A Guide to Zamość

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Information about the town


Description of what happened in Zamość.

The origin of Zamość

Sławek Nadra

The origin of Zamość

Zamość is located in south-eastern Poland. The town was built at the end of the 16th century by Jan Zamoyski. He could not have expected that four centuries later the town would be mentioned in all handbooks of the history of architecture and would become one of the most magnificent ensembles in Europe and the world.

Who was the man whom we should be grateful to for founding Zamość? Jan Zamoyski was born in 1542 in Skokówka near the present-day Zamość. He went to school in the nearby Krasnystaw and then was educated in Strasbourg, Paris and Padua. When still a student in Padua he proved himself to be an outstanding young scientist and organizer. When he returned to Poland, he became king’s secretary and at the age of 36 he was nominated a chancellor. Four years later he became the Great Crown Hetman. As the holder of the title of Chancellor and Hetman, he was the most important person in the country after the king. As his career was developing so was his estate. He inherited 4 and a half villages from his father and at the end of his life his estate consisted of 816 villages, 23 towns and over 17 000 sq. km2 of land. No doubt hetman’s marriages to representatives of excellent families, i.e. to Anna Ossolińska, Krystyna Radziwiłłówna, Gryzelda Batorówna and Barbara Tarnowska also helped him to become rich. Jan Zamoyski’s political and financial career belongs to the most brilliant careers in the history of Poland. However, it should be kept in mind that the chancellor and hetman was also a generous patron of art and one of the most outstanding minds in the Republic of Poland, who kept in touch with the intellectual elite of the Europe of his time.

When he was 38 he decided to build a town. The site he had chosen was situated between the overflow areas of the Wieprzec and Kalinowica, a favourable location for defensive purposes. It was also situated near the family seat of the Zamoyski family – Skokówka and on the intersection of major trade routes, which was of great significance for future economic development of the town.

The town was big, by the standards of the time, and initially had 3 thousand residents. It was designed and built from scratch, i.e. in the middle of nowhere.

Jan Zamoyski announced his decision to build the town on 10 April 1580 by issuing a foundation charter in Jarosławiec. Soon afterwards, on 12 June king Stefan Batory approved the charter. The documents granted future Zamość residents many privileges, such as exemption from rents and taxes for 25 years, exemption from customs duty all over Poland as well as a licence to set up guilds, to name just a few. The town was granted the right of storage, a licence to hold a fair every week and three farmers’ markets every year.

An ideal town

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An ideal town

The founder wanted Zamość to be a modern town, a family’s seat, a strong fortress and an important cultural, religious and trade centre. To make his dream come true he hired an Italian architect Bernardo Morando to make the design of the town. Little is known about the architect apart from the fact that he probably came from Padua and had already worked in Warsaw and L’viv. Morando based his design of Zamość on the concepts of Italian urban designers, who dreamt of creating an ideal Renaissance town.  He placed the town in a pentagon formed by fortifications. It was to cover 24 hectares and be 600 m long and 400 m wide. He designed a chequered layout of the streets and the positioning of squares: the Rynek in the centre and symmetrically on its both sides the Solny and the Wodny markets. About 250 tenement houses were to be built in the town. The architect also designed the most important edifices of the town, i.e. the founder’s palace, the collegiate church, the town hall, the academy and even a few model houses. Zamość was to be not only beautiful but also functional and resident-friendly.

The building development was a reference to the concept of an ideal town-man. The palace was the head, the main street which joins the palace to Bastion #7 was the spine, the Academy and the Cathedral its lungs, the Rynek its heart and the defensive bastions - its arms and legs.

The first edifice to have been erected in the town was the owner’s residence; then the construction of the arsenal and the collegiate church started. The church was to be big enough to hold a congregation of 3 thousand people, i.e. all the town’s residents. At first the founder assumed that only Roman Catholics would settle down in the town. Soon, however, he changed his mind and in order to speed up the development of the town he let representatives of nations which were good at business settle down here as well. In 1585 Armenians were allowed to come to Zamość, in 1588 Sephardic Jews and in 1589 Greeks. Soon afterwards a Greek Orthodox church appeared in the town, followed by an Armenian church and a synagogue.

In 1589 the hetman set up Zamość Entail an made Zamość its capital.

The construction of the town proceeded very fast; 11 years after it was started, in 1591, the town had 217 houses and only 26 vacant plots. In 1594 the Zamojska Academy was set up. Another outstanding Polish humanist Szymon Szymonowic helped Zamoyski to implement this great educational project. During the opening ceremony the hetman issued an appeal to the public, which included the famous words: “Takie będą Rzeczypospolite jakie ich młodzieży chowanie” [“The fate of Poland depends on proper education of her youth”]. The Academy was the apple of Zamoyski’s eye and the third higher education school in Poland, the first two being academies in Kraków and Vilnius. High level of instruction attracted many students from all over Europe and thanks to the Academy Zamość became an educational centre of European standard.

