“ Historic town on the banks of the Vistula river in Poland. „
Chelmno is a beautiful small town I spotted on my way home from the Polish Coast two weeks ago. My husband decided to change the route going home to Warsaw to avoid the heavy traffic around Torun and when driving down one of Poland's quietest roads I noticed to the left of me in the distance perched high on the banks of the River Vistula - a fantastic scene - a skyline of red brick Gothic churches. Only problem was we were already late on our journey and if we were to stop off at Chelmno on that particular day we wouldn't have arrived home until midnight. So what did we do? We carried on home and returned on Tuesday of this week to see what this town, exactly 41 kilometres from Torun was really like.
~~~~Little bit of history~~~~~
Chelmno being the first seat of the Teutonic Knights used to be called Kulm and was originally going to be their capital but for some reason the town of Malbork was chosen instead. Chelmno developed rapidly as a commercial town due to its affiliation with the Hanseatic League and the trade of grain and wool along the Vistula river. At this time Chelmno had many Royal privileges but lost its sparkle when the Treaty of Torun was signed and the town returned to Poland. Those troublesome Swedes invaded and caused havoc during a series of wars in the 18th century. The town was damaged physically, its population diminished and its reputation ruined. Unlike a lot of other Polish towns Chelmno escaped the devastation of World war II but still never shone like it once did.
~~~~~How I love a walled town ~~~~~
We parked up outside the town as I wanted to walk around the fortified walls. I really do enjoy a stroll around the outside of a walled town - I feel important stood on the top of very strong defensive walls pretending to survey my land and town. The views are of gentle rolling hills and on this day the sun was quite warm and the clouds were depicting some cracking formations. It was great to be alive. These walls are I think the only example in Poland that have survived almost in their entirety. Perhaps Paczkow in Silesia is another example but they are definitely the only two examples. Not all of the 23 defensive towers exist but the ones that do are not in bad shape. Some areas of the walls are deteriorating more than others. I noticed that one of the towers had a huge crack centrally but it was still holding its own. A lot of the bricks along the bottom part of the walls were crumbling slightly and there was a cloud of white damp slowly rising. Overall, I would say this amazing structure has stood up well against time, elements and those pesky invaders.
Having walked around the walls I decided it was time to enter the old town but wasn't sure where the main entrance was until we stumbled across this huge medieval gateway. Well, you don't really stumble on one of these - it just confronts you face to face. When you are confronted you know it has to be the way in. The gate is called the Grudziadz Gate. I guess originally from this entrance you could follow the road to Grudziadz which is about 30 kilometres down river from Chelmno. The very imposing gate which is the only surviving medieval gate in Chelmno had a small chapel added to it in the 17th century when it was redesigned. Once through the gate we saw streets laid out like a chess board and placed in the centre was the marketplace.
~~~~~~Town Hall or Church~~~~~~
First attraction I opted for was the amazing Town Hall slap bang in the centre. You can't miss this building as it is so graceful stood in all its Renaissance glory. I have seen some town halls in my time but this has to take first prize. It is like something out of a Tim Burton film with it's smoky white walls embroidered with pale blue/grey lacy turrets. The clock tower rises high above showing a clock face on each side of the tower and I imagined Rapunzel with her long golden locks standing at the top of the tower in front of the wrought iron balcony letting her hair down, searching for her prince. The ornate decoration around each window and doorway is as if it has been delicately piped with fondant icing. Apart from Tim Burton I also thought of an enormous wedding cake. This is what the building reminds me of - stood in the centre of the square. It's eccentric, elegant and like nothing I have seen before.
Before the Town Hall was built in 1570 there used to be another Gothic structure standing there. Would have loved to have seen that one but I bet it wasn't as lovely as the building today which now houses the Regional Museum. Good job we visited on a Tuesday as the museum was open but really it is nothing to get excited about. Remember, this is a small provincial town so the displays are not huge or all that interesting. In fact I've never seen such a collection of random objects. It looked like the displays had been put together by the curator and the rest of the people working there. There was no order at all and nothing was labelled. It must have been one of the worst museums I have been to in Poland but that didn't matter as I was able to see the interior of the building. I thought the exterior was far out but the inside was just as eccentric with it's large, ornamental attic and arched windows which diminish in size when you get to the bottom of the building which makes the proportions of the building rather odd and make you feel a bit strange.
