Archives of Memories: Presentations of the History of Novi Bečej through Anecdotes, Photographs and Untold Stories

Breathe life into the forgotten stories of Novi Bečej through our rich collection of articles dedicated to people and events from the past. Travel through the ages, exploring the colorful array of historical moments that shaped our city. Here, memories and reality meet, bringing old streets, stories and events to life through interesting anecdotes, untold legends and rare photographs. Experience Novi Bečej from a new angle, through the eyes of the past that shaped our present, while we try to preserve the spirit and heritage that makes our city unique.

Fragments from the history of the Bečej Fortress

On the occasion of the nine centuries since the first written mention of this historical locality, rich with events of the former medieval fortress, built on a sandy island between today's Novi Bečej and Bečej, it has rarely been the subject of interest for historians and enthusiasts of the past. Except for the only comprehensive work by Rudolf Šmit, who wrote about this fortress half a century ago, information about this fortified city in sources and literature is only mentioned fragmentarily, making it very difficult to perform a more complete reconstruction of the events and occurrences related to the existence of our "city," as we, the present-day residents of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo, fondly call it.

Based on the barely preserved parts of the walls today, which barely emerge above the surface of the Tisa River during high water levels, interacting with only fishermen and bathers seeking solitude and peace during the summer season, it is difficult, or rather impossible, to create even the slightest idea of the former power and splendor of the Bečej Fortress around which settlements such as Novi Bečej (Vranjevo), Bačko Gradište, Bečej, and others emerged after its destruction in the early 18th century.

The concentration of archaeological sites from Neolithic times in the immediate vicinity of the "city" certainly testifies to the fact that this area was a very interesting habitat, not only for fishermen, hunters, but also for the oldest farmers. It is most likely that this area had a certain significance even in the Roman period in the struggle against barbarian tribes, as evidenced by bricks incorporated into the remains of the fortress and coins from that period found. Unfortunately, for the later period, we hardly have tangible material evidence of the existence of a fortified crossing on the Tisa River, but it is certain that it must have existed and played a role in various passages and movements of tribes that moved through this area during the early Middle Ages.

Until the end of the 11th century, we do not have a more certain historical written source about Bečej, although the estates of the Becsey family and the "Bečej port" are mentioned, but it was not until 1091 that data related to the Bečej settlement appeared. Bečej developed as a settlement, market, or fairground directly next to the ferry that was located there, most certainly in earlier times, and in the Middle Ages such crossings were called "brods," of which there were many on the Tisa River near places like Boroš, Čurug, Titel, Mola, Kanjiža, and other locations along this flat river. The intensity of traffic conducted through these ferries, mostly trade in salt, fish, wine, livestock, grains, and other goods, determined their importance, and considerable profit was made through ferry fees and other levies.

The significance of this crossing between today's Novi Bečej and Bečej is evidenced by the fact that already at the beginning of the 14th century, a fortress was built there, which was the best fortified object in this part of present-day Vojvodina. For a long time, it was considered that the oldest written mention of the Novi Bečej city was related to the year 1328. However, a document written in Latin has been found recently, mentioning Bechey among the settlements on the Tisa River, where the Cumans were defeated by the Hungarian army.

There are several assumptions about the origin of the name Bečej. According to some, it got its name from the word "beč," which in earlier times meant possession, fertile land, while according to others, it derives from the Turkish language and means a city on the water, which is far from the correct meaning, although such a view was advocated by Hasan Rebac, as he appears in historical sources significantly earlier than the Turks came to these areas. However, historical science and toponymy consider it to be a word of Hungarian origin and that the settlement got its name from a powerful medieval family Vesseu from the time of the first Arpads, which had considerable estates in these areas.

However, this fact itself raises doubts that mentions of Bečej were always related to this city on the Tisa.

A more certain data, at least for now, is related to the year 1238 when the settlement is mentioned in a donation document of the Hungarian king Béla IV, who ruled from 1235 to 1270, referred to as willa Wechey, which he confirmed the ownership of the settlement that was previously part of the royal command of the fortress in Bač.

