A spectacular small town, quiet, peaceful and free from car pollution, Zamosc is reputedly Poland’s most carefully planned city. Its beauty emanates primarily from its perfectly designed grid of graceful streets and elegant walkways that are systematic, straight and properly arranged to the extent that the extreme end of any street in the historic centre becomes apparent and observable from its starting point. Interrupted by a central square that is great on both size and splendour (its Polish name Rynek Wielki is literally translated as ‘the great square’) and other smaller squares, the streets of the Old Town look like the stuff of a fairyland, too perfect, too faultless, too neat and orderly. Ideal for wandering around, these are the town’s best asset. The old structures (some restored, others still in the process) that line these historic walkways are adorned with formidable architecture, coloured paint and quite a few bizarre wall decorations, rendering walking around a feat of breaking through surprising novelties and mysterious peculiarities.
Coming to Zamosc on a day trip does not guarantee that one has enough time at one’s disposal to soak in the mysterious atmosphere of thrill and adventure the place imparts to those who stay overnight.
First of all, one can never reach Zamosc early particularly if one’s point of departure is Warsaw or Krakow. It must be said that Zamosc is a remote town enclosed within extensive marshland hidden in the most east-protruding part of Poland, this rendering the town closer to the Ukrainian border than to any other Polish city of significance. Lublin, fifty-five miles northwest is the only town that provides easy and frequent access to Zamosc by public transport. State-owned PKS buses from Lublin bus station on Al Tysiaclecia north of the Old Town leave every half-hour until 6:00 pm. Private minibuses displaying the Zamosc signboard leave from a stop right outside the terminal. Cheaper and a bit quicker to reach their final destination than the buses, these are even more frequent, leaving at intervals of twenty minutes or whenever demand exceeds the seating capacity.
Taking somewhat less than two hours to traverse, the southeast-bound Lublin-Zamosc route is not particularly impressive. This area consists mostly of flat marshy lowland dotted with unpretentious built-up areas, extensive grazing pastures and smaller crop fields. For most of the trip, the bus travels along the E372 which is a wide dual carriageway from Lublin to the town of Piast but turns into a sub-standard single carriageway from Piast to Zamosc. Along the way, one captivating spot that demands more than a look out of the bus window (but alas… I had to satisfy myself with just a curious two-minute look) comes one hour after departure as the bus approaches the suburban settlement of Krasnystaw. As the bus stops at the Krasnystaw station, keep an eye out for a handful of quirks the town offers: two picturesque worn-out church towers that seem to come straight out of an old-world monastery, a chain of rock formations that seem to hang like a natural roof over a section of the town, an out-of-the-ordinary camping ground equipped with wooden shacks and lots of sporting gear and fenced in with hundreds of poles. (Obvious, isn’t it? Isn’t this the land of the Poles?)
Zamosc train station right in front of the zoo about one mile southwest of the Old Town has stopped operating. Now it stands merely as a historical monument (albeit a derelict one) and a solitary reminder of the good old days when the town could be reached solely by train. When I visited, officers still worked inside but no trains whatsoever were in sight. Consequently, unless one has one’s own wheels, the only way to reach Zamosc is by bus.
Zamosc main bus station where the Lublin-Zamosc bus arrives is well out of the historic quarter in a new residential area characterized by modern shopping centres and streets lined with villas and large houses. Frequent local buses (one never waits more than ten minutes) ply the route between the terminal (Dworzec PKS) and Plac Wolnosci, a small square right on the southernmost edge of the Old Town. Alternatively, one can walk one’s way to the Old Town in about thirty minutes. From the terminal, a five-minute walk south on Ul Gminna brings one right in front of a church that marks the easternmost end of a long tree-lined boulevard known as Al Partyzantow. Lined with pleasant wide walkways, this easy-to-navigate roadway leads straight to the Franciscan Church and the nearby Lviv Gate through which one can enter the Old Town quarter.
The highlight of any visit to Zamosc is unquestionably the Old Town square, a grand imposing piazza with four equal hundred-metre sides that still look fresh and harmonious as they did just after their completion more than four centuries ago. This square, vivid, elegant and immaculately cherished is a true jewel of Polish Renaissance architecture. The person responsible for its planning and layout was none other than the famous Italian architect Bernardo Morando. Although the Italian influence of Morando is clearly visible in the general overview of its architecture, the square is nonetheless adorned with typical Polish motifs and decorative stonework that render its character unique and its attributes matchless. To keep up with a strict symmetrical and harmonious design, all buildings on the square are fronted with an arcaded walkway that is as elegant and exquisite as the houses themselves. Looking painstakingly at the highly decorative parapets topping the roofs is enough to envisage the affluence of the merchants who formerly resided within. Peeping under the arcades to inspect the intricately carved doorways and the stucco work on the vaults in the vestibules is an exercise that keeps one wondering how all this fine work, so subtle and elaborate could have ever been done by hand.
No Zamosc experience is complete unless one makes an appearance on the Old Town square at sunset when the mellow light radiating out of the lanterns that decorate the place diffuses into a kaleidoscopic set of images that reveal the beauty of the square at its utmost. The coloured facades, in soft yellow, bright burgundy or dark green appear not unlike never-ending panoramic pictures but… definitely more scintillating and lustrous. Snatching an empty seat on the square on a hot summer night is tantamount to winning the lottery. But even if luck does not strike, you can still enjoy the ambience by taking a seat outside at one of the tables restaurants put at the disposal of diners and drinkers. If on the other hand, this happens to be your day of fortune, you will hit the jackpot by succeeding in grabbing a seat (either a restaurant seat or one of the uncommitted seats available for free on the square) right in front of the Town Hall, where the ambience is even better, paradisiacal at times but definitely enchanting overall.
The Town Hall with its impressive four-clock lofty needle-thin spire protrudes from the north edge of the square. Its curving exterior double staircase leading directly to the first floor imparts an air of grandeur to the whole structure. A matchless architectural gem in its own right, this fine building becomes even more glorious at night when floodlighting turns it into a showpiece of admiration.
Also inspiring admiration are the solitary streets of old Zamosc, traffic-free cobbled walkways that are magical to wander through at night. Shadowy with dim light emanating from overhanging rusty lanterns, they are the stuff of childhood dreams.
A night in Zamosc is an encounter with legendary enchantment that verges on mysticism. A day here is a cultural experience that provides an insight into the history of the town: affluent at times, troubled at others.
One interesting day attraction that should on no account be missed is the Zamosc Museum (often referred to as Muzeum Okregowe) that occupies four of the houses on the north side of the Old Town square. In addition to lots of interesting exhibits that were excavated from the region, the Museum contains a two-century old model of old Zamosc, complete with a whole ring of fortifications, moats and bastions. A collection of paintings showing Jan Zamoyski (founder and original owner of the town) in a variety of poses forms another interesting section of the exhibits.
The imposing sixteenth-century Collegiate Church on the western edge of the Old Town looks sober outside but its interior stuns the visitor with its slender proportions and its unusual architectural style. The rococo solid-silver tabernacle on the high altar is enough to justify a visit. In addition, one can see the magnificent tomb of Jan Zamoyski sheltered in a chapel at the head of the right-hand aisle, the Chapel of Relics, a sanctuary that preserves as many as thirty-five saintly reliquaries and the crypt that holds in more decorative tombs of wealthy Polish landowners. Right outside the church, the freestanding bell tower offers great views over the town from its top terrace.