The first settlement in the vicinity of Toruń is dated by archaeologists to 1100 BC (Lusatian culture). During early medieval times, in the 7th through 13th centuries, it was the location of an old Slavonic settlement, at a ford in the Vistula river.
The Gothic Old Town Hall (Ratusz Staromiejski
) dates back to the 13th century
In spring 1231 the Teutonic Knights crossed the river Vistula at the height of Nessau and established a fortress. On 28 December 1233, the Teutonic Knights Hermann von Salza and Hermann Balk, signed the foundation charters for Thorn and Kulm. The original document was lost in 1244. The set of rights in general is known as Kulm law. In 1236, due to frequent flooding, it was relocated to the present site of the Old Town. In 1239 Franciscan friars settled in the city, followed in 1263 by Dominicans. In 1264 the adjacent New Town was founded predominantly to house Torun's growing population of craftsmen and artisans. In 1280, the city (or as it was then, both cities) joined the mercantile Hanseatic League, and thus became an important medieval trade centre.
The First Peace of Thorn ending the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War was signed in the city in February 1411 leaving the town in the hands of the Order. In 1440, the gentry of Thorn formed the Prussian Confederation to further oppose the Knights' policies. The Confederation rose against the Monastic state of the Teutonic Knights in 1454 and its delegation submitted a petition to Polish King Casimir IV Jagiellon asking him to regain power over Prussia as the rightful ruler. An act of incorporation was signed in Kraków (6 March 1454), recognizing the region, including Toruń, as part of the Polish Kingdom. These events led to the Thirteen Years' War. The New and the Old Towns amalgamated in 1454. The citizens of Thorn enraged by the Order's ruthless exploitation, conquered the Teutonic castle, and dismantled the fortifications brick by brick, except for the Gdanisko tower, which was used until the 18th century for the gunpowder storage. During the war, Toruń financially supported the Polish Army. The Thirteen Years' War ended in 1466 with the Second Peace of Thorn, in which the Teutonic Order ceded their control over the city to Poland. The Polish King granted the town great privileges, similar to those of Gdańsk.
Throughout history, the city was home to notable personas, scholars and statesmen. In 1473 Nicolaus Copernicus was born and in 1501 Polish King John I Albert died in Toruń; his heart was buried inside St. John's Cathedral. In 1506 Toruń became a royal city of Poland. In 1528, the royal mint started operating in Toruń. A city of great wealth and influence, it enjoyed voting rights during the royal election period. Sejms of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth were held in Toruń in 1576 and 1626.
In 1557, during the Protestant Reformation, the city adopted Protestantism. Under Mayor Heinrich Stroband (1586–1609), the city became centralized. Administrative power passed into the hands of the city council. In 1595 Jesuits arrived to promote the Counter-Reformation, taking control of St. John's Church. The Protestant city officials tried to limit the influx of Catholics into the city, as Catholics (Jesuits and Dominican friars) already controlled most of the churches, leaving only St. Mary's to Protestant citizens.
In 1677 the Prussian historian and educator Christoph Hartknoch was invited to be director of the Thorn Gymnasium, a post which he held until his death in 1687. Hartknoch wrote histories of Prussia, including the cities of Royal Prussia.
During the Great Northern War (1700–21), the city was besieged by Swedish troops. The restoration of Augustus the Strong as King of Poland was prepared in the town in the Treaty of Thorn (1709) by Russian Tsar Peter the Great. In the second half of the 17th century, tensions between Catholics and Protestants grew, similarly to religious wars throughout Europe. In the early 18th century about 50 percent of the populace, especially the gentry and middle class, were German-speaking Protestants, while the other 50 percent were Polish-speaking Roman Catholics. Protestant influence was subsequently pushed back after the Tumult of Thorn of 1724.
After the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, the city was annexed by Prussia (it was briefly regained by Poles as part of the Duchy of Warsaw in years 1807–1815). In 1809 Toruń was successfully defended by the Poles against the Austrians. In 1875 Towarzystwo Naukowe w Toruniu (Toruń Scientific Society), a major Polish institution in the Prussian Partition of Poland, was founded. In 1976 it was awarded the Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta, one of highest Polish decorations.
After World War I, Poland declared independence and regained control over the city. In interwar Poland Toruń was capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship.