Medieval Town of Toruń (1997)
Poland

Back to index

Torun owes its origins to the Teutonic Order, which built a castle there in the mid-13th century as a base for the conquest and evangelization of Prussia. It soon developed a commercial role as part of the Hanseatic League. In the Old and New Town, the many imposing public and private buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries (among them the house of Copernicus) are striking evidence of Torun's importance. 
  • Poland 2003. City view of Torun, with Nicholaus Copernicus in the foreground. 

At the southern edge of Pojezierza Chelminskie, along both sides of the Vistula, is Torun, the largest city of the region. Founded in the 13th century as a commercial center, this city was, for a long time, a member of the Hanseatic League. In the 17th century it became a center for the Protestant movement and later for the Polish nationalism movement in Pomerania. And, as an aside, Torun has been famous for its honey cakes and gingerbread ever since the Middle Ages. 

Poland 1923. Nicholaus Copernicus, 1000

Poland 1923, Nicholaus Copernicus, 5000.

The city's most famous son is Nicholaus Copernicus, the astronomer who created the heliocentric theory, and who was further mathematician, economist, doctor and lawyer. He was born on 19th February 1473 to Nicolaus Copernicus, a merchant from Krakow, and Barbara Watzenrode. 
  • Poland 1923. The very first Polish issues of Nicholaus Copernicus. 

The major premises of Copernicus's theory are that the earth rotates daily on its axis and revolves yearly around the sun. He argued, furthermore, that the planets also circle the sun, and that the earth precesses on its axis (wobbles like a top) as it rotates. The Copernican theory retained many features of the cosmology it replaced, including the solid, planet-bearing spheres, and the finite outermost sphere bearing the fixed stars. On the other hand, Copernicus's heliocentric theories of planetary motion had the advantage of accounting for the apparent daily and yearly motion of the sun and stars, and it neatly explained the apparent retrograde motion of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and the fact that Mercury and Venus never move more than a certain distance from the sun. Copernicus's theory also stated that the sphere of the fixed stars was stationary. 

The Copernican Theory 
Nicolaus Copernicus believed that the Earth revolved around the Sun, upsetting the long-accepted Ptolemaic view that Earth was the center of the universe. Fearing his theory would be judged heretical by the Roman Catholic Church, Copernicus delayed its publication until shortly before his death in 1543. Later scientists were punished for similar beliefs, including the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was forced to renounce his theories in 1633. 

By the late 1700s, however, many great thinkers of Europe had adopted the Copernican view, among them the English physicist Sir Isaac Newton. 

  • The Copernican System. Copyright Mary Evans Picture Library/Photo Researchers, Inc. Microsoft Encarta 2002. 

Another important feature of Copernican theory is that it allowed a new ordering of the planets according to their periods of revolution. In Copernicus's universe, unlike Ptolemy's, the greater the radius of a planet's orbit, the greater the time the planet takes to make one circuit around the sun. 

Russia 1955. Nicholaus Copernicus painted by the Polish painter Jan Matejko.

But the price of accepting the concept of a moving earth was too high for most 16th-century readers who understood Copernicus's claims. In addition, Copernicus's calculations of astronomical positions were neither decisively simpler nor more accurate than those of his predecessors, even though his heliocentric theory made good physical sense, for the first time, of planetary movements. As a result, parts of his theory were adopted, while the radical core was ignored or rejected.
  • Russia 1955. Nicholaus Copernicus painted by the Polish painter Jan Matejko. 

There were but ten Copernicans between 1543 and 1600. Most worked outside the universities in princely, royal, or imperial courts; the most famous were Galileo and the German astronomer Johannes Kepler. These men often differed in their reasons for supporting the Copernican system. In 1588 an important middle position was developed by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in which the earth remained at rest and all the planets revolved around the sun as it revolved around the earth. 

After the suppression of Copernican theory occasioned by the ecclesiastical trial of Galileo in 1633, some Jesuit philosophers remained secret followers of Copernicus. Many others adopted the geocentric-heliocentric system of Brahe. By the late 17th century and the rise of the system of celestial mechanics propounded by the English natural philosopher Sir Isaac Newton, most major thinkers in England, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark were Copernicans. Natural philosophers in the other European countries, however, held strong anti-Copernican views for at least another century. 
  • Poland 1992. Nicholaus Copernicus. 

Poland 1992. Nicholaus Copernicus.

Poland 2004. Torun with town hall and marketplace.

For tourists with a liking for stage productions, this city makes an interesting stopover as it is the site of annual theatre and puppet theatre festivals, drawing crowds from the entire northern region. And if this not enough to entice visitors to make this town one of their destinations, it should be added that Torun is one of the most beautiful cities in Poland. 

This beauty is partially due to the medieval core of the city on the right bank of the Vistula. The focal point of the old town Market Place is the 14th century Town Hall with its Dutch Renaissance-style second storey which was added at a later date. The structure was changed again during the baroque period. Worth noting, too, are several of the residences located at the marketplace. 

  • Poland 2004. Torun with its town hall and marketplace. 

Torun is famous for its unique Gothic apartment houses, splendid granaries and churches, the Old Town City Hall, and its Leaning Tower, and it is absolutely justified to name Torun "The Venice of the North". 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Poland (on this website). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing (Poland-Section) for further information on such properties. 

Back to index


Revised 31 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
All Rights Reserved