“ Zamość is a town in southeastern Poland. Zamość was founded in the year 1580 by the Chancellor and Hetman (head of the army of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) Jan Zamoyski on the trade route linking western and northern Europe with the Black Sea. Modelled on the Italian trading cities and built during the Baroque period by the architect Bernardo Morando, a native of Padua, Zamość remains a perfect example of a Renaissance town of the late 16th century which retains its original layout and fortifications and a large number of buildings blending Italian and central European architectural traditions. The Old City quarter of Zamość has been placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. „
I first visited Zamosc around 5 years ago, at the time the road from Lublin was in a terrible state of maintenance and it took some patience to do the incredibly short journey, last time I used the road it was redone and in perfect condition - how long that will last remains to be seen!
Zamosc is located in South Eastern Poland, relatively close to the Ukrainian border, it's city centre is on the UNESCO Heritage List and deservedly so, it's a fine example of Rennaisance. It was built during the Baroque period by a Padovan artist called Bernardo Morando - based on Italian towns of the time, it was supposed to be not only good looking but extremely well fortificated too. The hetman of Poland at the time was Zamojski, a Zamosc born man who ordered this to happen.
Even today, the centre is in fine condition and wandering around the square or the arched buildings around it, or perhaps enjoying a beer, meal or coffee in the vicinity is extremely relaxing.
It may seem that once you've visited the town centre (which doesn't take particularly long), there's little else to do and that's pretty much true, the centre is well worth a visit but once that's been done - you may find yourself with excess time on your hands. That's why I recommend doing one of 3 things:
1/ Visit Zamosc on a daytrip from Lublin
2/ Use Zamosc as a base to visit the nearby Rostocze National Park or vice-versa
3/ Pop in on a journey between Lublin and Lviv
Of course you could also potter around nearby towns in the Lublin region - Chelm, Kazimierz Dolny and Naleczow are all very nice too.
Getting there by train or bus isn't too bad - it's well connected with Lublin and Warsaw, the train journey to the south: Rzeszow and Krakow etc tends to be a long journey albeit an interesting one, as the slow train travels through rural areas straddling the Ukrainian border.
I've never come across people renting out private rooms in Zamosc, although it's easy to find accomodation online in the nearby Rostocze National Park, the majority of the websites are in Polish only. I stayed in a hotel in Zamosc but can't recall the name, there were definitely quite a few medium budget options where rooms cold be had for arond 30 euros. There's also a hostel up in Lublin where a dorm is less around 8 euros.
After being in Poland for nearly two weeks and having visited only Lancut and Niepolomice, I was itching to see pastures new. Poland is a large and historic country, but there is a problem in that the large towns and cities are spread out, this means undertaking long and sometimes dangerous journeys on some terrible roads.
Train travel is impossibly slow and fairly unreliable. Bus travel? Well it was around 35degC and I did not feel like being gassed out and arriving some time next month! Sorry, but it was climate controlled Honda travel again for us.
With this in mind and only a day to spare for a visit, my usual ally comes to the rescue "Lonely Planet Poland". A three hour road journey from Mielec where we were staying with my in-laws would take us to Krakow in the West, the Ukrainian border in the east, the Slovakian border to the south and pretty much the middle of nowhere to the north.
I came up with two names, both to the east; one, Chelm (pron. Helm), rang bells from history lessons of a generation ago, the other, Zamosc (pron. Zah-moshch) did not. According to "the book", whilst of similar size - just under 70,000 inhabitants, of the two cities, Zamosc sounded the more interesting. As a bonus, by road, as luck would have it, Zamosc was located on the way to Chelm, potentially we could see both during the course of a long day out.
A very difficult journey there, typical of Polish roads one has to say, meant that it was only feasible to visit Zamosc on the day, as it turned out we were more than happy to have done so.
Zamosc is the administrative centre of a fairly large and attractively rural area of Poland, over which we drove to arrive there. Having read about it in the book, I was expecting a rather larger city on arrival, although outside of the ancient walled city there are tower blocks and probably supermarkets, which we did not see.
As a motorist, one of my favourite things about Poland is the sheer ease of parking. In the centre of Zamosc, understandably, we had to pay for it, my wife purchasing from a kiosk attractive little vouchers - one per hour, at the cost of around 10PLN (£1.76) for four hours parking. Having not yet visited the city centre, nor purchased a guide book, we had no idea that we were parked literally a one minute walk from the Rynek and Town Hall.
Lonely Planet had been rather 'diplomatic' of wording regarding Zamosc, saying that it vastly over-egged its' own attractions and that the place was rather run down generally. Regrettably my book was published in 1999 and needs replacing - Poland has changed vastly during those intervening seven years, far more so than in any region of the UK that I know of.