The fortified settlement of Bečej became established sometime between 1300 and 1320, as evidenced by the fact that already in 1342, in one document, the castellan-commander of the Bečej fortress is mentioned. Its military, strategic, and economic importance is confirmed by the fact that it was the only medieval fortified town in this part of the Potisje region. As a typical river fortress, it served to protect transport and trade, control river traffic, and also to secure the Bečej domain.

At the end of the 14th century, precisely in 1386, the future Hungarian king Sigismund of Luxembourg donated the fortress to the brothers Ladislav and Stefan Lošonci.

The history of the Bečej fortress from the beginning of the 15th century is also connected with events of a more general nature that are directly related to the penetration of the Turks into the Balkan-Pannonian region. Namely, the Turkish defeat at Ankara in 1402 had an impact on Serbian-Hungarian relations. Stefan Lazarević, who fought in the battle of Ankara on the side of his son-in-law Sultan Bayezid I, upon returning from the battlefield, received the title of Serbian despot from the Byzantine Emperor John VIII, which influenced Hungarian King Sigismund to seek help from Stefan. In return, Lazarević in 1404 received estates in the southern parts of Hungary, including the fortified town of Bečej. From that time on, more intensive settlement of Serbian population in these areas began, as the despot appointed and brought his officials and auxiliary staff to his estates. For example, it is recorded in one document that in Arad in 1417, a certain Bran was the despot's administrator.

After the death of Despot Stefan Lazarević in 1427, his nephew Đurađ Branković inherited him, who also received estates in Hungary. In addition to those in Srem, parts of the Tamiš county with Vršac, in the Backa region from Čurug to Senta and other possessions Đurađ held a large part of the Torontal county and thus also the Bečej domain with the fortress, ferry, and surrounding settlements. According to the data of the despot's contemporary, the famous French traveler Bertrandon de la Brocquière, who returned from Constantinople in 1433, crossing the Tisza near Bečej, Đurađ Branković had an annual income of about 50,000 ducats from his Hungarian estates, a large part of which was obtained from tolls.

Historical data also record that in 1440 the commander of the Bečej fortress was a certain Ladislav Gesti when Bečej is mentioned as a significant customs place. Our "city" is also mentioned in the latest confirmed forgery, the charter of Đurađ Branković from 1441, where he donates that significant fortress, which belonged to ten villages and four towns with a malta, to his supposed relative Pavle Biriniu from Verona.

The exceptional importance of the fortress is also evidenced by the fact that sessions of the Torontal county were held here and in Arad in 1442.

In turbulent times, from the middle of the 15th century, frequent conflicts arose between Đurađ Branković and the Hunyadi family, which had a significant impact on the events related to the history of the Bečej fortress, as it often changed hands.

The victory of János Hunyadi, known in folk songs as Sibinjanin Janko, over the Turks in Wallachia in 1442 raised the belief of Christians that resistance to the Turkish army was possible.

Despot Đurađ was at that time on the side of the Hunyadis, but after his defeat at Varna in 1444, their relationship deteriorated, especially after Hunyadi's catastrophe at Kosovo in 1448. Regaining the despot's favor from Sultan Murad II, improved Đurađ's relations with the Turks, especially with the accession of Mehmed II the Conqueror in 1451, to whom his daughter Mara was married. These circumstances led to the reconciliation of Hunyadi with Despot Đurađ.

Historical sources record that in 1450 Bečej was held by János Hunyadi, as a session of the state assembly was held here under his leadership that year. Already in 1451, the city again came into the possession of the old despot Đurađ, only to be briefly held by Mihajlo Silađi in 1455, a brother-in-law of János Hunyadi, who distinguished himself in the heroic defense of Belgrade against the Turks in 1456. Shortly before his death, and he died in 1456, we find Despot Đurađ again in the Bečej castle where he spent his time hunting and negotiating politics. After his death, Bečej was most likely in the hands of his sons: blind Grgur and Stefan and the youngest Lazar, which is confirmed by a probably falsified charter of Matthias Corvinus from 1458 authorizing Mihailo Silađi "to take possession of the Bečej fortress together with the associated towns, settlements, and estates, in case the sons of Despot Đurađ betray the Hungarian king...".

