|Zamosc Town Hall and Market Square|
|If you want to travel to Zamosc, Poland, be prepared for a long bus ride. And it will be bumpy. If you are from Michigan, you will be surprised at how much the southern Polish country-side resembles mid-Michigan. While some of the rural landscape is defined by clusters of rolling hills, most of it is a flat expanse of farmland. Unlike in Michigan, the two-lane Polish highways will not necessarily take you on the most direct route: they loop, zigzag and meander according to what seem like medieval trade routes that link every village, town or city. A two hundred mile trip that would normally take three hours becomes one that lasts seven. If you are patient though, and view the trip as a learning experience, it can be quite pleasant. You will notice that the Polish countryside seems to be doing well. New homes are popping up. Roads are being repaved, bridges repaired and passing lanes added. Apparently the small town squares have recently received revitalization funding, as we passed through countless small villages and towns with fresh-laid brick sidewalks, landscaping, park benches and monuments. And speaking of monuments, the country highways are lined with roadside shrines. Some are of the Virgin Mary, while some are dedicated the local patron saint. All of them seem to act as the guardians of safe travel or as reminders that the farmlands have blessed with abundance.|
|Restored Merchants and Artisans Houses in the Market Square|
When you finally arrive in Zamosc, you will be greeted by the typical socialist, pre-fabricated concrete tenements that inevitably line the periphery of so many eastern and central European countries. When I first arrived in Debrecen, Hungary, I experienced a sinking feeling and wondered if the whole city would be defined by such drab, depressing architecture. Once you have travelled throughout Poland, Hungary and Romania, though, you begin to understand that the periphery of any city is often the opposite of the Zentrum, or city center. Zamosc is no exception.
Zamosc is a UNESCO World Heritage City and was designated this status in the early 1990’s because of its exemplary northern Renaissance city plan and remaining architectural structures. The city was originally designed to fulfill the functions of fortress, trading post and country manor for the immensely wealthy Jan Zamoyski. Zamoyski had the town built in 1580 as part of an extensive network of trading posts. Zamosc was to be one of the most formidable bastions on the route surrounded by a seven-sided fortification, extensive moats, and a countryside that was mostly marshland. It stood on the Polish-Lithuanian frontier as an outpost to provide safety against the frequent invasions by the Tatars of Russia.
While much of the original fortifications no longer exist, approximately one sixth still stands. The remains have been refurbished and a museum has been built inside its former walls. The historic town square has been the recipient of generous funds from both the European Union and UNESCO. The result is the restoration of Polish Renaissance buildings that once were occupied by some of Poland’s wealthiest merchants, who were often a very diverse group comprising Greeks, Italians, Jews, Germans, Scots and Armenians. Zamoyski was dedicated to making Zamosc one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth, which was a typical Renaissance ideal. Designed to be a center of science and the arts, the city hall in the middle of the square serves as the head, while the homes and former businesses surrounding it serve as the heart and soul. Inside the arcade surrounding the market square, artisans and merchants worked side by side, as scholars taught young academics in the rooms above the square. Zamosc today reflects the cosmopolitanism of the Renaissance by displaying refurbished arcades, the flamboyant frames of the rooftops, statues set in the exterior walls, rows of Venetian columns and an array of colorful facades.