Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

A journey through the history of Novi Bečej

The evolution of traffic through the centuries: A journey through the history of Novi Bečej

After the liberation from the Turks, in Banat, there existed only summer roads for a long time, without a stone surface. The passability of these roads was from spring to autumn. With the first autumn rains, they would become difficult to traverse and were passable only for wagons pulled by good horses or four oxen harnessed to carts.

In such conditions, river transportation played a dominant role. River traffic on the Tisza, Mureș, and Begej rivers was very lively. Thanks to its position in the central part of Torontal County—on the banks of the Tisza River—Novi Bečej was the busiest river port in Banat.

Downstream, ships sailed with the force of the water flow and with oars and sails. However, upstream and with heavier loads, sails provided little help, so hired hands—using human power—called "hajoš" (boatmen), or with the help of boatmen-drivers, horse-drawn carriages, were used for this purpose. Most of the people recruited for pulling the boat were convicts. Pulling a boat was such a difficult and exhausting task that few survived such punishment.

The horse-drawn pulling of boats worked by tying a knot every seven feet (a foot being 30.5 cm) along a rope of about one hundred to one hundred and fifty meters, called "horse rope." Short ropes called "pazer" were attached on both sides of the knot, each ending with a peg to which a horse harness ("vagir") was hooked, and then a pair of horses ("paroša") were harnessed on each side. The three horses closest to the boat were harnessed one after the other, and further back, depending on the size of the boat or cargo, horses were harnessed in pairs. The first horse, or leader, went alone. Behind the horses was the "kurtelja" (a boatman) who straightened and cleared obstacles from the horse-drawn carriage rope. In emergencies, the last three horses and the nearest paroši suffered the most. In such situations, the rope was cut, and the other horses were saved.

For horse-drawn carriages, as well as for human pulling, paths were cleared along the riverbank, which were usually ten arm-lengths wide along the Tisza and were used not only for towing boats but also by other traffic participants. Driving cattle on these paths was prohibited.

Boat towing required specific skills, so professional boatmen managed these tasks. In Novi Bečej in 1789, there were thirty-eight boatmen, and in Veliki Bečkerek eighteen.

Special difficulties for such traffic were numerous ravines and pits along the Tisza in Banat, as well as forests and watermills. Ravines and pits were located beside the roads where boat towing was done. For example, during one such boat towing in the territory of Turska Kanjiža (Novi Kneževac), nine horses perished. Watermills and the ropes by which they were tied to the bank, especially in the part of the rivers where boats passed, caused special headaches for boatmen.

The appearance of steamboats on the Danube and Tisza in 1830-1831 did not change trade routes but further developed them along the paths used before the steamboat.

Besides boats, rafts also played a significant role in river transport, especially in supplying timber. This mode of supplying timber to the steam sawmill in Novi Bečej persisted until 1931. The Senćanska steam sawmill was located where the dairy is today, and the timber was obtained from Erdelj. In Novi Bečej, the steamship "Fulton" of the Hungarian State Shipping Company brought rafts of timber.

Ferries were also essential means of transportation for crossing rivers. Until World War II, bridges, especially over larger rivers like the Tisza, were far apart, so the gap was filled with ferries. According to available data, the ferry on the Tisza near Novi Bečej had the highest traffic. "The privilege of operating the ferry was held by the Turkish-Becsei nobleman Hadžimihajlo and the Serviski family."

The prices of goods transport by ship in the eighteenth century were recorded in Novi Bečej. Thus, the merchant-carrier Jovan Jovanović (grandfather of Zmaj-Jova) transported 5,000 Pozun measures of corn from Novi Bečej to Karlovac in 1796, and with another ship, 7,500 measures of oats. The price of transporting corn was 34 krajcars, and oats were 20 krajcars per Pozun measure. The transport of wheat from Novi Bečej to Fiume (Rijeka) cost 2 forints and 35 krajcars in 1843. This was likely already transport by steamship. The first steamship sailed on the Tisa River in 1833.

