The first indication that Zamość should be on your travelling bucket list is that the old town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. It may have a lower tourist profile than some other Polish cities, but there are many attractions packed into this walled city, and it is easy to walk around and experience.
The attraction of Zamość is that it is a beautiful example of an Italian inspired Renaissance town. Zamość was founded in the 16th century on the strategic trade route linking the Black Sea to western and northern Europe, and was planned out and created in the image of what an ideal city should look like. The architect of the city, Bernando Morando, with the backing of the Polish chancellor Jan Zamoysky, created this must see city in eastern Poland.
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So, without further ado, please find our 10 Things to See and Do in Zamość…
1. Climb the steps of the Town Hall
The Town Hall dominates the main square, and its monumental fan-shaped double stairway, which dates back to the 18th century, just cries out for you to ascend. A fantastic panorama of the market square is available from the entrance of the Town Hall, at the top of the stairs. The 52 metre tower on top of the hall caps off this majestic building, but look carefully at the whole building and you might notice that the left-hand side of the façade is actually 130 cm wider than the right-hand side!
2. Take in the grandeur of the Great Market while enjoying a meal or a drink
The Great Market is quite simply huge at 100 metres by 100 metres, and surrounded by stunning Renaissance style houses with vaulted arcades. There are many restaurants and bars to choose from, so pick one and sit back, people watch and admire the square.
3. Learn about how World War Two affected Zamość by visiting the Rotunda
The Zamość Rotunda is just a 5 minute walk south of the city walls. Originally the rotunda was built as a defensive structure for canon between the years 1825 and 1831. However, during World War Two, the structure served as a Gestapo investigation prison. According to estimates, about 8 thousand prisoners were shot and their bodies were burned here. Today, the rotunda acts as a memorial and a museum for the atrocities carried out in Zamość.
4. Go see the founder of Zamość
Sitting in front of the Zamoyski Palace, you can visit the monument to Jan Zamoyski, founder of Zamość. The monument is made of bronze and was designed by Professor Marian Konieczny. It is 10 metres high and was unveiled on 17th September 2005, 400 years after Jan’s death.
5. Take a moment to meditate in the magnificent Cathedral of Lord’s Resurrection and St. Thomas the Apostle
This stunning cathedral was designed by Bernardo Morando and built between 1587 and 1598, but the decoration work was not finished until 1630. Take note of the ornate silver Rococo tabernacle, one of the most impressive tabernacles in Poland, which was made by silversmiths from Wrocław. If you are lucky, the cathedral bell tower, which is 47 metres high with a small viewing balcony half-way up, may be open. Check out the three large bells, called Wawrzyniec, Tomasz and Jan.
6. Step inside the iconic Armenian Houses
Aside from the Town Hall, it is perhaps the Armenian Houses which catch the eye in the Great Market. These tenement houses, which once belonged to Armenian merchants, are painted in striking colours and have distinctive motifs on their facades. Originally, all of the houses in the square were topped with decorative parapets, but these were removed in the 1820’s; only those on the northern side have been restored. Three of the houses now shelter the Zamość Museum, and affords the traveler an excellent opportunity to see these houses from the inside, while learning more about the history, ethnography and archaeology of Zamość.
7. Learn about the Jewish heritage of Zamość
Visit the restored Synagogue of Zamość, which houses a multimedia Museum of the History of Jews from Zamość and the surrounding area. The Synagogue was built in 1610, and was the centre of the Jewish quarter. During the World War Two, however, the Nazis vandalised the Synagogue and used it as stables. At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the building was lovingly restored to its former beauty.
8. Admire the beautiful Zamoyski Palace
Today the Zamoyski Palace is home to the law courts, but you can still admire this former residence of Jan Zamoyski and his successors from the outside. The construction of the palace started even before the town foundation charter was issued. It was erected between 1579 and 1586, according to the design by Bernardo Morando.
9. Walk around the imposing defensive walls of old town Zamość
Although Alexander II of Russia officially closed the stronghold of Zamość in 1866, due to military technological advances, many parts of the walls, gates and bastions still remain today, and make a beautiful backdrop as you walk around the town. The defenses were besieged six times – by Cossacks, Swedes (twice), Polish (attacking the Austrian defenders), and Russians (twice), and on each occasion, the fortress proved to be very formidable. Take a walk around the walls and it will become apparent why.
10. Fire a cannon!
Bastion No 7 was the largest of all the seven bastions which protected the Zamość fortress. Today you can access the roof of the bastion for a view of the eastern part of town, or walk along the Underground Tourist Route, which leads along firing galleries, the casemates of the curtain wall, the retrenchment and the bastion itself. Also, you may be lucky enough to get the chance, for a small fee, to fire one of the small cannons which are set up in front of the bastion or even to test your hand at archery!
Join us next time when we continue Polish travels and visit the hidden jewel of the southwest - Przemyśl.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.