The first encounters with the Turkish conquerors the Bečej fortress had in 1482. In September of the same year, a Turkish army was sent from Smederevo towards Temišvar for plunder. According to the data provided by historian Aleksa Ivić, after a three-day plunder in Banat, about 10,000 Turkish horsemen clashed with the Hungarians on a field near Bečej. At the head of the Christian army were Despot Vuk, known in folk songs as Zmaj Ognjeni Vuk, Pavle Kinjiži, and Petar Doči. After a fierce battle, the Turks had about 3,000 dead. "Considerable wealth" was seized, of which a part was sent to King Matthias as proof of this great victory.

For a time, the Bečej city was directly in the hands of King Matthias Corvinus. It is recorded that in 1448 he banned the overseers of the ferry near the Bečej fortress from collecting tolls and other taxes from the citizens of Segedin who transported their wine from Srem vineyards to Segedin.

After the death of Matthias in 1492, Bečej came into the possession of the Gereb family from Vingarta. Unrest caused by the rebellion of Đerđ Dože engulfed the regions around Bečej. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the organization of a crusade against the Turks, Hungarian serfs, instead of turning against the Turks, turned against the feudal lords in the desire to free themselves from feudal obligations. In this uprising under the direct leadership of Đerđ Dože, the rebels seized the Bečej fortress in 1514 to secure the rear of the army besieging Temišvar. However, the uprising was soon suppressed in blood by Jovan Zapolya, the Transylvanian voivode and future king. The Hungarian defeat to the Turks in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, and especially the struggle for the Hungarian crown between Ferdinand of Habsburg and Jovan Zapolya after that battle, had a strong impact in these regions. Serbian voivode Stefan Balentić, who frequently switched sides between Ferdinand and Zapolya, attacked Bečej with his troops in early May 1531, which was held at the time by one of Zapolya's most significant supporters, Stefan Verbeci. It is known that Balentić demolished the walls with cannons and captured the city fortress by night assault.

Historical sources also mention that Jovan Zapolya, when going to pay homage to Sultan Suleiman II, passed near Bečej. For a time, the town of Bečej was owned by the widow of Jovan Zapolya, Queen Isabella. In 1547, the Turks demanded the surrender of Bečej and Bečkerek with other settlements in Banat. However, the Transylvanian chancellor, Frater Đorđe, managed to deter the Turks from this intention with gifts. Frater Đorđe secretly negotiated with King Ferdinand I to hand over these territories to him. These negotiations continued until the Turkish attack on Bečej and Bečkerek in 1551. The Turks demanded the surrender of those two cities again in February of that year, as well as the outstanding part of the tribute, which the Hungarian assembly refused. In the spring of the same year, Jovan Baptist Castaldo was appointed as the commander in the border regions and began preparations for the defense of Banat. When Sultan Suleiman learned of these events, he entrusted the conduct of military operations in Banat to the Rumelian beylerbey, Mehmed Sokolović. Stefan Lošonci was supposed to prepare the Bečej fortress for defense against the Turks, whom Andrija Batori sent to Bečej with about 500 horsemen in early September. However, the defense against the Turks was not taken seriously, as evidenced by the fact that it was organized just a week before the attack on the Bečej fortress. Mehmed Sokolović set out for Banat on September 7, 1551, with an army of about 80,000 men and 50 cannons, crossing the Danube at Petrovaradin, and pausing at Čurug on September 11. A Turkish flotilla set off with 25 ships towards Bečej, but it was surprised by the lower fortifications and dispersed by Stefan Lošonci's army. After this victory, Lošonci withdrew to Temišvar, and Castaldo appointed Tomu Sentanai as the commander of the Bečej fortress, with Gabriel Figeđia, Emir Nada, and Jonas Sentimreia as assistants. Mehmed Sokolović besieged Bečej on September 15. The next day, the Turks attacked the fortified city with bombardment and battering rams. According to Aleksa Ivić's writings, the garrison of about 400 Hungarian soldiers bravely fought, even launching a surprise attack on the Turks at one point. "Many of them were killed, their heads were cut off, and one alive was captured and impaled in front of the city gate. However, the unmatched force of the Turks could not be resisted."