I can only agree with Lonely Planet that the guide books on Zamosc, and there are many of them, are very plentiful and colourful in their praise of this extraordinary city. An English one that we purchased proudly proclaims "Zamosc - The Pearl of the Renaissance". Others refer to it as an "Ideal" city or town, indeed there is some confusion over its status here.
I am, for consistencies sake, going to refer to Zamosc as a city throughout the rest of this review. If anyone wishes to prove me wrong in this, I am more than happy to change all references to town!
This is officially a World Cultural Heritage City and, as such, appears to be undergoing rapid refurbishment. Indeed, from the moment we stepped out of the car, to the moment, four hours later when we drove away, all we could hear was the drilling and grinding of builders and workmen. Houses, roads and pavements were all being restored simultaneously.
AN UNUSUAL HISTORY
Unusual because the pentagonally shaped, walled, city centre of Zamosc, as you now see it, is almost exactly as it was designed and built between 1580 and 1600.
The city was the brainchild of one of the most powerful, and rich, Poles in history. Firstly the King's secretary at the age of 33, then Chancellor, Jan Zamoyski, chose to build his large palace here. The city that honoured his name was designed under his supervision by Italian architects working for Bernardo Morando, an internationally renowned architect of the day.
Zamoyski and his chief architect were drawn to the idea of building an ideal city in the Renaissance style. Many cities have followed suit, in following the grid pattern, most famously New York. In Zamosc at the centre is to be found the magnificent Rynek - town square, whilst unusually to either side of it (behind buildings) are two smaller satellite market squares.
The ideal city concept, naturally, was designed to include all of the facilities that the current and future inhabitants were to require, storage, schools, churches and those market squares for traders to go about their business.
This was also a highly fortified military city, due to its geographical location, it needed to be prepared to endure sieges of considerable length. Throughout history Zamoyski's ideal city proved well able to defend itself against many potential invaders and threats.
Ignoring the fortifications, in "English" terms this could be compared to the concept of a "new town", but built 350 years before anyone thought of doing it here!
In Polish terms this is an unusual city, and for several reasons, mainly geographical and religious, but primarily thanks to its' founders character and international reputation. As with most cities, there was a strategic reason for the sighting of Zamosc. It is located on what were highly prosperous trade routes from Krakow to Vilnius and from Gdansk to Lviv.
This location lead to Zamoyski attracting wealthy merchants from those cities already mentioned, and from further afield too. Zamosc rapidly became a centre of international renown, very much a multi-cultural society as Zamoyski, who unusually, had travelled widely and spoke six languages, recognised the strengths of different nationals in certain fields of business and culture.
Zamosc was originally intended to be the exclusive preserve of Roman Catholics, Zamoyski quickly changed his ideas on this. In 1585, i.e. only five years after founding Zamosc, he started inviting Jews from southern Europe, as well as Armenians and Greeks to settle here. The attraction of worldwide trade links, especially the Armenians with their far-eastern connections, brought Italians, Germans, Scots and Englishmen here to live too.
By the end of the seventeenth century Zamosc was on the decline, the wealthy Armenians had largely left, the southern European Jews were replaced by native Polish ones, whilst by the nineteenth century, Russians were making up a large minority of the population too.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, Zamosc had regained much of its previous wealth and reputation, particularly as a centre for culture and education. Of its 28,000 inhabitants in 1939, 10,000 were Jews.
The German invasion of Poland was swift; Zamosc was very close to the Eastern Front and became the capital of the invaded territories - renamed by the invaders 'Himmlerstadt'. The Germans set up two concentration camps here - one for Russian prisoners of war, the other for 're-located' residents of the Zamosc area. Between 1942 and 1944 about 70,000 were processed through the camps. 50 miles away was an extermination camp, where it is estimated that 9,000 of the 10,000 Zamosc Jews perished.
As with much of Europe, after the war this was a changed place. Industrial suburbs were built - the multi-cultural society in Zamosc was consigned to the history books. By default, through ethnic cleansing, it had become as originally intended - a Roman Catholic city.
Whilst industry clearly remains, but mercifully does not encroach on the old city centre, since the fall of communism, Zamosc has seen a steady revival, spurred on by tourism
which very conveniently brings us bang up to date. August 2006, Mr and Mrs RICHADA visiting Zamosc, as just that, tourists!
ENOUGH HISTORY! WHY WOULD WE VISIT ZAMOSC TODAY?
Apologies for the long, and I hope not too boring, history lesson. It was there for an important purpose though in this case. Zamosc is, 406 years later, amazingly original to its 1600 'newly built' form. Indeed next year it probably will appear even more as it did in 1600, once the road and pavement re-constructions are complete - along with some substantial building renovations.
