“ Modlin Fortress, Modlin, Poland - one of the largest of its kind in Europe. „
I have taken to going out of Warsaw at weekends to do a bit of sightseeing. There is so much history in Poland and especially in Warsaw and its environs. A few Sundays ago my son organised a small itinerary of attractions to see. He had just passed his driving test here in Warsaw and wanted to get some practise driving the family car. Modlin Fortress was the last stop on the itinerary and from the dual carriageway I could see the enormity of the fortress and my heart missed a beat. I always get so excited when I am visiting an attraction for the first time.
Modlin Fortress is situauted in Nowy Dwor, about 25 kilometres out of Warsaw and it can be reached by catching a train from Gdanski Railway Station. We travelled by car and before actually reaching the fortress we called in at the Information Centre to see if we could get a map. It's an old building that has been renovated and inside are tables and chairs, a front desk and a few stands holding information leaflets. We asked for a map and the young lady who was stood behind the desk explained the points on the legend of the map and leaflet. There are several different routes to take through the forest to reach the fortress but not all were suitable with a pushchair. This was because we had had heavy rain for several days and some of the terrain was thick with mud. She outlined in felt pen the route she thought was the best one to take and we took her advice as we had arrived late in the day and wanted to see as much as we could before the weather changed. To walk the routes and enter the grounds of the fortress it is free but there is a small admission of 5 zloty (approx £1.05) to enter the top tower.
Leaving the car in the car park outside the information office we crossed the road and the first attraction looming at us was a monument dedicated to the soldiers who defended Modlin when it was occupied by the Nazis in 1939. A fascinating monument in Socialist Realist style; two life size stone soldiers dressed in uniform with a cannon at each side. The central focal point is a tall pointed obelisk bearing a commemorative plaque in the centre and on the top a replica of an everlasting torch. My son always thinks these monuments are rather grim but I find them fascinating as they are so well made and dominant. We passed the monument on a small path at the side which led into the forest. It was very humid and dark and swarming with mosquitoes. I am glad we didn't stay in that part of the forest for too long as I didn't like it and my granddaughter was becoming a target for these enormous mosquitoes. When we came out into the light again I noticed several Tsarist buildings which were built in 1897 and used way back then as barracks. It was one of the strangest places I have ever visited. The buildings had an officious look about them, institutional with their red bricks, square windows and the odd turret. It was strange because there seemed a deathly silence all around while ordinary every day people carried on with their lives in and outside these old buildings. The buildings had been turned into apartments and the area had a post office and a chemist. Unkempt children were playing outside on broken bicycles, cats wailed underneath trees and groups of men were sat outside playing cards and drinking beer. I know there is nothing odd about these images but it looked like a scene from the Survivors and felt like the world had ended and these were the only people surviving in these semi-derelict buildings. It gave me goosebumps and although fascinated I was pleased to move on to find the fortress.
When we eventually came to the fortress which is only a short walk from the Tsarist houses I couldn't believe what was in front of me - at first it looked like an enormous derelict set of warehouses built in an half oval shape. The closer I looked I could see that this fortress which was established by Napoleon in the years 1807-12 was a magnificent piece of architecture. This is a two floored fortress with five bastions, open from the side of the river with a square redoute enclosed by water. From the top floor targets in the distance could be shot at while the base floor protected the access to the moat. The fortress became a place of shelter for rebels during the November Uprising and during the 19th century the Russians redesigned the fortress making it into the most powerful Russian fortress in Poland.
The fortress is semi-derelict now but if you climb to the top tower you can still see the overall structure of three rings with the 50 kilometre long circuit of outer ring which forms the concrete fort. The views are stunning and as well as all the pieces of the fort you can see the bridge over the River Vistula in the distance. I think the tower section is actually up for sale and it would be nice if someone would buy it and keep it in good condition. It is a shame that the rest of the fort has fallen into disrepair; windows are broken and some floors have caved in but most of the outbuildings like store rooms are still in good shape. They were designed with arched doors and tunnel like. There are even some signs that have faded but you can still work out what was stored where. Of course there is nothing inside the store rooms except broken bottles and cigarette butts now from where old tramps have been sleeping but I managed to put together an imaginary picture of what the store area would have looked like.
Having been up to the tower we then walked back to where we entered and walked right to the end of the fortress. The grass was overgrown and lots of wild flowers were intermingled with stones and broken pieces of red brick. We stopped and picked some cornflowers, took one more look at the mighty fortress and then walked back to the Soviet monument and back to the car. I was so pleased my son had taken me to Modlin - it's fascinating, colossal and somewhere I will never forget.