One of the most important and revered figures in modern Polish history, Józef Piłsudski was a Polish patriot, military leader and statesman. Born in Imperial Russia in 1867, from his early days he was directly engaged in the Polish independence movement and armed resistance against the Russians, from assassinating Russian police officers and even attempting to off the tsar himself, to forming paramilitary units and trying to provoke a national uprising against the occupying Russians.
Already a household name when WWI broke out, he formed the Polish Legions - a precursor to Poland’s state military, and won several battles. Initially supporting the Central Powers against Russia, as it became evident that they were in no position to guarantee Polish independence, Piłsudski’s Legions switched sides to the Entente. It resulted in his own arrest, but meant his Polish forces ended up on the winning side of history. Released three days before the armistice, Piłsudski was essentially a founding father of the Second Polish Republic when Poland returned to the map of Europe after 123 years of partition. As the new republic’s Chief-of-State, Piłsudski engaged in several border wars in an attempt to re-establish what he thought to be the country’s rightful boundaries, most notably the Polish-Soviet War, miraculously turning the Soviet Army back from Warsaw in 1921 and forcing their surrender. After a short-lived retirement from politics, Piłsudski orchestrated a coup d’etat in 1926 and was basically PL’s military dictator until his death in 1935. Though some of his political moves remain controversial, Piłsudski’s legacy puts him alongside the most revered heroes in Polish history.
Man-made earthwork burial mounds were already an established Cracovian tradition by the 20th century (see Kościuszko Mound), and talk of building one in honour of Poland's inter-war hero and leader Józef Piłsudski was underway even before his death. By 1937 it was complete, and though the Nazis had it slated for demolition and the communists even got the tanks out to pull down the huge granite cross that once stood at its peak, Piłsudski Mound still stands today as an enduring and sacred symbol of Polish independence. About a 25 minute walk north from the Zoo on the red trail, this is the highest point in Las Wolski; the panoramic views from the top are excellent and on a clear day the Tatra Mountains are visible to the south.