Falling for the charms of Toruń, Poland
There is a city in Europe where the dominant scent is the scent of the freshly baked gingerbread. A city where the centuries-old fairytales would easily come to life. Where the houses have retained their medieval looks and the ancient traditions are still being practiced. The city’s name is Toruń and while it’s a well-known destination for any Pole, on a European scale it remains a hidden gem. And as we know, the hidden gems are there to be discovered and inspired by. That’s what we’re going to do, falling for the charms of Toruń.
It’s not only the picture-perfect looks that make it a top place to visit. Toruń is a major stop of not one but two Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe. First of all, it used to be an important Hanseatic city thus becoming a must-see for The Hansa route takers. On the other hand, the magnificent local Gothic red-brick St. James’ Church is along the Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim Routes. It hosts the Polish Camino de Santiago festival to the delight of city inhabitants and visitors.
One of the reasons why Toruń’s charms work so well giving birth to an army of the city’s admirers year after year is the versatility. Honestly, out of many Polish friends I have the most common answer to the question of their favorite city in the country would be Toruń. For a long time, I didn’t understand why. Sure, it is undeniably beautiful on pictures but it seemed like a typical provincial gem of a town to me, certainly not the one who would win the tough Wroclaw-Krakow-Warsaw competition. Then I paid a visit and I finally got it. There’s definitely something in the air and that something makes you love every minute you spend here. The versatility of Toruń is in the fact that it works on several levels: architectural, atmospheric and culinary.
Toruń gingerbread is a stuff of legends. Not many cities out there have such a distinct flavor appeal as this town on Vistula river banks. Having gingerbread as your trademark food is such a positive and gentle move. The moment I entered the amazing Muzeum Piernika, I felt the inexplicable and elusive but still strong sense of being a child again. I can’t imagine how exciting it should be for the actual children to visit this place, seeing how the gingerbread is made, taking part in the production process themselves. The Toruń piernik (Polish for gingerbread) originates in the Middle Ages and that’s the medieval recipe that you follow to make your own. I swear, the moment the museum guide gave me my own gingerbread filled me with pure joy.
The museum is a great one, masterfully calibrating between practice and theory, history and fun, it gives you a full glance at the rich traditions of the local gingerbread-making. And it’s a serious business here, Confectionery Factory “Kopernik” established in 1763 is one of Poland’s biggest and most well-known brands.
And it’s not only about the gingerbread, this city knows how to trade. That was the primary reason why Toruń became a part of the Hanseatic League back in 1280 thus cementing its important status for the merchant paths in Europe and firmly placing itself as an important stop along the commercial routes. While Hanseatic League may be long gone, its heritage still lives in the cities that formed it and Toruń is not an exception.
To be transported back in time to the zenith of the merchant life in medieval Toruń explore the numerous granaries of the city, the red-brick remnants of the bygone eras of extensive trade. The granaries were built in the Middle Ages to, well, store the grain. What a big number of these structures signifies for us today, is that Toruń at the time was booming with commerce. You can find the addresses of the most interesting objects of this kind using the Routes4U interactive map.
Another important feature that makes Toruń irresistible is how little has changed here since medieval times. Usually, a sentence like this is simply inapplicable for Polish cities. Sadly, the majority of towns in the country have suffered the most during the devastating years of the Second World War with entire neighborhoods being razed to the ground and rebuilt again. That was the case of Warsaw, Wroclaw and Gdansk. Fortunately, Toruń was able to survive the war almost intact and now the whole Old Town area is a unique historic complex with no rivals in its country. In 2007 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list and very rightfully so.
It is from the opposite bank that you get the best view of Toruń’s medieval glory. City walls encircle the rounded red-brick Old Town, the spires of the churches pierce the clouds. It is easy to forget that it’s the 21st century such is the impression. Upon closer examination strolling around the cobbled streets, the impression persists. Gothic architecture is everywhere you look and Gothic means that it was built between the 12th and 16th centuries. In other words, this city’s historic core is really, really old.
St. James’ Church is one of Torun’s most iconic Gothic buildings. It’s breathtaking both on the outside and inside. In fact, its interior has all it takes to make your architecture-loving heart pump quicker. It’s simply spectacular, a dance of ochre-colored walls, mighty altars, flying buttresses, elaborate paintings and sublime atmosphere. Visiting the church answers all the questions why hundreds of pilgrims of the Santiago de Compostela Route come here. It’s a magnetic structure and it’s definitely a must for everybody visiting the city.
So we’ve seen the city from the opposite bank, now it’s time to hit the heights to tell everybody that you’ve actually done it all in Torun. First, visit the Toruń District Museum located in the 13th century City Hall, another Hansa Route highlight, for the top-notch exhibitions detailing the rich city history. There you have a chance to climb the tower. Do that and have a pleasure to see this glorious medieval city as the birds do. It is, indeed, so easy to fall for Toruń’s charms.
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The best way to experience something, is to put on the shoes of a traveller. Routes4U selected the best of bloggers' articles regarding the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe in the four EU macro-regions.