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krisek Zamosc - A travel report by Krys
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Zamosc,  Poland - flag Poland
15625 readers

krisek's travel reports

An ideal Renaissance city. Zamosc.

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Someone\'s rich crazy idea in the 16th century turned into a city made to order is now Poland\'s and the world\'s urban and architectural pearl. UNESCO-listed of course.

The Great Square of Zamosc
The Great Square of Zamosc
Once upon a time, back at the end of the 16th century, a super rich nobleman had a dream. He dreamt of a perfect, ideal city. He dreamt of perfectly proportioned squares, straight streets laid out in a regular pattern, a central Townhall, whose tower would be seen from afar, a few churches in each corner of the city. All built in the über-fashionable Renaissance style that could bind the traditional Polish way of life with the modern styles making headlines all the way from Italy. So he consulted a few Italian architects, hired the specialists of urban planning from Padua (Bernardo Morando), created a suite of rules and regulations and decided to build it! And it did not take this long to build his dream city. It took just nine years from 1582 to 1591 to complete the construction. But of course modifications were being made in the following 50 or so years, to perfect the decorative facades.

Zamosc stands, as it was built until today. The entire street and buildings layout is preserved. It has three squares; the Salt Trading Square, the Water Square and the Great Square, complete with a flamboyant Townhall that sports a curved stairway. It is flanked with colourful two or three storey houses, facades of some boasting frescoes, sculptures, reliefs or elegant brickwork. Each side of the Great Square has shaded archways, a form of ground alcoves, for the entire length of each and every house that flanks the piazza.

The nobleman's name was Jan Zamoyski, and the city is called Zamosc, after his family name. It was built between 1590 and 1650, and UNESCO listed it as one of the World Heritage Sites in 1992.

Zamosc is not big. The old square within the ramparts measures approximately 650 yards by 650 yards. It has been relatively well maintained in he last 20 years, and the authorities secured a grant from the European Union to restore the ramparts and fortifications. When I visited in the middle of April 2013, the work continued, with about 40% complete.

Favourite spots:
The Great Square of Zamosc
The Great Square of Zamosc
The ideal square with the elegant, tall townhall with the curved stairway, would be a favourite spot for many, who visit the city. The buildings surrounding the square have perfect facades painted in vivid colours and shaded archways in the ground floor alcoves. And many of those pretty houses host restaurants, cafes and bars. During spring, summer and early autumn months, the venues put tables in the square with parasols and gas heaters (for those chilly nights), so perfect to sit down and admire this incredible amalgamation of the Italian and Eastern European architectural styles moulded into the exquisite Renaissance form that binds them together. The square is called the Great Square. And it is truly great. My favourite spot of the city indeed.

What's really great:
The Guard House within the ramparts
The Guard House within the ramparts
I had not been to Zamosc for about thirty years. And although the layout of the city never changed since the time it was constructed some 450 years ago, it was great to see that the authorities managed to take good care of the buildings that were largely left to the forces of weather between 1945 and 1989. I spotted about a couple of buildings that require urgent repair work, and I heard from a taxi driver that these were council houses, and project was underway to relocate their residents outside the old city ramparts. In addition, work was advancing to repair the old city walls. Once completed, it will make Zamosc an incredible and ever rarer urban spot on the map of the world.

The Cathedral and the Bell Tower
The Cathedral and the Bell Tower
In terms of sights, Zamosc's old town is a sight on its own. But to get a bit more specific, here is a sample of what to look for in the historic centre: The Townhall, four Armenian houses, the synagogue, the Zamosc Academy, the Arsenal, the old Lublin Gate, the old Lviv Gate, the new Lviv Gate, the Szczebrzeszyn Gate, the various sights around the entire complex of the defence ramparts, the General House, the St Claire Nuns' Convent, the former monastery of Brothers' Hospitaliers, the St Catherine Church, St Nicholas Church, the main Cathedral and its Bell Tower, the Franciscan Church, the Caponier, the former Seminary, and a number of very handsome houses of the merchants, nobility and simply rich people. A little out of the way, there was also the Rotunda, an old military outpost, a witness of sad atrocities during WWII. I did not go there, however.