Jan Zamoyski died on 5 June 1605. His work was continued by his son, Tomasz Zamoyski, Great Crown Chancellor. He completed the town’s fortifications. Access to Zamość was guarded by mighty defensive walls with seven bastions and a moat. Draw bridges and three gates: the Lwowska, the Lubelska and the Szczebrzeska Gates led to the town.

The first siege

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The first siege

In the autumn of 1648 Zamość fortifications were put to the test for the first time. Cossack and Tartar troops led by Bohdan Chmielnicki approached the walls of the town. Because of the fact that crowds of fugitives took shelter in the fortress, there were not enough provisions for everybody, there was no hope for a fast relief and epidemics was spreading fast, the defenders were forced to pay a ransom to the invaders. After a two-week siege, Cossacks and Tartars left the place with 20 000 zlotys.

During the “Swedish Deluge”, at the end of February and the beginning of March 1656 Zamość was besieged by Swedish troops led by king Charles X Gustav himself. This time the fortress was well-prepared for defence and Swedish gunfire did not cause any serious damage. After several attempts to capture the fortress, the Swedes abandoned the siege. Zamość was one of three Polish fortresses which withstood Swedish troops, the other two being Gdańsk and Jasna Góra. An attempt to capture Zamość fortress made by joint Swedish and Transylvanian troops a year later also met with failure. In both cases the founder’s grandson, Jan Sobiepan Zamoyski, the third Entailer was in charge of the defence of the town. His wife was Maria de la Grande d'Arquien, who after Zamoyski’s death, married Jan Sobieski and came to be known as queen Marysieńka. The end of the 17th century was a time of a fierce fight with witches. In 1664 Zamość court sentenced six townswomen, accused of practising witchcraft, to the stake. In the end the sentence was changed to decapitation. The fact that even Katarzyna Bielenkiewiczowa, the town administrator’s wife, also had to suffer the terrible fate shows that democratic principles were very important at that time.

The town was dogged by misfortune. In 1627 the palace burned down, in 1658 the collegiate church, the arsenal and the academy and in 1672 two hundred houses in south-western part of the town. Epidemics raged and in 1711 500 residents died as a result.

In the second half of the 17th century construction of the Franciscan church was completed and Knights Hospitallers’, St. Clare Sisters’ and Reformati’s churches, monasteries and convents were built. They were designed by the architect and commander of Zamość fortress Jan Michał Link, who was also in charge of modernization of the fortifications. In the 18th century Entailers’ palace, the academy and the town hall were remodelled; the town hall was given its contemporary shape with the typical wide-stretching stairs.

The partitions

After the first partition of Poland in 1772 Zamość fell under Austrian rule and became part of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. Soon Austrian authorities liquidated all monasteries and convents in the town and closed down the Zamojska Academy, which had fallen into decline, replacing it with the Royal Lyceum.

In 1809 troops of the Duchy of Warsaw captured Zamość and included it into the Duchy. It was not part of the Duchy for long because after Napoleon’s defeat at Borodino, Russian troops which had been following the defeated French and Polish armies surrounded Zamość fortress. The siege lasted for 8 months and the situation of residents and defenders went from bad to worse; finally, they were forced to eat rats and dogs. To pay the garrison special coins were made from church vessels: 6-groszy coins from bronze and 2-zloty coins from silver. At last, on 25 November 1813 General Maurycy Hauke, commander of the fortress decided to surrender.

As  result of arrangements made during the Congress of Vienna Zamość was included into the Congress Kingdom of Poland ruled by Russians.

In spite of the fact the Zamoyski family members were still the owners of the town, they had less and less influence on its fate. Finally, in 1821 they sold Zamość to the government of  the Kingdom of Poland.

In the 1820s and 1830s extensive modernisation of the fortress was carried out.  Additional edifices, such as the rotunda, entrenchments, caponiers and new gates were built. The area in front of the fortress was guarded much better now. All buildings situated 1200 m from the walls were pulled down. The civil functions of the town were taken over by Nowa Osada, located 2 km away and the fortress was turned into huge barracks and a prison. Consequently, many other buildings, for example the palace, the academy and the monasteries as well as the convent were remodelled and turned into barracks, military storehouses and prisons.

During the November Uprising the fortress was captured by Polish insurgents. The garrison, which consisted mostly of Poles, did not want to fight against the besieging countrymen. Zamość became a base for insurgents as well as a seat of administrative authorities of the Province of Lubelskie. After the collapse of the uprising on 21 November 1831 Zamość gave in as the last line of resistance in the country.

