Chelmno is one of the most beautiful cities in Pomerania with its centuries-long history, well-preserved urban development system, city defensive walls and churches. It presents a vision of a big medieval city which for centuries was a model for over 220 other cities of Poland. It had a very helpful defensive location thanks to being situated on the edge of the Vistula valley. The old town enclosed within the almost untouched city walls is a great example of the medieval urban system created on a so-called 'raw root. This means created in a new place according to a detailed design.
The street system was simple and based on the shape of a chess board - the streets crisscross at the right angle thus dividing the city into four quarters:
The four quarters of Chelmno
- the big quarter, limited by Grubinska Street and Tlusta Street. (St. Georges and St. Knights), inhabited by the wealthiest townsmen;
- the small quarter, the southern part with Torun Street, The Holy Spirit St. And Tkacka St. (22nd January Street), with the parish church of Mary's Assumption, the church and the Holy Spirit Martin's Chapel;
- the Franciscan Quarter in the north-west part of the city, with the Franciscan and Cistercian convent complex;
- the Dominican quarter in the north-east part of the city, the most densely populated area.
There is a perfectly preserved defensive wall almost along the entire length of the city. It's 2,270 meters long – shaped by the outline of the platform where the city is. The brick wall came into place between the mid 13th and the mid 14th centuries in the place of the original wooden-earth fortifications.
Between the 14th – 16th centuries the wall became higher and the city filled the wall in, among others by Sigismund II Augustus in 1563 and again just after the Swedish wars in 1678. In the 2nd half of the 19th century 2 sections of the wall and 5 gates disappeared to improve communication. Renovation of the rest of the wall took place at the end of that same century. There were 25 towers, 17 of which are fully preserved and 6 of them in fragments.
Gates in the Defense Wall
There were 7 gates at the exits of the main streets. From the East lowland side the wall was additionally protected by a moat. The main the north-east entrance to the city was through the Grudziacka Gate and its extension – Grudziacka Street. In the south there was the Weaving Gate (Sukiennicza) with Tkacka Street (22nd Stycznia Street). Both gates were by the moat and were originally protected by drawbridges. Other gates are the Torun Gate (the Holy Spirit Gate) – a very important transit gate, the Bridge Gate at the exit of Szkolna Street. To the west is the Franciscan Gate also known as the Gate of the Barefoot (later the Bishops’ Gate), the Fishermen Gate at the exit of Rybacka Street, and the Water Gate (“Painted”) at Wodna Street.
Chelmno Town Hall
The Chelmno Town Hall is one of the most beautiful Renaissance art objects in Poland. It was the focal point of the Medieval main square. Building took place between 1567-1572 in place of the earlier Gothic city hall built around 1298. The tower is from 1584 - 1596. Krzysztof Wagner from Gdansk made a Baroque cupola in 1721. The city hall is a detached building situated slightly to the south-west of the center of the main square. It is a rectangular building 13.20 m wide and 22.70 m long, and about 47 meters high.
Originally, a Gothic town hall stood here, discovered during the excavations performed during the preservation-repair works in 1956 – 1959. The original town hall from the 13th century was a one-story building 10 meters wide and 13 meters long and about 8 meters high. It has a tower, a tower clock and two bells: one council manic and one municipal.
Inside Chelmno Town Hall
The town hall had several chambers. The balance room, the archives, the city council’s chamber, the Chelmno court chamber and finally the summer representative hall on the first floor. The present building from the 16th century swallowed up the previous one. Purpose of the building was for the city to gain more prestige and because there was simply need for the ever-growing secular authority thanks to the 16th century economic growth of the city. The late-Renaissance outer façade of the city hall is, with its richness of ornamentation, very close to mannerism with the Italian like motive of the attic built in 1885-1887. Knocking out the windows in the wall between the attic’s pillars made the second floor possible.