After a heroic defense lasting four days, the entire Hungarian garrison defending the city was decimated when the Turks stormed the fortified city on September 19. After that, Sokolović left a stronger garrison in the devastated city and continued towards Temišvar. After these events, almost a century of Turkish rule began in Bečej, during which they restored and put the Bečej fortress back in order due to its strategic importance.

The Turkish period of Bečej fortress history is very little known to us. In literature and sources, we only encounter fragmentary data, but even this small amount of information testifies to the significance of Bečej during this period.

Bečej was the seat of a district belonging to the Kanjiža sanjak and the Temišvar eyalet, whose first beylerbey was Kasim Bey from 1552. We know very little about the Turkish garrison of the Bečej fortress from the second half of the 16th century. We only have an incomplete census from 1579/80, which states that the Muslim congregation of the fortress counted twenty-one individuals, including the commander, Ćehaja, the serdar, two Serbians, foot soldiers, an imam, and a muezzin. The mention of the last two clearly indicates the existence of an Islamic place of worship within the fortress.

The Serbian uprising in Banat in 1594 had a direct impact on the Bečej fortress, as insurgents in the summer of the same year, after taking Bečkerek, captured the city and surrounded the city fortress, which housed between 50 and 60 Turkish soldiers. The garrison offered the fortress to the insurgents for surrender, but on the condition that they could take all the treasure with them, which the insurgents did not agree to, and they conquered it by assault. The following year, Sinan Pasha, the beylerbey of Temišvar, bloodily suppressed the Serbian uprising, from which a large part defected to Transylvania and Austria.

Another attack on the Bečej fortress from that time is recorded when the hajduks in 1599 managed to plunder it with 32 ships and return with rich loot to Komoran.

The most beautiful information from the history of the Turkish period of the Bečej fortress is provided by the traveler Derviš Mehmed Zili, better known as Evliya Çelebi, who traveled through our regions in the 1660s. In his time, out of 168 settlements in Banat, only 9 had the status of towns, palatinates, towns, and cities, one of which was our Bečej. According to Evliya Çelebi, "Bečej is a vakuf (endowment) property. At that time, there was a military garrison of 40 young men, a tax collector, a customs inspector, and a janissary serdar. The customs revenue belonged to the Temišvar garrison. The city on the Tisa is beautiful, quadrilateral, made of brick, and covers an area of 500 steps. One gate was called the port gate and the other the Ogrun gate.

At the port, there was an inn and 50 shops. At that time, there was a mosque in Bečej converted from a church, a madrasa, three elementary schools, a monastery, a bath, and a hundred houses. It had a large port, and the population mostly engaged in salt and fish trade. Evliya praises the population as very hospitable, and the town as pleasant and beautiful with many gardens and vineyards. From Bečej, Evliya continued to Bečkerek, which he traveled to in six hours. He passed by flowery fields and villages on the way."

In the Austro-Turkish War of 1683-1699, the fortress of Bečej did not play a significant role. It is only noted that General Hajzler reported to Vienna on June 4, 1696, from the camp near Bečej that many members of the Serbian militia were leaving their service because they had not received their pay and had no means of livelihood. It is also recorded that Eugen Savojski, just before the battle for Senta, constructed a magazine with chambers in Bečej.

