Disturbed memory. What happened to Reduta Ordona (Ordon's Redoubt)?

Since it's an unexamined area, under the garbage and excrement there are probably more graves of soldiers from 1831. So far, mainly two types of graves have been discovered: a mass grave, i.e. bones thrown in loosely after an illegal looting of Ordon’s Redoubt in 2008, and the most common case: bones in wolf pits, says Robert Wyrostkiewicz, an archeologist who has been working on Ordon’s Redoubt for years.

TVP WEEKLY: The true symbol of the indomitable struggle of the Poles is in Warsaw, only today few people know where it is. What happened in Ordon's Redoubt on September 6, 1931 in Ordon's Redoubt ?

As most of us remember from our history lessons: the storming of Warsaw by Tsarist troops, ending the Polish-Russian war that became known as the November Uprising. The most bitter fighting took place around position No. 54, later known as Ordon's Redoubt. The earthen rampart was only one-third manned and survived constant attacks not only by infantry, but especially by artillery. It did not surrender. An archaeologically proven fact is the explosion of a powder magazine, which was located on the maypole of the fortress. However, the powder magazine was blown up not by the legendary Julian Ordon, but most likely by another soldier, probably the infantry captain Feliks Nowosielski, who, by the way, sent several dozen Russians to their deaths in this way. So Adam Mickiewicz bent history a bit when he wrote his famous patriotic poem.

Reportedly, Lieutenant Ordon held a grudge against the poet because of this.

In the well-known explosion of the powder magazine, Ordon was burned, but survived. It was Mickiewicz who put him to literary death, which Ordon resented for the rest of his life. Nevertheless, the poem can hardly be called fiction, although it contains obvious inaccuracies. The course of the battle and even elements such as the reconciliation tomb have been largely confirmed by archaeologists. I participated in the documentation of the Wolf Pits, which contained the intertwined remains of Polish and Russian soldiers who were thrown there post mortem.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Everything like a dream has disappeared. - Only a black solid body
Of earth unformed lies - the reconciliation grave.
There together those who defended, - and those who broke in,
For the first time sincere and eternal peace they made

This is not just a literary description. It is a fact that can be read in the ground between Jerozolimskie Avenue and Na Bateryjce Street in the Ochota district of Warsaw, where Ordon's Redoubt is located. So not in the nearby Wola, as we thought all the time.

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Speaking of ground: In the last 190 years we have not made much effort to read what was written there.

In fact, our historical memory is shocking in this case. The redoubt itself was found only in 2008, and in 2010 archaeologists confirmed its authenticity. Since then, it has been forgotten by the world and people, and eventually left as a garbage dump and urban toilet among the successively built housing estates and office buildings.

However, I remember that there were some attempts to commemorate the place.

The monument was erected on the initiative of social activists and recognized by the authorities of the Ochota district as an unauthorized construction. It is important to mention the name of the true defender of the commemoration of the redoubt, the now deceased Mr. Wlodzimierz Paczesny - he and his son Kazimierz fought tirelessly with various institutions and offices to commemorate the place. Finally, an entry was made in the register of monuments, but it was not entirely logical, because the Muslim mosque was excluded from it, and the properties of private individuals, located at the beginning of the street, were entered. Only they were as far from the Redoubt as from the mosque and have nothing to do with the fortification.

However, a mosque was built on it?

It is probable - and I can confirm this as an archaeologist - that the mosque or Muslim Cultural Centre stands precisely on a fragment of the redoubt of Ordon, and most probably on wolf pits or war graves. These no longer exist, as the ground was deeply excavated before the investment. The current archaeological supervision has revealed nothing, but was it reliable? We will find out if the conservator allows further investigation. If it turns out that the row of wolf pits continues behind the city's property, under the mosque, it would be clear that these graves were removed by trucks during the construction of the mosque. This can only be confirmed or ruled out by archaeological research, for which we are still waiting.

Well, and here we come across the recurring problem of land ownership in Warsaw.

