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.

What others saw and recorded about Novi Bečej in the nineteenth century

In addition to what Evliya Çelebi documented about the "Beautiful town of Bečej" during the Ottoman rule, it is interesting to read other assessments and impressions given about Novi Bečej in the mid-nineteenth century. From the 1840s, we have a description with data provided by Fenješ Elek and records from the Austrian traveler Kunič, who stayed in Novi Bečej in the second half of the nineteenth century. Ištvanfi Endre provided a description of life in Novi Bečej after the great uprising, almost until the end of the nineteenth century.

In the Geographical Dictionary of Hungary, Fenješ Elek writes about Novi Bečej:

"Turkish Bečej, a town in the Torontal County, and the largest grain trading place in the entire monarchy, on the left bank of the Tisza River, north of Veliki Bečkerek by 4 miles and south of Szeged by 10 miles (one Hungarian mile is 8.38 km). The towers of the Catholic and Orthodox churches and tall grain warehouses, built of sturdy material, give the town a very attractive appearance. The streets are paved with stone brought from the Srem County. In front of the mansion of the large estate owner, along the high embankment on the Tisza bank, avenues and promenades delight the eyes. The Tisza quay and the surroundings of the ferry crossing are adorned with walls built of natural broken stone... Three annual fairs are held, and every Wednesday is a weekly fair. Annual fairs do not deserve much attention, but grain trading is more important. From Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and significant cities-ports of the Mediterranean, sometimes up to 100 traders come. The ships leaving loaded with grain number up to 300 ships annually, with the smallest carrying capacity of 1,000, medium-sized 2-3,000, and large ones 3-6,000 centia of goods (1 centia is 56 kg), so that more than 1 million Pozsony measures (1 measure is 0.6 hl) are exported annually, mostly to Pest, Gyor, Vienna. Less to Croatia, Sisak, and Karlovac, and from there by land to Rijeka, and even less towards Ljubljana. After grain trading, tobacco trade comes, but also smaller trade in cattle (cattle) and wine. In the vineyards of Novi Bečej, so much grapes are produced annually that about 2,000 akvas (1 akva is 0.54 hl) of weak wine are obtained.

It is also noteworthy that in this area, a considerable amount of medicinal herbs thrives, especially good-quality chamomile..."

The impression Novi Bečej left on Kunič:
"In 1779, Novi Bečej had 250 households and 3,500 souls (from this it follows that each household had an average of 14 souls! — note by L.M.). The greatest prosperity of Bečej occurred between 1792 and 1816. At that time, and even earlier, it was the main place for exporting grain from Banat. Bečej was then the most important place for exporting grain, not only in Austria but throughout Europe. Grain merchants from Austria, Hungary, and the ports of the Adriatic Sea visit this place every year. Sometimes two hundred boats are loaded with grain in Bečej. It is pleasant to observe on the assembled boats flags that look like clusters of various colors, and many people and workers are busy. The smallest boats can hold about 1,000, medium-sized ones about 2,000 to 3,000, and large ones about 4,000 to 6,000 centia of grain (one Pozsony centia, Pozsony measure — the Pozsony measure weighed 40 oka, and one oka weighed about 1,280 grams). The boats are usually made of oak, and only a few of them are made of pine. Boats are not made in Bečej, but they are only repaired there. Before the opening of the Franz Canal (the large canal Bezdan—Bečej, built in 1802 — note by L.M.), the surplus food was exported to coastal ports and to Italy, and since this canal connected the Tisza with the Danube, grain has been exported partly to Visegrád, that is, to Vienna, partly to Croatia, Ljubljana, and coastal ports. In addition to food trade, tobacco trade is also significant. The poor engage in collecting various medicinal herbs, such as chamomile. Fuel wood is brought to Bečej from Croatia, and building wood is brought from Transylvania."

Bečej, with its church towers, large food warehouses, and significant wharf, appears exceptionally beautiful and attractive. Through the efforts of Bečej's owner, Nikola noble Šišanji (son of Pavle Hadžimihajlo, who later adopted the name Šišanji — note by L. M.), Bečej has been paved with stone from Krčedin, and its riverbank is secured with a high embankment lined with cobblestones. Transportation is well-organized and secure.

