The fortress was built in 1832-1834 on the high bank of the Vistula River after the suppression of the November Insurrection on the orders of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was officially called Aleksadrowska Citadel. It was built by the tsar authorities as evidence of the occupation of the city and as a warning to its inhabitants. It cost 11 million rubles to build and the cost was borne entirely by the city of Warsaw and the Bank of Poland. About 10,000 people were relocated from the building site and more than 250 properties were demolished. Initially, the encircling walls were 2,680 m long over an area of 10.5 ha. Over the next dozen or so years a ring of external forts with artillery towers was added to it. Four gateways were built along the defense walls and half of the fort was surrounded by a moat. In 1837 there were more than 210 pieces of artillery equipment and about 150,000 missiles. In 1863 the number of artillery equipment at the Citadel increased to 555. The artillery’s reach was 1,500 m. thus the Old Town and the New Town were in the line of fire. A garrison of several thousand Russian soldiers was ready to put down any signs of independence aspirations by the Poles. During peacetime there were 5,000 soldiers stationed at the Citadel, and during the January Insurrection in 1863 the garrison increased to 16,000 troops. At the end of the 19th century the Citadel took up an area of 60 ha.
From the outset the Warsaw Citadel also functioned as a prison with its infamous Tenth Pavilion. 104 prison ‘casemates’ were built within the Citadel that could house about 3,000 prisoners. The Citadel was a prison for participants in the national insurrections and independence movement activists. It was also a place of executions of patriots and revolutionaries during the partitions of Poland. Romauld Traugutt, Polish general and war hero, best known for commanding the January Uprising was held in one of the Tenth Pavilion cells at the end of the January Insurrection in 1864. Józef Piłsudski, Polish general, statesman and First Marshal of Poland, was also a prisoner in the Citadel in 1905. In 1910-1911 Stefan Starzyński, statesman and later President of Warsaw was arrested three times for his conspiratorial activities and imprisoned in the Citadel.
There is the Death Gate on the Vistula’s side, which earlier was called Ivanovski’s Gateway. The condemned men were led through this gate from the Tenth Pavilion to the hill on the Vistula side to be executed. In front of the Death Gate there is a symbolic cemetery of the executed prisoners in the Warsaw Citadel. There are 137 stone crosses placed here and several Jewish tombstones.
After Poland regained its independence in 1918 the Polish Army was stationed in the Citadel, including “Warsaw’s Children” – 21st infantry regiment and Kaniowski 30th rifle regiment. During the German occupation the Wehrmacht and SS soldiers occupied the Citadel. The Polish Army took over the Citadel after World War II. Today, the Land Forces Command has its headquarters there. Since 1963 there is a Tenth Pavilion Museum in the east part of the tower.
The Museum of the Land Forces is housed in the concealed brick fortification structure of the Citadel, which is a military area.
Within the Citadel there are plans to create a Polish Military Museum, Central Military Archives, Polish Soldier’s House and Historical Research Offices. The museum area is to take up 40,000 m2.
As one of the better preserved 19th century defensive architectural objects, the Warsaw Citadel is heritage listed.