It is the historical multi-racial history that gives this city its unique appeal, both in terms of the stunning architecture and the atmosphere here. Whilst Zamoyski and Morando set the grid street pattern and size of the buildings at the outset, the style of them ended up very much reflecting the nationality of their inhabitants. It had been planned from the start that there would be houses and buildings of differing size, as the town was developed; various "quarters" emerged - Armenian, Jewish and Greek etc.
Our first port of call is the Tourist Information Centre, large, brightly lit and modern inside, located at street level on the right hand side of the grandest, tallest building in town - the Town Hall. Here you will find a useful range of guide books in English, costing from 50p to around £1.50. Post cards are plentiful as are cheap souvenirs.
TOWN HALL AND GREAT MARKET SQUARE
Step out onto the street, walk out into the middle of the Rynek, or Great Market Square (traffic free of course!), as it is referred to here, and just drink in the centuries old atmosphere. OK, to your left and right are pavement café's with their large modern and colourful parasols, but it is towards the stunningly detailed architecture that your eyes are inevitably drawn.
Centrepiece of the square (100 metre sq.), and indeed the city, is the truly magnificent Town Hall. At eye level you are looking at a broad fan shaped stairway ascending to the main door on the first floor. This is a large 'four square' building, three storeys high and topped in its centre by a magnificent 52 metre high tower. This contains illuminated clock faces, above which there is a balcony, on top of which a dome and pinnacle sit.
The fact that this large and impressive building is painted pink, with green pinnacles, only really hits you when you view the photographs!
Regrettably we were not in the square at midday to see the trumpet player appear on this balcony. It is a tradition since Zamoyski's time, that at midday, a trumpeter plays the anthem of Zamosc. An unusual twist is that he plays in three directions only - north, east and south, never towards the west. In the west lays Krakow, and as legend would have it, Jan Zamoyski loathed Krakow and forbade any recognition of it by his townspeople.
THE ARMENIAN (Merchant's) HOUSES
To the right of the Town hall are my favourite houses - The Armenian Houses. Whilst an arcade at pavement level runs right around the square, the houses above take many different styles and are not matching in size or height. This gives an extraordinary rich and interesting character to the square as a whole. My eyes just kept coming back to those five richly decorated houses. All of three storeys with arcaded white ground floor frontages; they are of differing colours (green, orange, red, blue and yellow) yet make up a wonderfully homogenous terrace. The plasterwork detailing on them is stunning, as is the roof line with its varying shapes and heights.
Four of the Armenian houses are home to the Zamosc Museum, which sadly time prevented us from seeing ..another visit, another day, another review!
The row of houses on the eastern frontage of the square is less impressive in appearance, known as the Bourgeois Houses, this is where the academics and chemists lived. Indeed there is still a chemist shop here to this day!
TIME FOR LUNCH!
To the south and west, the houses are of less interest, but still make up a remarkably attractive square. There are bars, café's, restaurants and ice crème parlours here; certainly one is not short of places to eat, and in impressive surroundings at that.
We actually headed off down a side street and found the relatively modern Hotel Renaissance - recommended in the guide book as a good "medium" priced place to stay and eat. The Orbis Zamoyski Hotel next to the town hall was selling food at an exorbitant price, one thing that Lonely Planet was still correct about after all those years!
In the Renaissance we had a buffet lunch, two courses 'as much as you could eat' for 15PLN each. Ironically, we had eaten in the only communist built, 1960's building in town, inside it was modern and airy, the restaurant being air conditioned. The food was good, proper Polish food - 15PLN is £2.68 in case you were wondering! The Renaissance is a three star hotel.
Interestingly in the hotel is a plaque commemorating the original building on this site, the Armenian Church, which stood here from 1625 to 1826. As the Armenian population had declined the church fell into disrepair and was closed in 1802.
In a sense, the appearance of the Renaissance Hotel, visible from the Rynek, is the one and only blot on the whole ambiance of Zamosc, its unattractive glass and concrete style is wholly at odds with the ancient and beautiful buildings around it.
Revived now, after the drive there and sight-seeing, our next stop was the Cathedral, or rather more specifically, its detached bell tower. In Poland there are many towers that you can climb, ancient and modern. As a photographer, although not enjoying heights, it is usually a rewarding experience. Here it certainly was.
The 40 metre high Baroque bell tower itself is worthy of mention, partly due to it containing three bells, the biggest from 1662 and weighing 4.3 tons. A sympathetic German architect had stopped the destruction of these bells during the war - by producing (faked!) proof that they had been cast in Germany, therefore linking Zamosc to the Motherland.