The construction of railways expanded transportation. Its volume is partly due to increased production and trade in goods. It then stimulates consumption, which further increases the production of goods. In addition to influencing increased production and trade, the railway became a serious competitor to maritime transport and river traffic in general. It dealt a heavy blow to the trade along the Tisza-Danube-Sava route to the sea. However, it could not compete with river traffic where there were direct river routes without transshipment, especially when it came to bulk cargo.

At the time when railway construction began in Banat, the construction of stone (macadam) roads also began, which is further evidence that the economy of Banat at that time was experiencing rapid development and required safer and more regular transportation.

The first railway line in Banat was built in 1856 from Reşica (in Romania) via Jasenovo to Băziaș (in Romania) on the Danube. It was used to transport iron ore from Reşica by railway to Băziaș, and from there, by the Danube, to Austrian ironworks in Linz and other places in the upper and middle Danube region. After a year, following the construction of the Reşica-Băziaș line, in 1857, the Segedin-Kikinda-Timișoara line was opened, and in 1858, the Timișoara-Vršac-Bela Crkva line.

It took quite some time, twenty-five years, until 1883 when the Veliki Bečkerek (Zrenjanin)-Novi Bečej-Velika Kikinda line was put into operation via Novi Milošev.

The idea of ​​building the Velika Kikinda-Veliki Bečkerek line emerged at the end of 1875. The County Assembly in Zrenjanin expressed readiness to participate in the construction of the line with 800,000 forints, while interested municipalities were to provide the necessary land for free. At the same time, preliminary work was underway to select the route of the railway. In addition to the one proposed as early as 1868 via Novi Bečej, another proposal emerged in 1872, the so-called air line from Kikinda to Pančevo, via Novo Selo and Torak. Svetozar Miletić once submitted an interpellation to the parliament, demanding that the railway pass through Melenac and Bašaid, as these were municipalities with numerous populations and economically strong.

The municipality of Novi Bečej was very determined in demanding that the railway pass through Novi Bečej, as originally envisioned. This action seems to have significantly influenced Parliament to pass a law on the construction of the railway via Novi Bečej on October 6, 1881. Interestingly, this law had only three paragraphs.

After this, new difficulties arose because the municipality of Veliki Bečkerek, with thirty-three votes against twenty-seven, refused to accept participation in the construction of the railway, claiming that it would not be of interest to Veliki Bečkerek itself. Such a decision sparked dissatisfaction among citizens. Supporters of the railway construction convened a citizens' assembly and thus forced the City Council to adopt a new decision with a participation of 30,000 forints.

The construction of the railway began on March 20, 1882, and it was put into operation on July 9, 1883. The municipalities through which the railway passes participated in its construction, namely: Kikinda with 20,000 forints, Veliki Bečkerek with 30,000, Novi Bečej with 20,000, Vranjevo with 20,000, Melenci with 40,000, Kumane with 20,000, Karlovac with 30,000, and the County with 151,000 forints.

Later, other parts of Banat were connected as follows: Zrenjanin-Sečanj-Plandište in 1889; Plandište-Vršac in 1891; Zrenjanin-Pančevo in 1984; Vršac-Alibunar-Vladimirovac-Kovin in 1894; Segedin-Novo Miloševo in 1896; Pančevo-Vladimirovac in 1896; Zrenjanin-Jaša Tomić in 1898; Alibunar-Samoš in 1898; Kovačica-Sečanj in 1912; Čoka-Senta in 1915; Orlovat-Titel in 1925; and Pančevo-Belgrade in 1935.

After the First World War, Vojvodina was the most developed region in Yugoslavia in terms of railway networks and was considered on par with the most advanced states in Western Europe in this regard. However, this network did not suit the newly formed state of Yugoslavia after the First World War.

