The Warsaw Citadel

History of the place

Polish History Museum

Polish History Museum

Barracks of the Guard regiment on the 1809 map of Warsaw (1809) by Lehmann, Johann Georg (1765-1811) / Bach, Joseph (1774-1853)Original Source: Polona

Before the Citadel

The terrain that later was to be occupied by the Citadel, initially constituted a quiet countryside, termed "a beautiful embankment", ("joli bord" in French; this phrase has been adopted as the name of the Warsaw district Żoliborz). The St. Spirit Manor, providing for the hospital of the same vocation, has been situated here. Later on its name became "Fawory". At the beginning of the XVIIIth century barracks of the Guard regiment, serving under Stanisław Poniatowski, father of the king Stanisław August, have been founded nearby. By the middle of the century the buildings of the school run by the Piarist monks were also erected. The school has been founded by Rev. Augustyn Orłowski, then rector of the famous Collegium Nobilium. Rich and elegant district of Fawory became a part of Warsaw in 1781.

Plan of the Alexandria Citadel (1846)Original Source: Biblioteca Reale di Torino, O.XIII, fol. 1

What is a Citadel?

In Italian "citadella" means "a little town". Military terminology, however, assigned it a different meaning: citadel is a fortress built inside of a city and dominating over it. This idea has been known since the antiquity under different names – such as Greek Acropolis or Russian Kremlin. History teaches us also that the citadel is a building of ambigous character. Depending on circumstances, the citadel can serve to bolster the city defences or to control the conquered city. The Warsaw Citadel (originally named after Russian crown prince Alexander) is decidedly the latter case.

Capturing the Arsenal (1831) by Zaleski, MarcinOriginal Source: Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie,

Punishment for the uprising

Erecting the Citadel has been a direct consequence of the November Uprising, which started on the 29th of November 1830 in the Warsaw Cadet School. From the very beginning, the uprising has been supported by the civilians. About 15,000 of Warsaw inhabitants helped the insurgents to gain control of the Arsenal building. Therefore Russian government had every reason to be afraid of a future unrest in Warsaw.

L’ordre regne a Varsovie (1831) by Gérard, Jean Ignace Isidore (1803–1847)Original Source: Wikimedia Commons

L'ordre règne a Varsovie

The Warsaw Citadel has been build on the personal order of Tsar Nicolai I. The money needed to build it (11 million roubles - the equivalent of 128 million euro) came from a non-repayable loan from both the city of Warsaw and The Polish Bank. Also, buildings of the former Piarists school have been taken over by the Russian government. Furthermore, creation of the Citadel required prior destruction of a nearby district and displacement of its inhibitants. Some details of the Citadel arrangement strongly pointed out that the fortress was not meant to defend against the enemy. For one, its firing range was only 1,5 kilometer – enough to encompass the districts of The Old Town and The New Town, but hardly sufficient in case of an external attack against the city.

Xth Pavilion (1934-03)Original Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

The 10th Pavilion

Citadel contained infamous prison – the Xth Pavilion. Predating the Citadel and originally serving as a storage of uniforms, since 1833 it hosted political prisoners. Between 1834 and 1915 about 40,000 of them have been kept in the Citadel. The list of convicts reads like a history textbook: Gustaw Ehrenberg, author of patriotic songs; Karol Levittoux, participant of a high school conspiracy in Łuków, who committed suicide on the 7th of July 1841, setting his prison bed aflame; Rev. Piotr Ściegienny, whose uprising in 1844 failed before it even started; poet Adam Asnyk (1860); Filipina Płaskowicka, a socialist and a teacher, running an illlegal newspaper "The Prisoner’s Voice" in the Xth Pavilion; Roman Dmowski, later the president of the Polish National Committee in Paris, representing newly created Polish state abroad.

Russian prison wagon (1926-09)Original Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe


Karol Beyer (1818-1877), renowned photographer, twice arrested for documenting the life of Warsaw in times of January Uprising, came back from his exile to continue his career. Benedykt Dybowski (1833-1930), tried in the case of Romuald Traugutt’s National Government, used his exile to study natural history of Syberia and its zoology. Markus Jastrow (1829-1903), a rabbi sympathetic to Polish national movement, emigrated to USA after the January Uprising. Apollo Korzeniowski, father of Joseph Conrad, continued his literary endavours on exile. Blessed Honorat Koźmiński (1829-1916), a conspirator released from the Citadel in 1847 on medical grounds, had become a priest and co-founder of numerous congregations.

Five deceased, Beyer, Karol (1818-1877), 1861, Original Source: Polona
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Work of one of the prisoners of the Citadel, a photographer Karol Beyer. It depicts 5 men killed during patriotic manifestation held in Warsaw on the 27th of February 1861.