That's right. Most of the site of the redoubt itself is on land owned by a Spanish developer who bought it in 2006, when no one yet knew that it was the earthen wall from Mickiewicz's poem. The Spaniards acted according to regulations, i.e. they commissioned archaeological works, which were the first large-scale investigation of the site. Later, the excavations were repeated, and since 2013 there has been documentation available online in two volumes published by the State Archaeological Museum. The great paradox of this case is that it was not the authorities and national heritage institutions of the time that were interested, but a private investor.
Robert Wyrostkiewicz at the site of Ordon's Redoubt in 2023. photo:
How is it possible that someone sells a place of historical importance to a developer from Spain?

It is a chronological error that was brought to public attention by some politicians during the election campaign. Anyway, the Redoubt of Ordon is a field for politicians in every campaign. I repeat: the Redoubt was not sold, just a simple plot of land, because no one had any idea at the time that the Ordon Redoubt was on it. Only a private company commissioned the surveys, and the funny thing is that the redoubt was discovered with the developer's money, not the state's money, whether you like it or not. This is a fact.

The Spanish did the right thing by organizing the land survey and thus limiting their own possibilities, did not they?

Please forgive me, but your question proves that here in Poland we have a somewhat skewed idea of commemorating historical sites. After all, in Spain, for example, which I mentioned earlier, builders come across monuments from the Roman period dating back two thousand years in practically every investment they make. And this in no way means that they should be blocked! A site discovered by archaeologists is later skillfully integrated into a residential area, offers value and attractiveness, not infrequently under a glass floor, with partially preserved fragments of monuments, with some interesting pre-approved museum exhibitions, and becomes a living fabric in the urban structure. Then it lives and educates, that is, it conveys valuable archaeological content to people. Prof. Józef Lenartowicz and Prof. Robert Barełkowski wrote excellent works about the necessity of inscribing memorials into the living urban fabric. Today, for example, Prof. Slawomira Gzella demands that the Redoubt of Ordon should live in the city and not be just an empty square with a tomb surrounded by an even bigger mosque and shopping centre.

At present, only the modern minaret of the Muslim cultural center towers above the site

After an archeological survey that found artifacts from the war and human remains, a developer from Spain could not build there but had to pay taxes on the land. These costs amounted to 10 million zloty, and there was no sign that the matter would be resolved soon. Warsaw, in turn, did not have the funds to buy back the land. Anyway, today President Rafal Trzaskowski shows no interest in Ordon's Redoubt, he has neither done anything nor promised anything, and I would not be surprised if he did not know where the land is and what it is. I will leave it at that, because it is unlikely that he will contribute anything to this issue.
Ordon's Redoubt has been left as a landfill and municipal toilet between a mosque, a shopping center and other housing estates, office buildings are built here. Photo: Map Geoportal, photos and compilation
Ordon's redoubt doesn't look good today, some bushes, garbage, debris...

The developers, and there are several of them, have fenced the area, leveled it, cleaned it up and have been waiting for a decision for 10 years. "Tremon" - that's the name of the Spanish company - has even offered Warsaw that it can raise the money for a museum, a pylon, a wall with historical graphics, a nature trail, further research, monument protection, burial, etc. - just let someone "from above" make a move. They're confused because they can't do anything and development has been stagnant since 2013. That is the developer's side of the story. But the horror is the area that belongs to the city, which is the one behind the mosque. It's indescribable. Tons of garbage, feces of dogs and people, a den and recently a place where homeless people live.

Could there still be remains of Polish insurgents underneath ?

Since this is an unexplored area, it is likely that there are other soldiers' graves from 1831 under trash and excrement. So far, two main types of burials have been discovered: a mass grave, i.e. bones thrown in loosely after an illegal looting in the Ordon Redoubt in 2008, and the most common case - bones in wolf pits. The redoubts were fortifications designed for all-around defense and reinforced by wooden palisades, a ditch, and a series of pits in front. The wolf pits were still to be provided with stakes, but, as we discovered during the excavations, they were not installed. The redoubt was hastily erected. In the wolf pits, i.e. in the already finished depressions in the ground, the remains of the soldiers were thrown after the battle. Since a part of the wolf pits runs in the direction of the mosque, it is almost certain that there are graves there. Moreover, even a simple calculation is missing the remains of several hundred soldiers who fell in the Ordon redoubt, Poles and Russians.

As an archaeologist, do you expect anything else in this place?