Fast progress in military art, particularly introduction of threaded guns, whose range and accuracy was much better and for which Zamość fortress with its compact structure of buildings situated on a small area would be an excellent target, led to liquidation of the fortress. In 1866 most defensive walls surrounding the town were blown up and the rubble pushed down into the moat. Some fortification facilities, including entrenchments, the rotunda and the gates started to be used for different purposes and were not destroyed during the liquidation. Such was the 300-year-old history of Zamość fortress, which was never captured in a battle by foreign troops.

Once the military left Zamość, civil life came back to the town which started to develop fast. At the end of the century Zamość had 11 thousand residents.

The First World War did not do much damage to the town. In 1920, two years after Poland became independent, during a war fought by the Soviet Union and Poland  Zamość was surrounded by Soviet troops led by Siemon Budionny. The invaders made many futile attempts to capture the town and on 30 August  the besieging Soviets were driven away by General Józef Haller’s army.

In independent Poland

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In independent Poland

The interwar period witnessed economic and cultural development of the town. Between 1934 and 1937 large-scale conservation work was carried out in the Old Town. The trees which used to grow in the Rynek were all cut down, the town hall‘s former appearance was restored, elevations of the tenement houses were painted and work on reconstruction of fortifications was begun. In 1936 Zamość Old Town and its fortifications were included into the Register of Historical Facilities.

During the first days of the Second World War Zamość was invaded by Nazi troops and then from 27 September till 5 October it was captured by the Red Army. Nazi occupation started on 8 October 1939. A death camp was set up in the rotunda and in the town - a Jewish ghetto and camps for Soviet prisoners and people expelled from their homes. Nazis planned to displace Polish people from Zamojszczyzna [Zamość region] and bring German colonists here. Zamość was to have become the centre of the displacement region and its name was to have been changed to Himmlerstadt. During Nazi occupation the community of 11 thousand Zamość Jews ceased to exist. Most of them left Zamość and went east with Soviet troops and the remaining 4 – 5 thousand were murdered by Nazis. On 25 July 1944 Zamość was taken over by Soviet troops without a single shot being fired.

After the war the town developed rapidly. The second half of the 1970s was particularly favourable to Zamość. In 1974 Polish Seym passed an act on renovation of Zamość Old Town; as a result, Zamość became a large construction site for several years. Neglected tenement houses underwent a major refurbishment. Town gates, Bastion #7 and the adjacent curtain wall were reconstructed.

From 1975 till 1998 Zamość was the capital of the Province of Zamojskie.

On 14 December 1992 Zamość Old Town was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. The event was tangible evidence of international recognition of unique urban and architectural qualities of Zamość.  

Seven years later, on 12 June 1999, Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Zamość. He prayed in the Cathedral and drove across the town. During the service he said the following words to a congregation of about 230 thousand believers: “It is a place where the blue of the sky, the green of forests and fields and the silver of lakes and rivers speak with a unique power. The singing of birds sounds perfectly familiar here, sounds Polish”

Since 2005 another major renovation of Zamość Old Town and its fortifications has been carried out. Such a large scope of work is possible thanks to the support provided by the State Budget, the European Union and the Financial Mechanism of European Economic Area.

Zamość now

Robert Litwiniec

Zamość now

Zamość is a county town now with about 70 thousand residents, most of whom are young people. About 20 thousand of young Zamość residents go to local schools. Academic tradition of the town is kept up by the State Higher Educational Vocational School, the Higher Education School of Economics and Humanities and the Higher Education School of Administration and Management. Zamość is an important tourist and cultural centre. The town has the oldest symphonic orchestra in Poland, set up in 1881. Every year several cultural events take place in the town, many of which are of national and international rank. Since 1976 Zamość Summer Theatre and since 1980 Zamość Days of Music have been organised in the town. Other events include  Festival of Italian Culture “Arte, Cultura, Musica e…” and  Festival of Culture named after Marek Grechuta, a poet and native of the place.  

Another advantage of Zamość is its location at the foot of the Roztocze district, a range of picturesque hills, overgrown with forest. It is a paradise for people who want to take a rest away from city noise. Large pine, fir and beech forests, hiking trails, cycling routes and artificial lakes with bathing beaches provide visitors with excellent conditions for active rest.

The fact that the Roztoczański National Park, five landscape parks and over ten nature reserves have been set up to protect the natural assets and beauty of the area shows how valuable it is. The Roztoczański National Park includes the oldest and the most precious fir and beech forests surrounding Zwierzyniec, a Roztocze pearl.  

The Roztocze district does not mean nature only but also picturesque villages and small towns. Zwierzyniec, with a small church “on water”, houses which remind visitors of the time when the town was the capital of Zamość Entail, churches, the Orthodox church, the synagogue and the Jewish cemetery in Szczebrzeszyn, the quarry in Józefów and the sanctuaries in Krasnobórd, Górecko Kościelne and Radecznica are a must for every visitor.