The Worker (Robotnik) 70/1906 (1906)Polish History Museum

The arrest of Józef Piłsudski

In his article "Psychology of a convict" Józef Piłsudski wrote: "When I stand before you in the uniform of the highest-ranked officer, in the uniform of the highest-ranked exponent of the Polish army and speak frankly about "the big house", it happens only because 150 years of the Polish history made prison into nothing short of ordinary human life". He spoke from experience. Piłsudski has been arrested on the night of the 21st of February 1900, in a flat containing an illegal printing press, issuing the newspaper "The Worker" ("Robotnik"). The investigation has been carried out in Łódź, but on the 17th of April the arrestee has been moved to the Xth Pavilion on account of the new charges. In addition to distributing illegal press, he was (wrongly) accused of murdering two turncoat informers.

Prison cell of Józef Piłsudski (1926-09)Original Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

"So I
was In the Citadel already!"

"So I was in the Citadel already! I glanced at my cell. The cell was large, with grey walls, whitewashed rather badly, and with dark-grey cement floor. By the window, which has been rather low, there stood an exceedingly dirty table; it seemed difficult to find any traces of wood under the thick layer of dirt and grease. Next to the table there was a meagre village stool. Next to the wall – the iron bed, whose parts were bent and twisted to such an extent that it was impossible to discern one straight line. In the corner, there stood my two suitcases. The room was filled with musty smell, mixed with the smell typical for the rooms which were neither aired nor inhabited." (Józef Piłsudski, Collected writings, Warszawa 1937, t. II, s. 260).

Students of Ivan Pavlov (1891)Original Source: Wikimedia Commons

the escape

Freeing a prisoner from a well guarded military object was impossible. Piłsudski had to be moved to a more convenient facility, so he started to simulate persecutory delusions. The symptoms were the aversion to the people in uniforms and refusal to accept prison meals for fear of poisoning. The only thing missing now was a diagnosis, promptly supplied by doctor Ivan Shabashnikov, a man of Buriat origin and of liberal convictions (first from the right on the photo depicting students of Ivan Pavlov). Paszkowska recalls: "Doctor I.S. knew from first sight that he met a men who was perfectly sane, so he stopped his examinations, and J.P. stopped pretending, and they started a nice talk about Syberia". Piłsudski has been moved to St. Nicolas Hospital in Petersburg, from which he managed to escape.

Execution Gate (1926-09)Original Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

The Execution Gate

The Execution Gate, originally called the Ivans Gate, is yet another ill-fated place within the Warsaw Citadel. In the XIXth century it has been a place where death by hanging was administered to the political prisoners. Their bodies were buried on the very same spot. Today there is a symbolic cementary of the executed on the slope right below the gate.

Stefan Okrzeja (1905/1945)Original Source: Archiwum Akt Nowych w Warszawie


1862 – Jan Rzońca and Ludwik Ryll, organizers of two failed attempts at assassination of Aleksander Wielopolski, a reformer and legalist at the same time, head of Poland's Civil Administration within the Russian Empire, opponent of the January Uprising;

1865 - Emanuel Szafarczyk, 30 years old leader of "the Digger Bearers" – the secret organization carrying out death sentences during the January Uprising;

1905 – Stefan Okrzeja, socialist, a bomber from the Combat Organization of Polish Socialist Party;

1908 – Józef Montwiłł-Mirecki, one of the leaders od the Combat Organization of PPS, highly regarded by Józef Piłsudski.

Ceremony commemorating the January Uprising (1916)Original Source: Polona

Prophecy and fulfillment

Stefan Żeromski predicted in his 1909 drama "The Rose": "The independent people will come here, to shove aside the soil from the graves. The remnants of a rope preserved on the throats which in the minute of gallows called for independence of bodies and souls, will be carried with respect before the great crowd". His prophecy came true after 6 years. In 1916, a stone commemorating death of Romuald Traugutt, dictator of the January Uprising, has been placed near the Citadel. Traugutt has been arrested on the night of April the 10th, 1864. He was imprisoned in Pawiak, then in the X Pavilion, where the Russian authorities unavailingly tried to extract from him the informations about the uprising. Traugutt has been executed on the 5th of August 1864, at the place where now there is a park named after him.

Five chief members of National Government, Krieger, Ignacy (1820-1889), 1864, Original Source: Polona, sygnatura BN F.26920
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Five chief members of The National Government hung in Warsaw on the 5th of August 1864: Romuald Traugutt, Rafał Krajewski, Jan Jeziorański, Roman Żuliński, Józef Toczyski (his photograph replaced by a cross)

Map of Warsaw from 1879 with military objects marked (1879) by Służba Inżynierska Miasta WarszawaPolish History Museum

Warsaw fortress

In the 1870’s, after the Franco-Prussian war it became apparent that, due to the progress in the realm of artillery, no single fortress can be deemed effective. Russians decided to encircle Warsaw with a system of strongholds, consisting of two rings of fortifications. In 1909, the tsar ordered to abolish the fortress Warsaw, because Russian army needed modernization, and maintaining the fortress seemed a waste of resources. In 1913, however, because of growing international tensions, the Russians commenced rebuilding Fortress Warsaw, which… surrendered without the fight in August of 1915. The only long-term effect of its existence has been the stifling of the city growth for a couple of decades.

