Zamość Museum is located in a complex of townhouses built in the first half of the 17th century, on the north frontage of the Town Square. Original details of the interior decorations and facade have been preserved. They were owned by Armenians who settled in Zamość from 1585, by virtue of a privilege granted by Jan Zamoyski.
The idea of setting up a museum in Zamość was conceived by a group of intellectuals from the region in the early 1920s. The initiator of the project was a doctor from Szczebrzeszyn and a dynamic socio-cultural activist, Zygmunt Klukowski. On 17 September 1926 the Zamość local government assembly instituted the Zamość Region Museum and located its head office in a former Franciscan church adapted for public use. The historical items brought together here included examples of folk art, crafts, numismatics, geology and archaeology, as well as old prints and historical mementos. In 1933 due to an official decision by the authorities at the time the museum was shut. After three years a new museum was set up. The organiser behind this was the Polish Sightseeing Society in Zamość, which brought the dispersed collections under its care. The institution was then called the “Local History Museum”. The wide-ranging campaign to repossess the dispersed collections and collect new exhibits raised its status as a major tourist attraction in the Zamość Region. In 1938 the Museum was given three rooms in the Town Hall by the Municipality. The first academic inventory of the collections was also carried out then. The ambitious development plans were interrupted by the German invasion and occupation. The museum was closed, but its collections were not touched. They were looked after by the municipal employee, Władysław Kabat, ensuring they survived the war. In 1941 the German occupying powers rewarded the convincing efforts by the Polish Municipality staff and allotted a historic townhouse on the Town Square to the Museum’s head office, called “The Angel’s Head” owing to the decoration on its facade.
Just after the war, a band of enthusiasts led by Władysław Kabat brought about the setting up of the Municipal Museum of the Zamość Region, on the basis of the salvaged collections. On 1 January 1950, together with a network of regional museums, Zamość Museum became a state institution. Its administrative structure defined at the time was in place for years. Until 1975 as a provincial regional museum it developed its statutory activities whilst remaining within the structures of Lublin Region Museum as the lead institution. A more extensive reorganisation took place in 1967. As a result, the historic interiors were restored, which became the venue for a contemporary exhibition on the history of the town and region. The Museum’s gala opening took place on 14 October.
When the Zamość voivodeship was established, Zamość Regional Museum gained the status of a regional museum, with the museums in Hrubieszów, Tomaszów Lubelski and Biłgoraj falling within its remit. A key period was the 1980s when a major renovation project was carried out encompassing the entire old town complex in Zamość together with the museum’s head office. In parallel, in 1976-1980 the historic building of the former arsenal underwent major rebuilding works. When this was completed a decision was taken to set up the “Arsenal” Museum of Colours and Weaponry within the premises of the Regional Museum. This specialist educational and academic institution was tasked with creating a collection of militaria and documenting how war had affected the town and region. In 1984 an exhibition was opened in the Arsenal entitled “Military traditions in the Zamość region in 1580-1984”. In parallel, on the former fortress site by Bastion III, work started on organising an open-air exhibition based on decommissioned heavy military equipment from World War II and the post-war period. An exhibition called “Artillery and armoured vehicles from World War II” was opened to the public in 1987. It was regularly updated and examples of different types of heavy weaponry and military equipment were added to it until it closed in 2011. It was really popular with visitors.
After restoration work was completed, Zamość Regional Museum was given over the use of seven town houses in the Old Town as exhibition spaces, workshops, storage facilities and administrative offices. The institution was opened to the public on 12 October 1989. In the years that followed work ensued on organising professionally prepared, permanent exhibitions: one on archaeology entitled “The Zamość Region in prehistory and the early Middle Ages” and one on ethnography called “Folk art in the Zamość Region”. In 1997 the exhibition: Zamość, the Zamojski family and their Entail in 1580-1939 was opened. This exhibition was integrated into the original interiors of the middle class town house from the mid 17th century. It shows Zamość’s history from its incorporation in 1580 up to modern times, based on works of art and craft, archive documents and photograms. The exhibition highlights are Zamość’s charter of incorporation granted by the king of Poland, Stefan Batory in 1580, portraits of the entailers, the Zamość Academy’s silver sceptre and the university press print collection.
In 1999 Poland underwent an administrative reform process leading to the reorganisation of the Regional Museum so that it no longer had responsibility for the museums in Biłgoraj, Tomaszów Lubelski and Hrubieszów. As a consequence, the institution’s name was changed to Zamość Museum and it came under the remit of Zamość town council with the power to act as a municipal county. It remains within this structure today as a local authority cultural institution.
Since 1967 Zamość Museum has provided specialist support for the exhibition in the building referred to as the Rotunda – a 19th century monument to the art of fortification, as well as being a mausoleum symbolising the great suffering of the population of the Zamość region during the Nazi occupation. What is shown there is a historical commentary about a region where German war criminals killed thousands of Polish citizens.
In 2013 Zamość Museum’s portfolio expanded to include the new, restored, former Cossack army officers’ mess, which has housed the Professor Marian Konieczny Sculpture Gallery since 2014. You can see a collection of original bronze sculpture casts and models of monuments made by the artist himself, which he has donated. This is also a venue for art exhibitions.
In 2014 the exhibition was reopened to the public in the restored Arsenal building, as were up-to-date museum interiors in buildings forming part of the Arsenal and Bastion III complex – the former gunpowder magazine and exhibition pavilion in the curtain wall between Bastion III and the Szczebrzeska Gate, with exhibits such as heavy military equipment being displayed here instead of in a previous open air exhibition.
Nowadays Zamość Museum is a modern institution, known and respected in Poland and abroad. As well as expanding and managing the collections, organising exhibitions and educational activities, it conducts research and documentation work, organises conferences, including international events and publishes exhibition catalogues and academic studies. An important aspect of the museum’s work is its regular collaboration with museums in the Ukraine, especially with the Volhynia Local History Museum in Lutsk and museums in Lvov, giving rise to joint seminars and research, exhibition and publishing projects.