Torun was granted city rights in 1233, which contributed to the influx of a large population. The settlers came from Kuyavia, Mazovia, distant Silesia, as well as German countries. Arrival of merchant families in Toruń was the beginning of development of trade. The newcomers, often coming from the merchant families of large cities, almost immediately started trading with their hometowns, thus initiating large-scale trade in our city developed in later centuries. Toruń merchants exchanged goods between the south-eastern and north-western parts of Europe. Toruń was located at the crossroads of land and water routes, on the main route of medieval Poland, leading from Hungary north to the mouth of the Vistula River and further west, to Flanders (now the territories of Belgium, the Netherlands and France). A great role was also played by the Vistula river route which connected Cracow with the markets of Western Europe just through the city of Copernicus.

Year by year, the territory of the expansion of our merchants reached further and further. At the end of the 13th century they reached Cracow, Volodymyr, Lviv and Silesia. The merchants from Toruń visited the Polish lands in large numbers, carrying imported goods – salted herrings, dried cods and other marine fish, southern wines, olive oil, spices and roots imported from the south and cloth. Their assortment also included local Toruń cloth, which was cheaper and available to a wider range of customers. They also traded copper, lead, iron, furs (mostly Russian) and wax. They also contributed to the promotion of the city by transporting products of Toruń craftsmen – beautifully tanned leather or haberdashery. Silver, copper and lead came from Cracow, large amounts of wood and forest products from Podkarpacie region (Subcarpathia), yew wood from Małopolska (Lesser Poland), which was used by the English for the production of bows.

It was important for the development of Toruń’s commercial power that the city, engaged in overseas trade, became a member of the merchant association called the Hanseatic League or the Association of Hanseatic Cities around 1280. Members of the Hansa, besides Toruń, included Chełmno, Elbląg, Gdańsk, Królewiec and Braniewo, as well as German, Dutch, Pomeranian, Livonian and Swedish towns. From the very beginning the policy of the Hanseatic League was directed by the conventions of the constituent cities.

Toruń’s trade reached its peak in the 14th century. The wealth of the merchants and their contribution to the development of the city were clearly reflected in the magnificent Gothic architecture of Toruń. Thanks to the capital accumulated from trade, the wealthiest merchants decorated our city with more and more beautiful tenement houses, at the same time gaining authority and respect. They were the patricians who exercised power in the city. At that time, Toruń’s merchants were known in almost all parts of Europe, from Rus, Hungary, Silesia and Lesser Poland to Sweden, England, the Netherlands and Flanders.

Katarzyna Pietrucka

District Museum in Toruń