Recruiting poster (1920) by Z.K.Original Source: Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie

New owners

After the German army left Warsaw in November 1918, the citadel has been taken over by the Polish military. On the 16th of November 1918 a radio station left there by the Germans has send a dispatch to the most import ant capital of the world, proclaiming the independence of Poland. Before the Battle of Warsaw a recruiting point for the volunteers had been located in the Citadel. During the battle, the aforementioned radio station was used to scramble the commands sent by Russians over the radio. The fortress has been also put to more civilian uses – the first housing estates of Żoliborz, a district created together with newly independent Poland, has been built out of bricks collected during the demolition of the forts.

Ceremony at the Traugutt Cross on the 69th Anniversary of the January Uprising (1932-01-23) by Binek, JanOriginal Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

State ceremonies

In the interwar period the Warsaw Citadel has become a location of state ceremonies. They usually commemorated the very people that used to suffer there: prisoners of the Xth Pavilion (some of whom were running the state at the time) or the veterans of the January Uprising. For example, in the Citadel the War Orders of Virtuti Militari were given to the veterans of January Uprising by The Chief of The State Józef Piłsudski. This ceremony took place on the 5th of August 1921, on the anniversary of Romuald Traugutt’s execution.

March of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) heading towards the Citadel (1931-01-11) by Jarumski, LeonOriginal Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Fighting for memory

It can be said that in the interwar period the Citadel has been fought over – not in a literal sense, but as a place of memory. On one hand, the state organized its ceremonies there – backed up by the fact that the Chief of the State, Józef Piłsudski, had been a prisoner of the Xth Pavilion. Now he was distancing himself from his socialist brothers in arms. In 1918 he reportedly said: "Comarades, I travelled in the red trolley of socialism to the stop "Independence", but there I got off the trolley". On the other hand, the tradition of the Citadel as a place of martyrdom of the exponents of the Polish left wing has been still alive. The Polish Socialist Party strove to perpetuate that tradition by organizing its marches there.

Poster of a football match in the Citadel, 1919/1939, Original Source: Polona
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There was more to the Citadel than political and military matters. True, it was a military object, but it did host more civilian activities, such as football matches.

Dancing evening poster, 1920/1929, Original Source: Polona
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Also the dancing evenings were held there.

Xth Pavilion after the powder explosion in the Warsaw Citadel (1923)Original Source: Żołnierz Wielkopolski, nr 25 z 1 listopada 1923

of the powder magazine

On the 13th of October 1923 a huge blast of the powder magazine shook the city. According to "The Warsaw Gazette": "the glass fell out of the windows on the railway stations Warszawa Wileńska and Eastern Station and throughout the Praga district. The commuters, terrified, threw themselves on the floor". The Citadel itself took far less damage than could be expected. The powder magazine was partially underground, which directed the impact upwards. The artillery shells stored nearby were luckily unaffected. Instead the Xth Pavilion, at that time containing flats for the soldiers’ families, incurred heavy damage. Explosion affected the towns near Warsaw – Rembertów, Otwock and Piaseczno. A terrorist attack has been suspected.

Graves of Henryk Rutkowski and Władysław Kniewski (1925-08-21) by Jarumski, LeonOriginal Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Act of terrorism?

Two soldiers, Walery Bagiński and Andrzej Wieczorkiewicz, were sentenced to death for that alleged act of terrorism, even though at the moment of the explosion they were already in prison. The death sentence, however, was questioned by parliamentary commision led by Adam Pragier from Polish Socialist Party. President Wojciechowski pardoned the accused. The witness of the prosecution, Adam Cechnowski, turned out to be an unreliable undercover police agent. Communist Worker’s Party of Poland attempted to assasinate him, which ended in a failure. The would-be hitmen, Władysław Hibner, Władysław Kniewski and Henryk Rutkowski were caught after a spectacular street chase. Somewhat ironically, they were executed at the Citadel, on the same spot as Eligiusz Niewiadomski, who assassinated president Gabriel Narutowicz.

Railway station in Stołpce (1937)Original Source: Polona


Bagiński and Wieczorkiewicz were to be exchanged for the Polish captives in the Soviet Union. However, they were shot in the train near the railway station Stołpce by a policeman escorting them, one Józef Muraszko. In the court he explained his actions by the state of agitation, and desire to avenge wrongs suffered by the Polish people. He was sentenced only to two years in prison. According to later rumors, during the second world war Muraszko was killed for cooperating with Gestapo. If this was the case, eight out of the people involved in the process were killed or executed: both of the accused, their killer, main witness of the accusation, three perpetrators of a failed assasination of that witness, and his actual killer, Izaak Naftali Botwin.

