied by Nazi Germany, who used the forts as camps for officers. The post-war period brought the expansion of Torun in terms of its size and population. It became an important industrial city with faceless hectares of concrete blocks that are still home to almost a half of Torun’s inhabitants. Fortunately, the mediaeval Old Town, which is a real gem of architecture, remained unchanged.