Introduction

The most worthwhile day trip from Toruń, Chełmno (heum-no) is one of those enjoyably forgotten places that seems to lead a provincial life all of its own, with only occasional intrusions from the outside world. Its chipped and faded facades, sooty air and old red-brick institutions belong to the Poland of two decades ago, its churches and impressively beefy ring of defensive walls originating from a medieval golden era.

Like Toruń, Chełmno was once an important settlement in the swathe of northern Poland controlled by the Teutonic Knights. Though it had been Polish since the late 10th century, the Teutonic Knights earmarked it as a potential capital when they arrived in the late 1220s. Their castle was completed by 1265, bolstering Chełmno’s profitable position on the Vistula trade route and its lucrative affiliation to the Hanseatic League.

After the Treaty of Toruń, Chełmno was returned to Poland, but a devastating plague and a series of wars rendered the town a forgotten backwater by the time it was annexed by Prussia in 1772. It was returned to Poland in 1920 and survived WWII without major damage.