In less than thirty years, Vojvodina reached the top spot in terms of a dense railway network, thanks to its easy terrain for construction and the drainage of large marshy areas, which transformed it into one of the most fertile granaries of Europe. People from all over Hungary migrated to seek work and earnings in these newly acquired fertile lands. Alongside the growth of existing cities and villages, new settlements sprang up everywhere, especially on former marshlands.

The railway network of Vojvodina was oriented towards Budapest, meaning in the north-south direction, but the cost of building bridges and the political situation in Hungary at the time (relative unfamiliarity of counties with each other) left certain parts of Vojvodina disconnected, as the large rivers Danube and Tisza separated them. After the First World War, with the annexation of Vojvodina to Yugoslavia, the new situation called for the integration of this network into Serbia's network and connection with the Adriatic Sea.

In the early years, the most important proposals made by authorities included the construction of a bridge over the Danube at Belgrade and the connection of Banat with Serbia, followed immediately by the construction of a bridge over the Tisza between Stari and Novi Bečej. The bridge over the Tisza at Senta was a temporary solution for railway transport, as it was built for horse-drawn vehicle traffic. However, the bridge at Bečej was not only a solution for railway traffic but would also enable the creation of a transversal line, starting "at Rakek and going through Ljubljana, Pragersko, Koprivnica, Osijek, Bogojevo, Sombor, both Bečejs, Vršac, to Bela Crkva." This railway, with minor connections, would link Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Romania, bordering Vojvodina. Vojvodina would economically complement Slovenia, Croatia, and Slavonia, and all exchanges of goods could be facilitated through this railway.

The Chamber in Novi Sad, among other suggestions, proposed the construction of a narrow-gauge railway connecting Bikač, Bašaid, and Torda with Čestereg, which would facilitate the transport of industrial plants for the needs of the industry in Veliki Bečkerek.

Unfortunately, these remained mere proposals, despite the strong desires of the residents of both Bečejs, until the construction of the dam on the Tisza on November 27, 1977, through which a bridge was built, connecting Novi Bečej with Bačka.

Novi Bečej was and remained the busiest port on the Tisza. According to statistical data from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia for the year 1929, 26,444 tons of grain were shipped from the Novi Bečej port, while in the same year, 21,252 tons were shipped from the Stari Bečej port, 16,375 from Titel, 13,772 from Senta, and 10,324 from Novi Kneževac, etc. The Novi Bečej port also ranked high in terms of passenger traffic that year. Through the port in Stari Bečej, 28,931 people passed, in Novi Bečej 28,380, in Titel 11,096, and in Senta 2,192.

River passenger traffic had a prominent place concerning Novi Bečej. Apart from the ferry and transport by horse-drawn carts, there was also a smaller boat that traveled from Novi to Stari Bečej several times a day. This boat operated until the Second World War.

This once very popular boat experienced a severe accident in September 1931, one of the greatest tragedies on that part of the Tisza. On September 11, 1931, the boat named Stari Bečej was on its way from Stari to Novi Bečej when it was struck by a severe hurricane accompanied by rain and hail, about halfway through the journey. The boat, in essence, represented a "nutshell" against such a powerful force of nature. The hurricane swept the boat to the middle of the Tisza, where it capsized and sank. Fifteen lives were lost with the sinking of the boat, and another fifteen lost their lives while attempting to escape by boat or swimming, hindered by the wind and large waves. Among the passengers were about twenty schoolchildren from Novi Bečej attending lower grades in the gymnasium in Stari Bečej (it was the first year that students from Novi Bečej chose to attend school in Stari Bečej). All of them survived by swimming, although they were children aged eleven to fifteen. This tragedy was immortalized in folk songs, and perhaps even today, many Novi Bečej residents are familiar with the song "The boat sailed and on the boat was Younger."

Besides this "small boat," there was also a "large boat" operating until the end of the First World War, from Szeged to Titel and back, stopping at Novi Bečej. This line operated during the day.