Bombing of the Warsaw Citadel (1939-09) by unknown German aviatorOriginal Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Failure of 1939

In 1939 the Citadel itself was too antiquated to be used in defense of Warsaw – which did not exempt it from the losses. Several barracks buildings perished in flames, which explains the amount of empty space within the Citadel. Some of the outer forts saw the combat though. One of them witnessed an extremely unfortunate incident. After the fall of Warsaw, in the Fort of Legions, where the Central Military Agency was located, German troops found the documents allowing identification of several Polish agents, which in many cases led to their deaths.

Scene from the Warsaw Uprising (1944)Original Source: Wikimedia Commons

Warsaw Uprising

The last moment when the Citadel of Warsaw was used as a military facility, occured during the Warsaw Uprising. Manned by the German soldiers, it separated The Old Town from the district of Żoliborz. The insurgents’ attack on the 1st of August 1944 failed. Germans, in turn, used the Citadel as a base for their onslaught on Żoliborz on the 29th of September.

Execution GateOriginal Source: Muzeum Historii Polski


The government of the Polish People’s Republic tried to use the history of the Citadel in their propaganda. The official message mixed the names of the victims of the Russian occupants and those condemned to death by the government of the independent Poland. Hibner, Rutkowski and Kniewski, the would-be communist assassins mentioned before, were considered heroes. Wanda Wasilewska depicted them in a novel "…for you fell in combat". Others figures that were to be revered in the Citadel, like Rosa Luxemburg, had no connection whatsoever with the Polish patriotic tradition. Apart from the victims mentioned by name, the plaque commemorated "thousands of others, imprisoned in the Citadel by the invaders and by the bourgeoisie". The last word denoted the rightful government of the II Republic.

Corridor of the Xth Pavillion (1925)Original Source: Polona

of Museums: Museum of Xth Pavilion

Museum of the Xth Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel is a branch of the Independence Museum in Warsaw. Its exposition concerns the prisoners held in that facility, and contains a separate part devoted to Józef Piłsudski. The exhibition contains both the objects left behind by the prisoners and the documents of the Tsarist authorities concerning the convicts.

Postcard found in Katyń (1943-04-30)Original Source: Wikimedia Commons

of Museums: Museum of Katyń

Museum of Katyń is a branch of the Polish Army Museum. It serves as a place of commemoration of the Katyń massacre and an institution striving to document it, while simultainously educating about the event. The exhibition, making full use of modern solutions, is divided in two parts. "Discovery" informs the viewer about the Katyń massacre, whereas "Testimony" offers a poignant display of the objects left behind by Polish officers murdered in Katyń in 1940.

Banners from Army Museum (1925) by W. PikielOriginal Source: Polona

Citadel of Museums: Polish Army Museum

Polish Army Museum has been created on the 22th of April 1920 by the decree of Józef Piłsudski. Its exhibition deals with military history, presenting both the mediaeval arms and the heavy military vehicles from World War II. The collection is supplemented by the documents and works of art exploring military themes. The Museum is to be relocated to the Warsaw Citadel.

Visualization of the building of Polish History Museum (2016) by Pracownia architektoniczna WXCAOriginal Source: Pracownia architektoniczna WXCA

of Museums: Polish History Museum

Also new premises of the Polish History Museum will be located within the Citadel. The second floor of the new building will host permanent exhibition with the area of 6,500 square metres, the first floor will contain temporary exhibition, audytorium, cinema nad educational facilities. The goals of the museum are: 1) creating an attractive exhibition space and center stimulating reflections on topics related to the history of Poland; 2) running educational activities, popularization, promotion of publications, issuing grants, co-organization and co-financing of projects related to topics of Polish history and culture realized by other institutions; 3) conducting research about Polish history; 4) promotion of Polish historical heritage abroad.

Xth Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel (1926)Original Source: Polona

fulfill the Marshal’s order

On the 18th of April 1919 Józef Piłsudski issued the following order: "On the order of the Chief of State the building of the Xth Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel, which is a national monument from the times we suffered under the Russian yoke, for it became one by the virtue of constituting a prison for the leaders of the freedom fighters and of the most noble citizens of Poland, has been allocated to organizing there a historical and military archive, a museum, conference and lecture rooms." This museum, however, has not been created in the Second Polish Republic. Creation of the Citadel of Museums fulfills that very order on a much greater scale that it has been anticipated.

Credits: Story

Created by: Paweł Kozioł
Consulted with Paweł Dunin-Wąsowicz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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