~~~~~6 churches- do we look at all of them?~~~~~~~
Six churches in a town the size of Chelmno is ridiculous. I knew there would be no way we would have the time to view all of them as Chelmno is a long drive from Warsaw and we couldn't fit everything into a day's visit. Plus I'd promised myself a stroll along the river so I could look at the surrounding lush meadows. We decided to look at two and chose what we thought were the most attractive and interesting. You can only look at so many churches in a day. On mass they look beautiful but on close inspection not all the churches are attractive and we actually found a couple closed.
The first one we looked at was just off the southern corner of the market place, Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Gothic in structure, being built from 1280 - 1320, massive in size and outlines the market square. Although Gothic it seems extra pointy. By this I mean there are so many pointed turrets above the windows. The huge Gothic arched doorway is fabulous where you can see the central aisle. Interesting to see that the walls inside were brick and hadn't been decorated with paint. Must be cold in winter. The ceiling in the northern aisle with its very fine golden ornamentation is lovely. It looks like the surface is made from satin and all the intricate lines and swirls have been added by a seamstress using delicate gold threads. The rest of the furnishings are a mixed bag and the overall scene is a heavy, jumbled one. My favourite features are the the fragmented Gothic frescoes in the choir which really stand out although not all in one piece and I really liked the 14th century figures of the eleven apostles. Other ornamentation is of the Baroque period although I wasn't sure about the stone font. To me, this had a Romanesque feel about it.
Moving on to perhaps a more interesting church - Church of SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. This one you can find in the north western corner of the Old Town. It was once a Cistercian and Benedictine Monastery and is very unusual because it has a two level nave. Gothic in style again, built in the 14th century. I loved the wall paintings of the patron saint. Not sure how old these are but at a guess I would say early 1340. Other features I fell in love with are the main front portal. Love the carved texture of smooth sandstone and the Baroque altar which is a little over the top but stunning to look at all the gold opulence. I like to look at the tombstones and I found a beauty - one of the oldest in the region dating back from 1270.
I think we made the right choice when visiting booth these churches and two was enough for me on that day. Whether I will go back and try to look at the others more closely, I'm not sure. There is still so much of Poland to see.
~~~~~Hotels and eateries~~~~~
We only visited Chelmno for a day so had no need for accommodation. I did see a very nice yellow and white hotel called Hotel Centralny. This is easy to find on Dworcowa Street between the Old Town and bus station. It also advertises a restaurant. I suggest that if you would like to visit Chelmno and want to stay over look on http://www.chelmno.pl/ You should get some information regarding places to stay here.
Most of the food establishments are based in the Rynek and seemed to be Italian which was fine with me as I love pizza and pasta. We chose the City Pizzeria, The pizza and service were both very good - not exceptional but very good. Pizza was a thin base which I love with plenty of topping and cheese and the mushrooms were fresh which is an important factor to me. I really dislike dried mushrooms. Pricewise - a little cheaper than Warsaw - 16zloty (approx £4) for a 12 inch pizza and 5 zloty (approx £1) for a beer. Decor was clean, modern with lots of light. As we wanted a quick lunch so we could carry on with our sightseeing this suited us fine.
Unfortunately if using public transport these aren't very good. As far as I know you can only reach Chelmno from Bydgoszcz, Torun and Grudziadz by bus. Buses are every hour.
I've been to quite a lot of Polish towns now and there are only a couple that I have found uninteresting. This isn't one of them. It's only small but I like that. I love the situation high on the banks of the Vistula River and all the Gothic buildings and features. The Rynek is large and open with a nice, calm atmosphere, not too busy. In lots of ways the town is hidden away behind its strong walls, a lazy town with lots of beauty but still living in the past. If you are ever this way then pop in - don't drive past unless you are on a really long journey. It's worth seeing.