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Torun is a city in northern Poland, on the Vistula River, with population over 207,190 as of 2006, making it the second largest city of the Kujawy-Pomerania Province, after Bydgoszcz. The medieval old town of Toruń is a birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. It was inscribed onto the World Heritage List of UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 1997.

Previously it was a capital of Toruń Voivodeship (1975-98) and Pomeranian Voivodeship (1921-45). Since 1999 Toruń has been a seat of the self-government of Kujawy-Pomerania Province and, as such, one of its two capitals (together with Bydgoszcz). The cities and neighbouring poviats form the Bydgoszcz-Toruń bipolar metropolitan area. In September 2004, Bydgoszcz Medical School joined Toruń's Nicolaus Copernicus University as its Collegium Medicum.

The first settlement in the vicinity is dated by archaeologists to 1100 BC (Lusatian culture). During medieval times, in the 7th-13th centuries, it was a place of an old Polish settlement, at the crossing of the river.

The Teutonic Knights built a castle there in the years 1230-31. The town was granted city rights by the Polish Crown in 1233. In 1236 it was relocated to the present site of the Old Town. In 1263 Franciscan monks settled in the city, followed in 1239 by Dominicans. In 1264 the nearby New Town was founded. In 1280, the city (actually both cities) joined the mercantile Hanseatic League soon turned into an important medieval trade centre.

The First Peace of Thorn ending the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War (1409-1411) was signed in the city in February 1411. In 1440 the gentry of Thorn formed the Prussian Confederation and rose with the Confederation against the Monastic state of the Teutonic Knights in 1454. Also, after almost 200 years of coexistence, New and Old Town amalgamated in 1454. The resulting Thirteen Years' War ended in 1466 with the Second Peace of Thorn, in which the Teutonic Order ceded their control over western Prussia (Royal Prussia). Thorn/Toruń became an autonomous subject under the protectorate of the Kingdom of Poland.

The city adopted Protestantism in 1557 during the Protestant Reformation, while most Polish cities remained Roman Catholic. During the time of the mayor Heinrich Stroband (1586-1609), the city became centralised and its administrative power went into the hands of the city council. In 1595, Jesuits arrived in order to promote the Counter-Reformation, taking control of the Church of St. John. Protestant city officials tried to limit the influx of the Catholic population into the city, as Catholics (Jesuits and Dominican Order monks) already controlled most churches, leaving only St. Mary to the Protestant citizens.

In 1677, the Prussian historian and educator Christoph Hartknoch was invited to be director of the Thorner Gymnasium, a post which he held until his death in 1687. Hartknoch wrote histories of Prussia, including the cities of Royal Prussia.
In the second half of the 17th century, tensions between Catholics and Protestants grew leading to events known as the Tumult of Thorn. In 1793 the city was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia following the Second Partition of Poland. In 1807, the city became part of the Duchy of Warsaw created by Napoleon and ruled by King Frederick

Augustus I of Saxony, although Prussia took it over again upon Napoleon's defeat in 1814. In 1870, French prisoners of war taken during the Franco-Prussian War built a chain of forts surrounding the town. In the following year, the city, along with the rest of Prussia, became part of the new German Empire. During this period it became one of centers of resistance to Germanisation and Kulturkampf by Poles, who established a Polish-language newspaper called "Gazeta Toruńska". In 1875 a Polish Science Society was established and in 1884 a secret organisation dedicated to restoration of Poland.

According to the Treaty of Versailles signed after World War I in 1919, it was part of the Polish Corridor assigned to Poland. Only now officially Toruń, it became the capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship, even though it was not situated in Pomerania proper. In 1925 the Baltic Institute was established in the city, with the task of documenting Polish heritage in Pomerania. In general, the interwar period was a time of significant urban development in Toruń. Major investments were completed in areas like transportation (new streets, tramway lines and the Piłsudski Bridge), residential constructions (many new houses, particularly in Bydgoskie Przedmieście) and public buildings.
The city was annexed by Nazi Germany after the Invasion of Poland in 1939 and administered as part of Danzig-West Prussia. During World War II, the chain of forts were used by the Germans as POW camps, collectively known as Stalag XX-A. The city, quite fortunate to avoid significant destruction during the war, was liberated from the Nazis in 1945 by the Soviet Red Army and returned to Polish administration by the Potsdam Conference. The remaining German population was expelled to West Germany between 1945 and 1947.

After World War II, the population increased more than twofold and industry developed significantly. However, one of the most important events of the post-war era was the founding of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in 1945. Over the years, it has become one of the best universities in Poland. Its existence has influenced the life of the city enormously, as well as its perception by non-locals.

Since 1989, when local and regional self-government was gradually reintroduced and the market economy set in, Toruń, like other cities in Poland, has undergone deep social and econonomic transformation. There is some debate among locals as to whether this time has been really spent as successfully as it should have been, but the fact is that Toruń has recently reclaimed its strong position as a regional leader, together with Bydgoszcz.
November 2007

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