After the First World War, when the situation on the Tisza normalized, a ship connection was established between Belgrade and Senta. Three times a week, a beautiful passenger ship (a steamboat with paddle wheels like a mill) named Princess Jelena or Zagreb operated on this line. This continued until the Second World War. Boat transport was significantly cheaper than railway transport, which gave it an advantage not only in freight but also in passenger traffic. In 1937, the price of a railway ticket from Novi Bečej to Belgrade was thirty-five dinars, while a boat ticket was twenty-one dinars. The difference of fourteen dinars represented almost one and a half days' wage for an agricultural worker at the time.

Due to the high traffic volume across the Tisza, Novi Bečej had two ferries. Apart from the one transporting towards Svetozar Miletić Street, there was another one at Bereka. This ferry transported Novi Bečej residents who owned land on Biserno Ostrvo. It had a considerable traffic of horse-drawn vehicles, especially between the two World Wars, as part of the agrarian reform after the First World War allocated land on Biserno Ostrvo to some impoverished agricultural workers from Novi Bečej, among the Serbs. The route to Biserno Ostrvo was one to two kilometers shorter via the "Bereka ferry" than the route through the Novi Bečej ferry.

In the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries, hardly any stone was used in Torontal County. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it began to be used to cover markets and main city streets. According to some records, in Bečkerek in 1803, there were 1,200 square fathoms of streets paved with stone.

To facilitate traffic from the port to the market in Novi Bečej, some streets were paved with stone at the beginning of the nineteenth century when few places had stone roads. The stone was brought from Krčedin.

Regarding road traffic, until the second half of the nineteenth century, and even until the beginning of the twentieth century, Novi Bečej was connected to surrounding villages and towns exclusively by summer roads. According to records presented by Dr. Borovski, by 1911, among others, macadam roads with stone substrates had been built: Turski Bečej - Karlovo (Novo Miloševo) over a length of 21,163 meters and Turski Bečej - Bašaid over a length of 22,495 meters. Borovski further states that the Novi Bečej district at the time had 74,950 meters of inter-municipal roads, of which, besides the mentioned ones, there was also a stone road from Torda to Bašaid over a length of 8,010 meters. Unfortunately, these were the only stone roads connecting Novi Bečej with its surroundings until the Second World War. Additionally, there was the road from Stari Bečej to the ferry at Novi Bečej, which was also macadam.

Until the Second World War, the main street and square in Novi Bečej, as well as the streets leading to Vranjevo, were covered with Turkish cobblestones, which, due to their unevenness, posed particular challenges to horse-drawn vehicles.

Besides such poor roads, until the large economic crisis, the Novi Bečej municipality charged a tax, called "kaldrmarina." Kaldrmarina was paid by all those who, with their vehicles, came from other places to Novi Bečej. Even residents of Vranjevo paid kaldrmarina, which is probably why Vranjevo was connected to Novi Bečej with only two streets, as it was too costly to pay the tax. One road passed by the dolma and the large warehouse, while the other connected the road from Novo Miloševo to Novi Bečej. There were barriers blocking the roads for the collection of kaldrmarina. The barriers opened (lifted) only when the vehicle owner paid the prescribed tax. One such barrier (gate, as Novi Bečej residents called it) was located on the Kumane road in front of the street leading to the dairy, another on the main street where the roads from Bašaid and Novo Miloševo intersect, and a third in front of the large warehouse, where the Kiselički family house is today, and where the ticket office for collecting kaldrmarina was located.

It is noteworthy that alongside the well-known Novi Bečej cab drivers, there were also auto-taxis for local transport. Despite the poor road conditions such as the Turkish cobblestone, Novi Bečej had three auto-taxi drivers until 1931. With the onset of the agricultural crisis, taxi transport became too costly, and the taxi drivers disappeared from Novi Bečej. With the abolition of auto-taxis, alongside six or seven cab drivers who transported passengers from the railway station to the city center or the port, from 1931 to 1933, a small bus operated from the station to the center. The owner of this bus was one of the former owners of auto-taxis.

Cab drivers persisted until the Second World War and were known by their nicknames: the Švorcike brothers, Pelcer, etc.

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