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The Raftsmen of Torun

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As a result of its location on the Vistula river, border-city character, and relations with numerous cities of our continent, Torun from the beginning of its existence in the 13th century has played an important role in European trade. Part of the commercial profile of the city is its rafting tradition.

Originally, it meant inland navigation on ships and boats. Therefore, raftsmen were merchants who used these means of transport. Active exchange with European Hanseatic cities assured delivery of overseas goods to Torun and, on the other hand, Torun played the role of a mediator in the trade of goods floated on the Vistula river from the south of Poland (mostly wood, wheat and leather).

Poland_raftingParallel to the rafting tradition in Torun, the floating of timber tied into rafts developed. This was a so-called ‘orylka’ (float), the people involved in it were called ‘oryle’ (floaters) and their chief was called a "retman". The rafting of wood on the river was such an important branch of the Teutonic, Polish and Prussian trade that it remained in the city until World War II.

A part of the Torun rafting tradition was the well-deserved rest in the town of Copernicus of the crews after a stay on the river that lasted a few weeks. This led to the crystallization of raftsmen’s folklore within the borders of the city. The ceremonies of fitting young fledglings for true rafters usually took place in Torun. A place of their traditional meetings was the non-existent raftsmen's pub „Under the Turk” in the Old-Town Market Square. From the moment of the erection of the monument of Nicholas Copernicus in the Torun Market Square in 1853, it has become a meeting place and a rest site for the raftsmen.

Even today one of the most famous legends of Torun reminds the city of this tradition. According to legend, a raftsman playing the violin managed to lead thousands of frogs away from the city during a calamity of these amphibians. In honour of this hero a monument of the raftsman was erected in Torun in 1914. Today the fountain–monument of the raftsman of Torun surrounded by a herd of frogs stands near the south-west corner of the Old Town Hall.

 

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