CHOPIN’S POLAND CHOPIN’S POLAND

Toruń

Toruń Toruń

In the middle of the summer of 1825, Fryderyk, on his second holiday at Szafarnia, sent to his friend Jan Matuszyński a humorous description of his impressions from a recent visit to Toruń: [1] 'What on earth did you see in Puławy? [2] You saw but a small part of that which my eyes beheld in full. After all, you saw in Sybil's Temple a brick taken from the home of Copernicus, from the place of his birth? But I saw the whole house, the whole place, albeit now somewhat profaned. Just imagine, dear Jasiu, in that corner of the room where this famous astronomer was gifted with life, stands the bed of some German, who doubtless, after stuffing himself with spuds, occasionally breaks quite frequent zephyrs, and more than one bug wanders around those bricks of which one was sent with great ceremony to Puławy. Thus, my brother, a German pays no heed to who lived in this house; he allows himself a whole wall of such profanation as Duchess Czartoryska would not permit herself a single brick.' [3]

However, as it later turned out, the house (on the corner of Kopernika and Piekary, now a tenement house at 40 Kopernika) over the poor state of which Fryderyk so lamented, was, up until the 1880s, erroneously identified as the birthplace of the great astronomer. [4]

The historical buildings of the fortified city of Toruń made a great impression on Fryderyk:

'That is all that I am able to write to you about Toruń, I might tell you more, but only this will I write, that the greatest impression [...] was made on me by the gingerbread. I have seen, it is true, all the fortifications from all sides of the city, with all the details, I saw the famous machine for moving sand from one place to another [...] besides this churches of gothic construction, founded by the Teutonic Knights, one of them built in 1231. I saw the leaning tower, the famous town hall, both outside and inside, the greatest peculiarity of which is that it has as many windows as there are days in the year, as many halls as months, as many rooms as weeks, and that its entire edifice is most magnificent, in the gothic taste. Yet all of this does not surpass the gingerbread, oh that gingerbread, a piece of which I've sent to Warsaw.' [5]

In Toruń, Chopin could admire the specific, highly diversified architecture, including the mediaeval burgher buildings-the granaries and also the gothic town hall (Fryderyk's description of which is not entirely accurate). He also mentions the splendid churches standing in the vicinity of the town hall. It is very likely, therefore, that he visited the three gothic churches. In addition, he saw that unique Toruń attraction, the Crooked Tower, dating from the beginning of the fourteenth century, part of the city's gothic defence system-a 'must-see' for all tourists.

But his tour of the city was dominated by the gingerbread, that true Toruń treasure. Earlier in the same letter he wrote the following:

'But Copernicus aside, I shall start writing about the Toruń gingerbread. In order that you might know it well, and perhaps better than Copernicus knew it, I shall convey to you an important item of information relating to it, which may serve for some of your scribblings; the information is as follows. According to the local bakers' custom, the gingerbread shops consist of hallways piled up with well-locked chests, in which the sorted gingerbread, arranged in dozens, lie. You'll doubtless not find this in Adagiorum Hiliades (sic), but knowing your curiosity in such weighty matters, I report it to you, that you be able to cope, when translating Horace, with dubious, tortuous meanings.' [6]

Fryderyk had many reasons to be particularly interested in visiting various parts of this beautiful city. The family of the Chopins' good friend, Professor Samuel Bogumił Linde, was connected with Toruń, where Chopin most probably stayed in the tenement house of the Fenger family. This was a splendid eighteenth-century building formerly belonging to Jakub Fenger, father of Countess Ludwika Skarbek. It was here, in 1792, that Fryderyk Skarbek-regarded by Chopin's family as Fryderyk's godfather-entered the world.

To commemorate the composer's stay in Toruń, a plaque was set into the wall of the Fengers' house (at 14 Mostowa), which reads: 'In this house Fryderyk Chopin stayed in the year 1825'. Below this is another plaque: 'In this house lived Fryderyk Skarbek 1792-1866, an eminent penitentiary, economist, historian and man of letters. On the centenary of his death-ZSP Toruń.'

Toruń lies on the River Vistula, which divides the city into two uneven parts (the larger part on the north bank). Toruń, like Turzno, is situated in Culmland and constitutes a sort of boundary between the historial regions of Cuiavia and Pomerania, yet for historical and administrative reasons it is officially part of Pomerania.


[1] T. Zakrzewski considered these words to be exceptionally valuable, as ‘essentially the earliest Polish description of our city during the times of the Prussian partition'.
[2] An estate in eastern Poland owned at the time by the Czartoryskis (trans.).
[3] The correspondence of Fryderyk Chopin, ed. B. E. Sydow, 1 vol. (Warsaw, 1955), 51-52.
[4] Copernicus' birthplace is now held to be the gothic tenement house at 15 Kopernika.
[5] The correspondence of Fryderyk Chopin, ed. B. E. Sydow, 1 vol. (Warsaw, 1955), 52.
[6] Ibid.

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