Movable monuments can be of different types. It is an open secret that two missiles were discovered on Ordon's Redoubt during illegal research. In particular, half batteries of rockets on foot and on horseback which were a rarity at that time. The Kingdom of Poland was the first army in continental Europe to use such rockets. These iron constructions resembled modern rockets, but had great problems with accuracy, especially in gusts of wind. However, they caused fear among the tsarist soldiers who were not familiar with the sight of a rocket. Such a situation occurred, among others, at Olszynka Grochowska, where the Polish army used this new weapon. Unfortunately, iron corrodes, and the thin walls do not contribute to the preservation of the object, so to this day not a single specimen has been preserved. Except for those found in the Ordon redoubt, which have not been recovered to this day. Who knows, maybe more rockets will be found in an unexplored area? Maybe they are again gold ducats with which the soldiers were paid? Such numismatic objects have already been discovered on the earthwork. For us, however, the most important thing is to figure out the location of the rampart so that we can accurately predict the true location of the entire redoubt based on later finds already in the field.
The area of the city, i.e. the area of Ordon's Redoubt behind the mosque, is full of horror: Tons of garbage, feces of dogs and people, and a den. Photo:
What does the Ministry of Culture and Heritage have to say about all this?

In April this year, Prof. Piotr Glinski, Minister of Culture and National Heritage, visited the Redoubt of Ordon. It was clear that he was fed up with the stagnation and announced two important decisions to be taken. The Redoubt of Ordon is finally to be archaeologically studied, that is, the remains of the soldiers, which are now accessible, are to be taken out of the ground. This is the first announcement of Deputy Prime Minister Glinski. It seems obvious, but considering that the Mazovian Regional Monuments Inspector has been issuing a resolution to the State Archaeological Museum since September 2022 to complete the 2013 research and after more than half a year has still not issued such a simple resolution and is still hiding behind some administrative problems, I'm not surprised that Minister Gliński finally stomped his foot a little.

What is the goal of the activists, what should the place look like?

There is a fine line between a proud Pole and a loudmouth with a Polish flag. I participated in the research of Ordon's Redoubt from 2010 to 2013. My friends and I spent hundreds of hours there. I was involved in the creation of Ordon's Redoubt Defence Committee. I have been in the media covering the research from the beginning. I used to believe that the land would be returned in its entirety. Now I only believe that someone across party and state lines will sit down at the table and make a good move. It is well known that after the pandemic period and the war in Ukraine, funds are scarce, especially when it comes to culture. This is understandable, but for a decade we have not been able to build a public-private partnership in Warsaw. I recently read a speech by the Association of Friends of the Ordon Redoubt. They call for the first step to be the completion of archaeological research and joint meetings between the government, local authorities, Tremon and conservation services to create a plan for the Ordon Redoubt and finally, across political boundaries, break the period of shame. But is that possible? Perhaps the time leading up to the elections will provide additional motivation here. Time will tell. In any case, a step on the part of the ministry is important. If its officials follow the path of wise remembrance rather than plans for a large cemetery, i.e., more years of procedures, a light of hope will>
Is not the simplest solution, for example, war quarters and a memorial chamber?

And here we come to the key question. If by war quarters we mean an ossuary, that is, a tomb containing mortal remains that is also a memorial, then that is a perfect idea and easy to implement. However, if we consider the war quarter de jure as such, then we have a new problem. The bones, which are mostly mixed anyway and where it is often impossible to distinguish a Pole from a Russian, have a relatively small volume for about a hundred exhumed people. If they are treated as a cemetery, they will have to go through a series of procedures like any other cemetery, conflict with the local land use plan, and finally comply with sanitary regulations. Add in the cooperation required here between the central government and the city, now political opponents, and you can say right away that this proposal means several years of paperwork and even more trash in the redoubt. However, if Minister Glinski had in mind a memorial chamber with a special place for the ossuary, his announcement raises high hopes that the soldiers' remains will finally be taken out of the cardboard boxes of the warehouses where they have lain for more than a decade..

– interviewed by Cezary Korycki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Robert Wyrostkiewicz is an archaeologist, former Polish Radio journalist and a member of the program board of Radio for You.
Main photo: Ordon's Redoubt in the spring of 2023. photo:
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