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The Old Town complex in Zamość surrounded by a system of fortifications - Zabytek.pl

The Old Town complex in Zamość surrounded by a system of fortifications

spatial layout Zamość


woj. lubelskie, pow. m. Zamość, gm. Zamość-gmina miejska

The historical urban complex of Zamość, surrounded by 19th-century fortifications, achieved the status of monument of history in 1994, in recognition of the perfection which the architects of this private fortified town, founded by the crown chancellor Jan Zamoyski, have attained when implementing the concept of the ideal 16th-century Renaissance town in practice.

The town’s spatial layout, based on the Italian urban theories of the Renaissance period, is a manifestation of the symbolic approach to urban structure, which is treated as a consistent, complete and harmonious organic entity. This symbolism was intended to fully reflect both the rank and the nature of Zamość as an administrative centre from which the extensive and efficiently managed lands owned by Jan Zamoyski were controlled, having attained the status of a fee tail estate (known as ordynacja in Polish) in 1589. The town’s designer, Bernardo Morando from Padua, chose a pioneering approach which involved the use of the modular grid which guided the locations of all parts of the complex in both spatial and architectural terms. Yet the innovation did not stop there, for the idea to make the chancellor’s residence an indispensable part of the town and to design a common system of fortifications for both the town and the palace was an equally daring idea which nobody else applied in practice in Europe at the time. During the era of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Zamość was often referred to as the “Padua of the North” due to the Italian roots of the underlying urban design concept, the beauty of its Renaissance architecture as well as the ambitions of Jan Zamoyski - a graduate of the University of Padua - who wanted to make his town an important academic centre that would pride itself of the outstanding level of tuition offered. The state-of-the-art fortification system was subsequently extended during the first tierce of the 19th century; today, it continues to bear testimony to the changes which took place in defensive architecture over the ages.


The town of Zamość was erected from scratch - “in cruda radice” - as a private initiative of Jan Zamoyski. The charter establishing the town was issued in 1580, although the first preparations on the site have begun one year earlier. In designing the town, Bernardo Morando, the chancellor’s court architect, applied the principles of the Italian concept known as citta ideale - the ideal city - inspired by the Renaissance philosophy of anthropocentrism. These principles extended both to the layout of the town and to all of its major buildings: the founder’s residence, the places of worship, the town hall, the ideal towns for the local burghers, the city gates, the armoury and the state-of-the-art bastion fortifications. The town was erected over the period of 20 years, with supplementations and changes taking place in both the 17th and the 18th century without interfering with the original spatial concept.

Located along the major trading route between Lublin and Lviv, the town of Zamość was intended to profit from the activities of the local traders, including those of Armenian, Greek and Jewish descent, to whom chancellor Zamoyski granted permission to take up residence in his town, establish local communities and built their own temples. During the 17th century - the halcyon days of the town - Zamość became a truly multinational community where people of different faiths lived together side by side; it was also home to the fourth-largest educational establishment anywhere in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, known as the Zamość Academy. In the mid-17th century, the armies of Bohdan Chmielnicki have besieged the town to no avail; later on, the Swedish forces led by king Charles X Gustav have also tried to capture the town, but their efforts have also proved to be in vain. The resulting economic losses, however, have contributed to the town’s gradual decline. The prestige of the Zamość Academy has also suffered due to the decreasing quality of academic instruction, leading to its ultimate closure in 1784.

In 1821, the Zamość fortress was sold by the Zamoyski family to the government of the Kingdom of Poland, allowing it to attain the status of a “national” fortress. In the years 1821-1831, the fortifications underwent a comprehensive modernisation programme under the direction of an eminent military architect, general Jan Mallet-Malletski. It was during those times that some of the historical buildings of the town of Zamość have lost much of their original character. The civilian population of the town was relocated out of the town centre and forced to settle in the area formerly known as Lwowskie Przedmieście (Lviv Suburb), now referred to as Nowa Osada (New Settlement), which would ultimately become what is now known as New Town. During the 2nd half of the century, the fortress was held to be outdated, leading to its abandonment shortly thereafter. The fortifications have succumbed to gradual decay; the process of the reconstruction thereof has begun back during the interwar period, as the local community was beginning to realise the unique cultural value of the town of Zamość - a notion soon to be confirmed by the conferral of a historical monument status and the enactment of a strict conservation policy. In 1992, following a period of comprehensive restoration, the historical urban complex was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The oldest part of the town of Zamość, built during the Renaissance period and surviving substantially intact to the present day, is in fact relatively small, with the part of town originally surrounded by the bastion fortifications along with the residence of chancellor Zamoyski occupying an area of about 24 hectares in total. It is surrounded by a broad strip occupied by fortifications and the forefield thereof; the fortified structures were significantly extended and modernised during the 19th century. The town is designed on a pentagonal plan with a regular street grid and stylistically uniform buildings. The main underlying concept of the town’s urban layout is based upon the incorporation of the Zamoyski palace into the town itself, with the palace originally featuring its own fortifications based on the use of roundels. It is on the site of the palace that the longitudinal axis of the entire complex - and the town’s main street - have their source. The 16th-century anthropomorphic design theory provided that this central axis was a representation of the spinal cord, with the owner’s residence on its top serving as the “brain” of the entire urban organism. The first among the series streets which were positioned perpendicularly towards the said main axis led to the collegiate church at one end and the university at the other, both of them serving as the centres of the town’s spiritual and intellectual life and thus representing the “heart” and “lungs” respectively. The second transverse street connected the town’s main square - the Great Square where the town hall stood - to a pair of smaller squares - the Water Market Square and the Salt Market Square; all of them were intended to serve the town’s economic life, thus becoming its symbolic viscera.

