Toruń – town defensive walls


   The first wooden – earth fortification Toruń had already in the middle of the 13th century, because it resisted the Świętopełk invasion in 1242. It were probably erected with the help of the local population, soon after the transfer of the original settlement to the area of the later Old Town. The brick walls of the Old Town began to be built around the middle of the 13th century. It is assumed that this took place between 1246 and 1262. At the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries they were reinforced with towers. In 1264 the Teutonic Knights, seeing how quickly the town was developing, located in its neighborhood, on the eastern side, the second urban center called the New Town. It received its own, separate fortifications, only from the west side it was devoid of walls, because in this section it was in contact with the Old Town.
   In the 15th and 16th centuries they were still modernized and adapted to the advancement of war technology. In 1429 a barbican was erected in front of the Old Toruń Gate, and in 1449 the construction of the second one began, before the Chełmno Gate. Also around 1500 the two corner towers of the Old Town: the north-west and the north-east, were rebuilt into round bastions filled with earth, adapted for artillery defense.
In 1629, the construction of modern, bastion earthen fortifications outside the town walls took place, where old, medieval fortifications began to lose significance. They also suffered during the siege of Toruń by the Swedish army of Charles XII in 1703 and during the Napoleonic wars. Eventually they were mostly demolished by the Prussian authorities in the second half of the 19th century.



   Fortifications had all three urban units: Old Town, New Town and Teutonic Castle. The wall of old town walls was 1700 meters, and the walls of the New Town were 1100 meters. The fortifications were surrounded by a double circle of walls consisting of a high wall from the town side, about 10 meters wide zwinger and lower wall, in addition to the moat. From the west was also built the third line of defense walls. From the south, where the natural defense was the Vistula, a single wall without a moat was used.
   The main wall of the Old Town was about 8-9.5 meters high (including battlement) and a thickness was about 1.2-1.5 meters. It was topped with a crenellation and a sidewalk for defenders. It was entered using ladders or wooden stairs. In the 15th century, the crown of the wall was covered with roofs in order to protect defenders using firearms from rain. During this period, the walls were also raised by 1 meter, which is visible from the traces of bricked-up crenellation. Behind the wall, on its inner side ran a wide underwall street, which allowed for quick movement in the face of danger. In the Middle Ages, it was rigorously observed that it would not be built.
   The external wall had a height of 5.5 meters (including battlements), about 1.2 meters thick and a porch for defenders at a height of 3 meters. Merlons were 2.7 meters wide, half a meter thick and were spaced 1.25 meters apart. Every second merlon had a arrowslit. The outer wall from the side of the New Town had slightly different dimensions. It was 1 meter thick at a height of 3 meters, a 1 meter wide defensive porch was supported by timber corbels and merlons were spaced apart from each other in the ranges from 1 to 1.5 meters. During the siege, the task  of area of ​​the zwinger was to hinder access to the main circuit, and during the peace period it was sometimes used as a shooting range.

   Fortifications had numerous towers, built on a quadrilateral and polygon, less semicircular plan. Originally, the towers, as well as the gates, barely exceeded the defensive wall. Most of them had battlement, some were open from the town side. Later they were enlarged, raised, covered and closed from the inside. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the greatest expansion of the medieval town walls occurred, the Old Town had 33 towers and the New Town had 21 towers (approximate numbers because the saved plans represent slightly different quantities). Distances between towers were different, it is assumed that most often it was 20-25 meters. Also, the dimensions of individual towers varied significantly. For examples, the Leaning Tower had 10×8 meters in plan and 16 meters in height, Dovecote Tower 9×4.5 meters at the base and 19.5 meters high, Crane Tower 9×4.5 meters at the base and 14 meters high, tower at Podmurna 20 street had dimensions of 7×7 meters, and the tower at Podmurna 26 street had dimensions of 8×6.2 and 15 meters in height.
   At the exit of the main routes from the old town of Toruń there were 8 town gates. To the west was Old Toruń Gate, from 1429 preceded by a barbican and 26 meters foregate. To the north was the Chełmińska Gate, which was placed in a four-storey tower, also preceded by a barbican called Cat’s Belly. It was probably the highest gate of Toruń, because it measured 21 meters. The Old and New Towns were connected by the massive Pauline Gate, also called the Prison Gate and the Kotlarska Gate. In the south there were four Vistula gates: Monastery, Baths, Sailing and Bridge Gate. Three gates led to the New Town: the Straight, also called the Main Gate, St. Catherine’s Gate also called Cattle Gate and St. James gate called also Wooden Gate reinforced with a double-tower foregate. The foregates of various forms had since the fifteenth century all the gates of Toruń, with the exception of the Vistula gates. The gate towers were at first low, not much above the defensive wall, lacking roofs and topped with battlements. They were built in three forms: high on a rectangular plan (eg Chełmińska Gate), wide in rectangular plan (eg Monastery Gate, originally lower, raised by one storey in the fifteenth century) and a separate case which was the Bridge Gate. It was erected late, in 1432 on the site of an older gate, which is why it received rounded corners in order to immunize firearms. At the top, a wooden defensive porch probably surrounded it.

   The peak achievement in terms of the defense of the gates were two barbicans. The barbican in front of the Old Toruń Gate had a diameter of about 26 meters and a porch covered with a roof with shooting holes in the form of machicolation. On its top floor there was a smaller round observation tower. The Chełmno Gate barbican had the shape of an octagon with a diameter of 30 meters and five floors. The top floor was surrounded by machicolations supported by stone corbels. In the floor of the covered porch there were holes through which you could shot or poured. On the upper two levels there were shooting holes for hand firearms. The gate tower was connected by 27 meters long and 3 meters wide neck. The barbican was surrounded by a moat, about 13 meters wide, through which led a wooden drawbridge. The barbican of the Chełmno Gate was built 23 years later than barbican of Old Toruń Gate  and provided more effective defense, because it expanded the range of effective fire to the entire section of the moat towards the west.
   The outer defense zone was an irrigated moat. The Old Town had a built-in moat of about 40 meters wide, New Town narrower one, 20 meters wide. Similar moats of 20 meters wide were also surrounded both barbicans. The moats of both urban centers were fed by the waters of Struga Toruńska. On the eastern side of the Old Town, it flowed along a separate bed next to the Dominican monastery to the castle mills, powered by its waters. The water level in the moat was regulated by the locks located next to the castle and at the height of the Leaning Tower. As written sources say, the moats were cleaned every dozen or so years, partly for defensive reasons (not to overgrow), partly hygienic (impurities were poured there).

Current state

   At present, the longest section of preserved Toruń walls is stretching along the Vistula River. In addition, fragments of the walls and other elements of the medieval fortification system can be found, among others, along the southern and northern sections of Podmurna Street and in the vicinity of the Dominican monastery complex and the church of St. Nicholas. What is worth noting the preserved part of the defensive wall along Pod Krzywą Wieżą street is the oldest preserved fragment of the town wall in Poland, dated 1246-1262. Apart from the defensive wall, three gates from the Vistula side have survived to this day: Bridge, Sailing and Monastery Gate and 9 towers in the southern and western sections of the fortification area of the Old Town. New Town fortifications did not survive.

show Bridge Gate on map

show Monastery Gate on map

show Leaning Tower on map

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Die Bau- und Kunstdenkmäler der Provinz Westpreußen, der Kreis Thorn, red. J.Heise, Danzig 1889.
Gąsiorowski E., Średniowieczne obwarowania Torunia, Toruń 2007.

Sypek A., Sypek.R., Zamki i obiekty warowne od Malborka do Torunia, Warszawa 2004.