hidden europe 19

A Polish work of art: Zamosc

by Nicky Gardner


Zamosc is no ordinary Polish town. Tucked away in the country's eastern marchlands, Zamosc is picture perfect. Its central plaza gets our vote for Europe's finest town square. And the entire place turns out to have an intriguing history.

Were it not for the sharp ingenuity of Jan Zamoyski, the town of Zamosc simply would never have existed. The town depended not just on the ideas of one man - Jan Zamoyski's influence and wealth were equally part of the equation. There are not many folk who, in the history of urban design, have commissioned an entire town. Ebenezer Howard may have given Letchworth a kick-start, but there is more to Letchworth than Howard's vision.

Zamosc is a work of art. The town takes its name from the man who conceived the idea of planting a new city in the barren and empty country west of the River Bug - today that same river marks the frontier between Poland and Ukraine. For the execution of his grand plan, Zamoyski turned to Italian architects influenced by Renaissance notions of the città ideale - a place where rationalist principles of design were deployed to create an urban space of sheer beauty. One architect in particular is associated with Zamosc: Bernardo Morando.

Just imagine. A young man, still only in his thirties, one who knew Padua well and had pored over Palladio's I Quattro Libri del l 'Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture). By the mid-sixteenth century many illustrious architects and artists had crossed the Alps to seek commissions from Polish sponsors. In 1550 Giovanni Battista di Quadro had secured the contract for the redesign of Poznan's city hall (which remains to this day one of the most impressive Renaissance buildings in Europe). And the magnificent cloth hall in Kraków's main market square had been modernised with Renaissance embellishments by Paduan sculptor Giovanni Mosca - often known in Poland simply as Padovano. Bartolommeo Berrecci had rebuilt the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill in Kraków. Inspired by these examples, in 1569 the young Bernardo Morando followed the same trail north, hoping that a benevolent sponsor might encourage his creative impulses.

Related article

Mining heritage

A new crop of European heritage has just been added to UNESCO's celebrated list of notable heritage. The newcomers to the World Heritage List include remarkable industrial villages in Flanders and Wallonie, a German opera house and a clutch of colourful Swedish farmhouses.

Related blog post

Cully by Lake Geneva

Travelling east on the steamer from Ouchy , we are struck by how vines dominate the shoreline of Lake Geneva. At Cully we hop ashore to explore this small town in Switzerland's Lavaux region. It is the area from which Switzerland's acclaimed Chasselas wines originate.