Photographs taken from this superb vantage point, it is time to descend the stairs and admire the Cathedral. The guide books heap fulsome praise on this building for its extreme beauty, some (published in Zamosc) going as far as to say that it is the most beautiful religious building in all of Poland. I am of the opinion that the Cathedral here, whilst very attractive inside, again, extraordinarily original to Morando's original too, is no more beautiful than many others visited in this country, full of such places. What are extraordinarily beautiful though are the stunning side chapels, richly decorated they stand out against the main body of the interior which is predominantly white.
THE ZAMOYSKI PALACE - ANOTHER CARRIAGE RIDE!
This large, white three storey pile was once home to Jan Zamoyski and his family. Set back slightly from the city centre and the main road that now passes it, and diagonally opposite the Cathedral which we have just left, the Palace is now in name only. For many years this building has housed municipal offices, amongst which are law courts. Its lavish interiors and rich decorations are long gone; none of the building is open to the public.
On the lawn outside however, very much open to the public and touting for business was a carriage driver. Having already done this at Lancut, I took some persuading to take a second carriage ride here - it was far poorer value for money too at 40PLN (£7.15) for a twenty minute ride, even if it came with a running commentary!
Never mind, from the carriage we were shown the park, the zoo and a small military museum located on the edge of the park - all places that we could visit on a return trip to Zamosc. We also saw another side of the largest building in the town, the Zamosc Acadamy, formerly a famous seat of polish learning, now a secondary school. At the end of our ride the carriage driver very obligingly offered to take a photograph of us in his carriage - with my camera naturally!
Having, during our sightseeing trip, and over lunch, had time to read a little about the history of this place, I was determined that we should visit the Old Town Synagogue. It is not possible to go far in Poland without coming across Jewish links, and knowing of the fete that befell millions of Jews under Nazi occupation in Poland, I was irresistibly drawn to this building.
Set in the Jewish quarter, almost immediately behind the Armenian Houses, the Synagogue, and the house next to it, were the most dilapidated buildings that we had seen here. In a sense this almost deepens the sense of history and despair about this particular place - having exterminated them, the Jews simply were no longer around to care for and maintain their sacred building. Indeed, until 2005, this had been the town's public library. Last year it was, following negotiation with the Krakovian Jewish community, given by the town to the Foundation of Preservation of Jewish Heritage, a Warsaw based charitable organisation.
Architecturally, the Synagogue is richly decorated and original from the turn of the seventeenth century. It is a beautiful building, that now requires the ravishes of nearly seventy years of neglect repairing.
The Synagogue is now open as a museum of sorts, we paid 3PLN each - just over 50p to view it. Surprisingly there were a lot of people inside doing the same thing; having only recently opened, one assumes that the novelty of visiting it has yet to wear off. In truth, in the interior there was very little indeed to see. The contrast between the damp stained walls and ceilings here and the superbly preserved Roman Catholic Cathedral interior in this same city is stark indeed.
Not being a military historian, I was not too concerned at having only seen in passing the impressive battlements. These are very close to the centre of the city and are open to the public to view. Also open, as a museum, is the Arsenal, naturally enough dedicated to weaponry - built in the 1580's it was one of the first buildings to be completed in Zamosc. Nearby is the 'Podkarpie' a large square building with a courtyard that in the sixteenth century had been a monastery.
CONCLUSION AND TIPS
As it turned out, we had been over ambitious in expecting to see all that Zamosc has to offer in a single day. It is not a large city, but it does have a great deal to offer the tourist.
There is a good choice of hotels here, right in the centre of the city. A quick internet search shows that even in the most expensive hotel in town - the Zamojski Orbis - a room can be yours for around £30.00 per night. Whilst, as already mentioned, the Renaissance does not look very smart, the food and service are good, it also has the benefit of a car park and the rooms appear to be modern and well equipped.
For those of you who prefer to travel by train, the station is located about 1km south west of the centre, trains are very slow - three a day leave for Warsaw, taking six hours to get there (250km away!). There is a fast train each day to Krakow, 320km away, that too takes six hours.
When we return to Zamosc, and we will, it will hopefully be for at least two days. This is a fascinating little city and from many different perspectives. Even for those not interested in history or architecture, this place still has an undeniably unique atmosphere about it.
""Zamość is a town in southeastern Poland. Zamość was founded in the year 1580 by the Chancellor and Hetman (head of the army of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) Jan Zamoyski on the trade route linking western and northern Europe with the Black Sea. Modelled on the Italian trading cities and built during the Baroque period by the architect Bernardo Morando, a native of Padua, Zamość remains a perfect example of a Renaissance town of the late 16th century which retains its original layout and fortifications and a large number of buildings blending Italian and central European architectural traditions. The Old City quarter of Zamość has been placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.""