The Mercure Hotel was on the other side of the townhall
The Mercure Hotel was on the other side of the townhall
I stayed at the Mercure Hotel of the Accor Group, right next to to the grand Townhall on the Great Square. It charged PLN180 (€45) for a small en suite single with no breakfast but with free wifi. It was clean and relatively modern inside despite, despite of being located in a few 300+ years old houses. The sheets were crispy clean, the bathroom had snow-white towels and simple toiletries were provided. All major credit cards were accepted, the personnel was professional and friendly, free maps were available and there was guests' parking as well (few spaces though).

The Great Square at night
The Great Square at night
There was more to Zamosc than just the fascinating old town and yet it was good to see that the locals would venture into the historic centre for the night out on the town. Only around the Great Square, there were the Pauza Klub, Art Jazz Cafe and the Blue Pub. All of them were tiny venues that catered for locals who wanted to sway the bodies to the rhythm of the music and sip cocktails. These were the ideal spots to meet the locals and socialise, find out about life in the almost elusive south-eastern Poland. On the night out, I met absolutely no expats, no foreigners in the bars. Only Poles. Either the local Zamoscians or folk who came from other Polish towns to check what Zamosc had to offer.

The bottle of Saint Emilion from the Bohema Club
The bottle of Saint Emilion from the Bohema Club
The ramparts of Zamosc, most of which were surrounded by a park, were of the options to hang out, go for a walk or sit down on a bench and admire the city. Then, the dozen of cafes at the Great Square and the few at the Salt Square (and yet not at the Water Square - which was somewhat least civilised in terms of places to sit down sip coffee, mead or wine, although very pleasant too), offered the typical 'larger-in-hand' or 'snooze-over-coffee' lounging spots. For those, who are looking for a chatter at a table, there was the Skarbiec Wina, a wine bar with rather impressive selection of wine. Also right on the Great Square. They did some unsophisticated go-with-wine snacks, too.

Roasted duck with baked apples and oranges at the Verona Cafe & Restaurant
Roasted duck with baked apples and oranges at the Verona Cafe & Restaurant
Verona Cafe & Restaurant,, located perfectly on the western side of the Great Square, served two types of lager from draft, Polish and Italian dishes ranging from pasta, tortellini and pierogi to pizza, pork escalopes and roast duck for PLN 15 - PLN 39. In the spring and summer, the venue always has tables outside with the view of the Old Townhall and the entire square. The service was professional and friendly.

I also tried the Bohema Restaurant,, also serving Polish-Italian fusion. When I visited, it was their first day with tables on the square and they did not have enough personnel to man them in the evening. Yet, they obliged and I could stay there with my bottle of wine and watch the night illuminations to come on. I had a bottle of Saint-Emillion for PLN120.

My hotel also recommended the Restauracja Muzealna. So I tried it too. It was located in the cellar. It was focusing on the Polish fare, mainly. I had the famous pounded breaded pork cutlet.

Other recommendations:
The archways and alcoves of the old town
The archways and alcoves of the old town
For some strangest reason of all, Zamosc was not an easy place to get to. Not unlike many other UNESCo-listed spots around the world. Now, the situation is better with the new airport in Lublin (LUZ), some 85km away. There is no regular transport from the airport to Zamosc, but the taxi drivers would happily oblige. One should not pay more than PLN250 (€60) for the one hour ride. Public transport alternatives were not that great. The airport was connected with Lublin main train station by a train (not so frequent) from where another train (about twice a day) did a direct route to Zamosc taking about 2 hours (PLN22). Lublin and Zamosc were also connected by one daily coach and a number of minibuses (PLN15) taking about 1.5hours. There would no reason to use a rental car just for Zamosc, however there were about six rental car agencies at Lubin airport ready to take your money if you wanted to explore the area - there were a few other interesting spots around, actually.

Published on Monday April 22th, 2013

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Sat, Apr 27 2013 - 02:22 PM rating by porto

Krys, love this report and pictures and many thanks for your other reports on Poland esp. Gdansk, Torun and Poznan 3 places that I had the pleasure of visiting lately :)

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