The repair works of the Town Hall took place in the years 1852, 1863, 1882, 1885-1887, 1956-1959, and 1976-1983. Since 1983 the Tourist Information Center together with the Museum of the Chelmno Land with its regional-historical exhibitions has been open here. The permanent exhibitions in the museum are: ‘The history of Chelmno’ and ‘Ludwik Rydygier, a world-famous Polish surgeon’. The institution organizes temporary exhibitions in the Townsmen Hall on the second floor as well.
St Valentine and Chelmno
Every year on 14 February thousands of tourists flood to Chelmo (Chełmno) to celebrate Valentine’s Day together with the city’s inhabitants. Why here? For hundreds of years a parish church in Chelmno has been home to an incredible relic. Small bits of skull belonging to St Valentine, the patron saint of love.
It is unclear when and how St Valentine’s relics made their way to Chelmno. It's assumed that they reached the city in the Middle Ages. What is known, is that the relics supposed to bring miracles and the city’s residents received them with great excitement.
On two occasions every year – on 14 February and in May or June on Pentecost (a movable feast celebrated 50 days after Easter marking the Holy Spirit's descent) – the relics came from the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish church to the Church of the Holy Spirit. Indulgences accompanied the solemn procession. The faithful take part in Mass, reciting litanies to the saint and bring gifts and offerings.
History of St Valentine's relics
In 1630 the relics found there place in a silver relic box donated by Jadwiga of Czarnków Działyńska in gratitude for healing her daughter. In 1715 she got a special altar in the parish church. A picture depicting the beheading of St. Valentine hangs in the altar and the relics are held in a niche behind a glass door.
At the beginning of the 19th century the cult faded somewhat. It regained prominence and took on a new form in the 1990's when the Valentine’s Day tradition reached Poland. On 14 February 2002, the relics were on public display for the first time in 200 years. On that day, Chelmno celebrated Valentine’s Day for the first time.
Every year on the 13th and 14th of February the relics are ‘besieged’ by couples in love. They are welcome to take a guide who will tell them about Saint Valentine, the relics and the parish church. The Valentine’s Day celebrations last for several days. There are excursions around town, as well as culinary workshops, literary and art competitions, exhibitions as well as a fair, concerts and other events on the main square. Shops compete for the prettiest Valentine’s Day themed window displays. Bakers make rolls with lovage, pastry chefs prepare sweet heart-shaped delicacies and hotels and restaurants offer special offers for couples.
City of Lovers
Chelmno wants to become a "city of lovers", and not only on Valentine’s Day. The New Planty Park with flowery carpets in the shape of hearts and the Park of Memory and Tolerance are both popular locations for open-air weddings and walks. Couples are able to sit on specially designed benches, the most popular of which, containing padlocks of love, is in New Planty. The benches opposite the City Hall allow visitors to send “live greetings”. All you need to do is sit down and invite the person you want to greet to visit www.chelmno.pl, which transmits an image captured by a camera pointed at the bench.
Even the “Heart of the City of Lovers”, Chelmno’s most popular caching tourist route that takes people around the city’s most beautiful sights, has the shape of a heart.
And there is no shortage of beautiful sights in Chelmno. It's one of the prettiest cities in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, in a picturesque setting in the Vistula River valley, on nine hills. From all sides of the world one can admire the city’s beautiful panorama. This all surrounded by almost perfectly preserved 2 kilometer-long medieval ramparts.
Situated on the European Route of Brick Gothic, Chelmno is famous for its well-preserved medieval urban planning and Gothic architecture. A 16th century Gothic town hall with a stunning, richly decorated attic towers over the main square. It's one of the most valuable monuments of the Polish Renaissance era. Other attractions include The Crusader Castle Miniature Park and the Medieval Knights Village with a torture chamber.
In 2005, Chelmno’s Old Town made it on the Polish president’s list of historical monuments and in 2008 the Polish Tourist Organisation recognized “Chelmno – The City of Lovers” as Poland’s best tourist product. In 2015 the city came out as one of Poland’s seven miracles in the annual National Geographic poll.