The Great Market Square was designed as the town’s main meeting space. Its frontages were designed in a highly representational manner, incorporating rows of impressive two-storey tenement houses with ground-floor arcades. Their highly decorative façades are a combination of Italian design and local flavours, such as the tall, elaborate roof parapets which were partially reconstructed during the years 1978-1980). Among all these tenement houses, the so-called Armenian houses are particularly impressive in artistic terms, including the best-preserved and most lavishly decorated of them all - the “Pod Aniołem” (Under the Angel) tenement house. Inside, the building features period beamed ceilings, wall paintings and unique, sculpted window surrounds. The dominant feature of the northern frontage of the market square, on the other hand, is undoubtedly the town hall. The original town hall, erected back in the late 16th century, was a relatively small structure. The town hall in its current form dates back to years 1639-1652 and was designed by Bernardo Morando’s successors - Jan Jaroszewicz and Jan Wolff. During the subsequent century (years 1767-1770), the monumental, fan-like stairs resting upon the arcades below were added in front of the town hall, with the tower receiving its tall, Baroque cupola.

The cathedral of the Resurrection of Our Lord and of St Thomas the Apostle, which began its life as a collegiate church, is situated north-west of the market square. Today, it is considered to be one of the most spectacular examples of Late Renaissance ecclesiastical architecture in Poland, its design having been modelled after the churches of northern Italy. Inside, the church still features original plasterwork decorations which grace its vaulted ceilings. The bell tower (doubling as a gatehouse) is a Late Baroque edifice which has subsequently been redesigned in the Classicist style. Apart from the Catholic monastic churches erected during the 17th century for the Franciscan and Observant monks as well as for the Clarisses, Zamość was also home to places of worship of other denominations. The most valuable surviving structure is the Late Renaissance synagogue located in the vicinity of the town hall.

The Zamość Academy building, erected in years 1639-1648, is situated directly opposite to the former collegiate church, terminating the view corridor in this direction. Unfortunately, when the building was adapted to serve as army barracks during the 19th century, its appearance was greatly diminished due to the destruction of much of its architectural detailing. The Zamoyski family residence as well as other historical monuments have suffered a similar fate.

The oldest military structures in town include the armoury designed by Bernardo Morando as the founder’s private arsenal. The existing building was erected somewhere around 1630, although it has since been redesigned on several occasions. The massive bastion fortifications of the town of Zamość opened up towards the main roads through three main gates serving both representational and defensive functions: the Lublin gate, the Lviv gate and the Szczebrzeszyn gate. A pair of cavaliers situated on the northern side of the town are a relic of the 19th-century extension of the fortification system. The rotunda - a circular cannon emplacement, projecting visibly towards the south-west and linked to the town itself by a fortified passage that leads down the causeway - originates from the same period. Today, the building serves as a museum dedicated to the martyrdom of all those who died at the local extermination camp during World War II.

Access to the majority of historical monuments is limited.

compiled by A. Kucińska-Isaac Ewa Prusicka, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Lublin, 08-12-2014.


  • Czterysta lat Zamościa, J. Kowalczyk (ed.), Wrocław-Łódź 1983
  • Herbst S., Zachwatowicz J., Twierdza Zamość, Warsaw 1936
  • Herbst S., Zamość, Warsaw 1954
  • Katalog zabytków sztuki w Polsce, compiled by J.Z. Łoziński, J.A. Miłobędzki, B. Wolff, typescript - Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw 1953
  • Kędziora A., Dawna architektura i budownictwo Zamościa, Zamość 1990
  • Kędziora A., Encyklopedia miasta Zamościa, Chełm 2000.
  • Kowalczyk J., Zamość. Przewodnik, Warsaw, 1st edition (1975), 2nd edition (1977), 3rd edition (1995)
  • Kwartalnik Architektury i Urbanistyki, 1980, vol. XXV, issue 2 (dedicated entirely to Zamość to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the town’s foundation)
  • Myśliński K., Zamość i Zamojszczyzna w dziejach i kulturze polskiej, Zamość 1969
  • Witusik A. A., O Zamoyskich, Zamościu i Akademii Zamojskiej, Lublin 1978
  • Zarębska T., Zamość - miasto idealne i jego realizacja, /in:/ Zamość miasto idealne, J. Kowalczyk (ed.), Lublin 1980

Category: spatial layout

Protection: Register of monuments

Inspire id: PL.1.9.ZIPOZ.NID_N_06_UU.36742