According to the decisions of the peace treaty in Sremski Karlovci in 1699, which pushed the Turks east of the Tisza, it was decided that all fortifications on that river should be demolished, including Bečej. The Turks, in particular, advocated for the destruction of these fortifications so that the Austrians could not use them against them. A royal commission, led by Luigi Fernando Mersilije, was tasked with supervising the demolition of these fortresses. The demolition of the Bečej fortress began in March 1701 under the leadership of Segedin's commander Johan Fridrih de Globica. It proceeded very slowly, not only due to the lack of labor and bad weather but also because of the thickness of the walls. Captain engineer Johan Christian de Colette also participated in organizing the works, tasked with building new settlements around the Tisza where the Serbian militia would later be housed.

According to a report from the commander in Arad, Lefelholtz, sent to the War Council in Vienna, it is noted that the town of Bečej is surrounded by one arm of the Tisza and consequently lies completely in the water, with strong old walls. Glóbic, reporting to the same Council, states that when the ramparts are demolished, they will fall into deep water, and little material will be preserved except for the bricks from the central tower.

Thanks to the meticulousness of engineer Colette, a description and plan of the Bečej fortress have been preserved, which are now kept in the Military Archives in Vienna, and were rescued from oblivion by Rudolf Schmidt writing about this town. According to them, Bečej was a typical medieval town on the water.

One could enter the front town, surrounded by palisades, via a mobile bridge. Through the town gate, one entered the town courtyard, where the main town tower stood, 17.2 meters high in the middle. The fortification was quadrangular, with semi-towers at the corners, the outer side of which was 14.4 meters high and the inner side 11.7 meters. The entire internal layout, which included the commander's residence and accompanying facilities, gives the impression of a fortress used solely for defense. It was most likely never decorated artistically for these reasons. It was built exclusively of bricks in mortar, with only the edges of the main tower made of stone blocks. Vertical oak logs were placed to reinforce the foundation, which can still be seen today during very low water levels. The main defense of the town was provided by the Tisza River, which was further strengthened by a deep moat 30 meters wide. The town had an area of 2,331 square meters, of which 440 square meters were built. The length of the ramparts and towers was 280 meters, the diameter of the fortress was 48.5 meters, and during the demolition, nearly 3,000 cubic meters of wall had to be removed, unfortunately, this was only partially completed by mid-May 1701.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, during the period of large-scale improvement works in the Habsburg monarchy aimed at draining marshy areas around rivers and building the Danube-Tisza canal, efforts were made to straighten the meanders of the Tisza, directing the riverbed over the remains of the former fortress.

Alongside the demolition of the Bečej fortress, unlike Vranjevo, Turkish Bečej developed in another direction.

After the expulsion of the Turks from Banat in 1717, Banat was administered directly from Vienna, first through the military commander in Timișoara and from 1751 through the civilian administration of the Zemaljska administration. Since Turkish Bečej did not fall under the Military Border, it was directly linked to the Court Chamber in Vienna. From 1779, when Banat was incorporated into Hungary and Torontal County was created, Turkish Bečej was part of Torontal County, which lasted until the end of the First World War. After this incorporation, the Court Chamber sold most of its land in Banat that did not enter the District. On that occasion in 1781, the Sisanji family bought Turkish Bečej.

From the late 17th century, Turkish Bečej, together with Vranjevo, became one of the most important centers for grain trade by river until the construction of the railway line in 1883.

During the interwar and war periods, Vranjevo and Novi Bečej were separate political municipalities, and from the late 19th century, Novi Bečej became the seat of the Novobečejski srez. It is interesting to note that, at the initiative of the Association of Merchants and Industrialists in Novi Bečej and the Novi Bečej municipality, an action was launched as early as 1929 to merge with the Vranjevo municipality and create a city with a regulated senate. However, Vranjevans fiercely opposed and rejected this. Nevertheless, after liberation in 1944, an initiative was launched again to merge the two settlements, which was done in 1946 under the name Vološinovo, which in 1952 was renamed Novi Bečej, the name it still carries today.

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