In Bečej, there is a large, beautiful, and pleasant inn for foreigners, and a lovely promenade in front of the manor embellishes the town. Novi Bečej has a post office.

An interesting lecture by Ištvanfi Endre, delivered in Novi Bečej at the end of the last or the beginning of this century, provides insights into the conditions in Novi Bečej from 1850 to 1890. It is interesting for Novi Bečej residents to become acquainted with the assessment of a man who lived through that period and speaks with enthusiasm about it, despite certain details in these assessments displaying a patriotic and nostalgic bias. The lecture provides many interesting details, described with a style full of love and emotion, successfully transporting us to long-forgotten events, making us almost forget and experience them as if they were happening today.

Ištvanfi states that the "old order" was established in 1860 by the October Diploma. Torontal was re-established as a county, divided into political and judicial districts. In 1860, Hadfi Domelett was elected as the district chief of Turski Bečej.

Regarding the social life in Novi Bečej in the 1860s, Ištvanfi describes it as dynamic, direct, and pleasant. "Not only the popular and warm Betlen family, but also leading families such as Hadfi, Papić, Bunjevac, Menešagi, and Kepeši created such a direct and pleasant social life that the success of any event spoken about throughout the county was already guaranteed. These families participated wholeheartedly in all social issues, even with their wallets, with the count's couple Betlen at the forefront."

He supports this vibrant life with the strong connection that was formed between the more distinguished families from Novi and Stari Bečej: "...no major wedding or big party could be held in any place without carriages bringing dearly welcomed guests. An original group of well-known figures—the eight Oblat brothers from Turski Bečej, eight dancers who their own mother could hardly distinguish. With the abilities of an excellent organizer, our uncle Steva Ranković stood out even then, with a black beard or clean-shaven. At larger parties as guests of the Betlen house, young magnates often attended, including Count Čekonić Andrija, Baron Liptai Bela, who skillfully danced with the charming and beautiful ladies of Turski Bečej."

The Novi Bečej and Vranjevo fields did not look like they do today in the post-Great Uprising period. Before the construction of embankments and drainage channels, fields were interrupted by "small groves of birch, dense shrubs, and rustling reeds. The entire vast marsh was an endless mysterious reed bed with a rich pond in the middle, serving as a refuge for thousands of noisy wild ducks, beautiful herons, and other timid inhabitants of the swampy world. At that time, when hunting was still limited to ownership of a single rifle, the game reserve in this part of Banat was renowned. Foxes, and even otters, were our common game. And when snow covered this area, the howling of hungry wolves often frightened the drowsy farmstead owners... To my knowledge, the last specimen was killed around 1860 by the night guard on the ice in front of 'Buda' (sawmill and mill on the Tisza bank)."

The immense wealth of the Tisza River in fish and crayfish attracted many to engage in fishing. In the summer evenings, fishing pots appeared on the shores, under which fires crackled. However, in the mid-80s, an infectious disease affecting crayfish emerged, destroying them to the last specimen.

After the difficult situation caused by the suppression of the Great Uprising in the 1860s, Novi Bečej regained its earlier reputation and position in trade. Ištvanfi comments on this:

"The grain trade has been relocated here again, and every summer, Serbian, German, Croatian, and Armenian traders appear in such large numbers that the large inn proved cramped for their accommodation. There were days when almost every house housed a business person. While grain traders and their agents created an extensive and dynamic stock exchange life in the rooms of the large inn, the entire Tisza riverbank teemed with boatmen and passers-by, with a sense of happy prosperity..."

"Wherever you go on the beautiful Banat plain, you encounter long columns of wagons, loaded with the fruits of the land and farmers who, proud of the bounty of their labor, utter the name Bečej."

However, despite this beautiful and optimistic portrayal, it must be emphasized that Novi Bečej had already begun to lose its significance as a grain trading center. Ištvanfi acknowledges this: "The trade of Turski Bečej was approaching ultimate decay. The son of that era rightly sighed with concern, noting that more than a hundred warehouses in our city stood empty. The attempt by Kepeši Jožef to ease the position of trade by establishing the Turski Bečej Savings Bank through credit relations, but this institution often teetered on the brink of ruin."

