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Thorn (Polish Torun) is a city situated on the river Vistula, and is today capital of the province of Torun in north-central Poland. It was founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1231. It was taken by Poland in 1454 and did not return to Prussia until the Second Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1793. In 1919 it was again removed from Prussia and awarded to the new Poland by the victorious plutocratic Allies. In World War II it largely escaped damage. In 1904 it had 29,600 inhabitants.[1] In 1982 the estimated population was 180,100.[2]

Early history

Founded by the Teutonic Knights who erected a castle there in 1231 (strengthened 1240-70), it acquired town rights in 1233, and the present old town sector was laid out in 1236. During the fourteenth century Thorn joined the Hanseatic League and sailed its own merchant fleet, mainly trading with the Netherlands. In 1454 Thorn fell to Poland whose Polish citizens then destroyed most of the old castle. Under pressure from the burghers and the Hansa, it was declared a Free City (under Polish administration) in 1466. A succession of Polish kings bestowed upon it economic favours, allowing the town to flourish.[3]


The handsome Rathaus (Town Hall) was built in the 13th, 14th and 16th centuries, but, having suffered a fire, was rebuilt in 1708. On December 7, 1724, the Burgomaster (Mayor) Rosner, and nine Protestant citizens, were beheaded in front of the Rathaus by order of the Polish government, following religious disturbances in the town, an incident known as the 'Blood Bath of Thorn' ('Thorner Blutbad').[4] The city Post Office was erected in the same style as the Rathaus in the 19th century. Next to the old castle stood the Junkerhof. The Church of St. John was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and was an imposing edifice, whose choir in 1904 still contained a fine monumental brass (1360) of Burgomaster Johann von Soest and his wife. The Church of St. Mary (Marien-Kirche), of the same period: in a recess to the left of the high altar is the tomb of a Swedish princess who died in Thorn in 1625. The Church of St. James is a handsome brick building of the early 14th century with two towers. The finely carved organ-loft dates from 1611.[5]


The Treaty of Thorn, imposed upon the Teutonic Order by a victorious Poland, was signed here in 1466.

Thorn was a major railway junction in the Prussian railway network, and remains so today. Before World War II the Berlin via Posen to Insterberg and Eydtkuhnen (East Prussia) Express stopped here. Ten miles from Thorn is Kulm, another ancient stronghold of the Teutonic Order on the right bank of the Vistula.

Notable people

  • Copernicus (1473-1543), the famous astronomer, was born in Thorn, at 168 Copernicus Strasse, and a bronze statue to him (by Tieck) was erected at the north end of Segler Strasse. His grave is at Frauenburg in East Prussia, where his brother, Andrew, was an Augustinian canon.
  • Johann von Soest, Mayor of Thorn before 1360.
  • Tiedeman von Allen, a merchant and Mayor of Thorn in 1459.
  • Barthel Gertner, a merchant and town councillor in the 15th century.


  1. Baedeker, 1904.
  2. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, vol.ii, 1990, p.861.
  3. Britannica, 1990.
  4. Baedeker, 1904.
  5. Baedeker, 1904
  • Baedeker, Karl, Northern Germany, Leipzig and London, 1904, p.163-4.