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Medieval fortress near Novi Bečej
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Medieval fortress near Novi Bečej

Throughout history, the Tisa River, like a Pannonian beauty, has offered many benefits and posed a great challenge for settlements and fortified control points to form along its banks since prehistoric times. Barely visible ruins of the "old town," a kilometer upstream from the center of Novi Bečej, silently testify to a little-known history of this area. Undoubtedly, this crossing has been used since ancient times, not only for Roman military campaigns against barbarians but also for developed trade.

The marking of the 900th anniversary of the first written mention of our town was celebrated in the fortress, with the installation of a memorial plaque on the ruins of the city walls on the Tisa River.

The existence of a fortress on a sandy island in the middle of the Tisa River is evidenced by preserved Roman bricks incorporated into the later medieval fortress. Until the late 11th century, we have no written historical sources about this fortress. The only thing we know for certain is that the area was held by the Becsey family, after which two nearby settlements were named. The fortress was used to secure passage across the Tisa, where there was a ferry and a crew that collected tolls and controlled river navigation.

The importance of this crossing is also evidenced by the presence of the Arača church nearby. Through this crossing, Banat wheat, salt, wood, and stone from the Romanian part of Banat were transported westward. Not long ago, a charter from 1091 was discovered in the Budapest archives mentioning that the barbarian tribe of Cumans was defeated near the place of Bečej, but historians have not given a reliable judgment that it was precisely the fortress between today's Novi Bečej and Bečej.

The first more reliable data is recorded in the donation of the Hungarian king Béla IV in 1238 to the Hospitaller knights, which undoubtedly testifies to its importance, primarily economic. It is mentioned as a fortified town in the early 14th century when there is mention of a certain castellan, the commander of the fortress. In the following years, the Hungarian crown attached considerable importance to the Bečej fortress through its donations. Thus, the future king Sigismund of Luxembourg gave this fortified town to the brothers Ladislaus and Stephen Losonczy for use. At the beginning of the 15th century, as a Hungarian vassal, Stephen Lazarević also obtained possession of Bečej. After his death, significant estates in present-day Vojvodina were acquired by his nephew, Đurađ Branković, marking the beginning of more intense settlement of Serbian people in these areas. The exceptional importance of the fortress is also evidenced by the fact that county sessions were held there, as well as in Arača, and Despot Đurađ spent his old age there hunting and engaging in political negotiations. For a time (1450), the fortress was held by János Hunyadi (John Hunyadi).

During the Turkish conquests in the mid-16th century, the fortress gained even more importance. Mehmed Pasha Sokolović captured it on September 19, 1551, and burned and plundered Arača. The Turkish period of the fortress's history is little known to us, but the few preserved data also testify to its renewed importance. Valuable information was recorded by the traveler Evliya Çelebi, who claimed that it housed a tax collector, customs inspectorate, and janissary serdar as a vakuf property. The customs revenue belonged to the Temesvár garrison. He also wrote that the "city on the Tisa is magnificent, quadrangular. There was an inn and 50 shops near the port. He mentioned a mosque (most likely referring to Arača), a bath, a madrasa, and a hundred houses. He praised the population as very hospitable."

During the Austro-Turkish War of 1683-1699, the fortress did not play a significant role. According to the decisions of the peace treaty in Sremski Karlovci in 1699, all fortresses on the Tisa were to be demolished. Demolition of the Bečej fortress began in March 1701 under the command of the commander of Segedin, Johann Friedrich de Globic. Engineer Johann Christian de Colett, who prepared a detailed description and plan of the fortress kept in the Military Archives in Vienna, also participated in the organization of the works, not only the demolition of the fortress but also the preparation of the construction of a settlement around it. The length of the walls and four towers was 280 meters, and the area was 2331 m2. The main, central tower was 17.2 meters high. During the demolition, almost 3000 m3 of wall had to be removed, which unfortunately was done very conscientiously by mid-May 1701. Concurrently with the demolition of the fortress, construction of a new settlement began on the right bank of the Tisa, where the Serbian militia was to be located. This settlement was named Noe Beche, unlike the Turkish one in Banat, which remained under the Turks for another 17 years, and it retained that name until the 20th century when it was renamed Novi Bečej, and the old Bački Bečej. During major land reclamation works, i.e., straightening of the Tisa River course at the end of the 18th century, today's course of the river passes through the location of the island fortress, and only the remains of one of the towers are visible.

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