Novi Bečej played a significant political role in addition to its economic importance before the agreement between Austria and Hungary in 1867. The most influential politicians of the movement for the independence of Hungary gathered at Count József Betlen's, who married the third granddaughter of the Šišanji nobles (the widow of Count Leiningen).

An extraordinary event occurred in May 1872 when Emperor Franz Joseph I visited Novi Bečej. He arrived by boat (steamboat) on a moonlit night along the Danube and through the Great Canal into the Tisza. He spent the night on the ship and, in the morning, received a delegation from the Torontal County on the Tisza bank.

"Surrounded by girls in white dresses, the then deputy-count Moric Ronai greeted His Majesty, after which he sat in a carriage pulled by a five-horse team. The ceremonial carriage was driven by Duke Turi Taksiš, the owner of the five-horse team. The ceremonial procession passed through the main street, where the population bid farewell to the distinguished guest by waving handkerchiefs, showering flowers, and cheering enthusiastically."

The journey of Emperor Franz Joseph I from Bečej towards Kikinda and further to Timișoara had a tragic epilogue. Near Beodra, frightened horses harnessed to a carriage, immediately behind the imperial five-horse team, overturned the carriage in a mad rush. On that occasion, Deputy-Count Prik Jožef of Torontal County was seriously injured. He was transferred to the castle of Laslo Karačonji in Beodra and from there to the hospital, where he died after a few days.

Thanks to the efforts of the citizens of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo in consolidating and securing the embankments, further floods were avoided, except for the one in 1895. However, that doesn't mean that the residents of Novi Bečej lived carefree and peacefully. Instead of floods, a catastrophic fire occurred in 1886.

Regarding this fire, Ištvanfi writes: "...one dry autumn day, during a severe storm, a fire broke out in a house in the middle of Kumanačka Street (on the corner of today's Lole Ribara and Brigadira Ristića Streets, a house that until recently belonged to the late Joca Kiselički, or Bata Kiselički — L.M.). The wind scattered embers with its swirling in the surrounding yards and buildings. A sea of flames spread from one street to another. Smoke filled the air in all directions. With the help of firefighters from Stari Bečej, the fire was extinguished by the end of the day. The evening welcomed around three hundred families in front of the ruins and ashes of their homes. A local and state campaign was launched to collect contributions for families whose property was destroyed in this fire. Even the King joined the campaign, contributing 2,000 forints."

Perhaps the reported number of burned houses is greater than the actual ones, as in the notes found by Branislav Kiselički in his grandfather's notebook, it is stated: "

On September 24, 1886, a hundred and six Numeri burned down." It doesn't matter which figure is more accurate, although there is a significant difference. It is reasonable to believe that the number of house numbers does not correspond to the number of families, but it should be kept in mind that Ištvanfi reported this data about twenty years after the fire and did not specify the exact date. For his narrative, the precise number of burned houses was not essential; instead, he aimed to highlight the catastrophe and the hardship of life for our ancestors. When there was no war, there were floods; when floods disappeared, there were fires and infectious diseases (epidemics).

Just as the wounds inflicted by the fire were somehow healing, in 1889, as Ištvanfi Endre says, it was learned that a decision had been made to shift the course of the Tisza River a few kilometers away from Novi Bečej.

"It was said that a decision was made in the Ministry of Commerce to redirect the Tisza in another direction and that it would be moved several kilometers away from Turski Bečej. What had contributed to its river life for its past development will be taken away. Our town could not allow this."

Ištvanfi Ištvan's statement on behalf of the Novi Bečej delegation before the minister is full of pathos, but it faithfully reflects the sorrow and fear of its residents regarding the implementation of the decision. Since Ištvanfi Endre, in his lecture on the history of Novi Bečej between 1850 and 1890, quoted parts of that speech, we will repeat it as a kind of material about the past of Novi Bečej.

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