Zamość began as something of a Renaissance-era housing estate. When Polish Chancellor and commander-in-chief Jan Zamoyski (1542–1605) decided to build a perfect city, he looked to Italy rather than neighbouring Russia for artistic inspiration. Architect Bernardo Morando was commissioned to build Zamoyski’s dream, and in doing so created a model city showcasing leading Italian theories of urban design. The project began in 1580, and within 11 years 217 houses had been built, with public buildings following soon afterwards.
By the end of the 16th century, the town’s beauty – and its location on the crossroads of the Lublin–Lviv and Kraków–Kyiv trading routes – attracted international settlers including Armenians, Jews, Hungarians, Greeks, Germans, Scots and Italians.
The fortifications built to protect the city and its inhabitants were tested many times. The Cossack raid of 1648 proved little match for the strength of Zamość. Its impregnability was confirmed again in 1656, when Zamość boldly withstood the Swedish siege, along with Częstochowa and Gdańsk.
After a period of Austrian rule, Zamość fell to tsarism. It was during this time that the city took its heaviest aesthetic beating. The Russians adapted many of the town’s most splendid buildings for military purposes and almost entirely demolished the fortress walls in 1866, leaving only the ruined fragments that remain today. Zamość’s modelling days were over.
Zamość was a key target of Hitler’s plan for eastward expansion; German occupiers intended that some 60, 000 Germans would be settled here before the end of 1943 (current German president Horst Köhler was born near Zamość after his parents had to resettle here). Due to fierce resistance by the Polish Underground, the determination of the people of Zamość, and eventually the arrival of the Red Army, the number of Germans to relocate into the town barely reached 10, 000. However, the Jewish population was brutally expelled from the town and its surrounds.
After Poland’s admission to the EU in 2004, funds poured in and are being invested to enhance Zamość’s appeal and ensure its longevity. The Old Market Hall and Bastion (No 7) are undergoing extensive renovations to make way for still more cafés and restaurants. There is even talk of restoring a segment of the moat and offering hot-air balloon rides over the Old Town. It’s a big dream, but Zamość is no stranger to those – construction works taking place all over town suggest that this proud city might just pull it off.