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.

Explore the historical regulation of the Tisza River, flood defenses, and environmental challenges in Novi Bečej, illustrated through vivid narratives and key events
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Regulating the flow of the Tisza River

Flowing predominantly through flat landscapes, the Tisza River has a very slight gradient, barely 28 millimeters per kilometer. This results in significant meandering of the river, with continuous development of bends (meanders). Meanders slowed down the outflow, increasing the water level, particularly during the snowmelt period in the Tisza's source regions, leading to extensive floods. To protect large areas of arable land from floods, the regulation of the river's course involved the construction of embankments, and the shortening of the Tisza's course from 1429 km to 977 km by cutting through numerous meanders.

The Tisza flowed through the Torontál County for about one hundred and eighty kilometers. Its regulation occurred only after the regulation of the rivers Moriš, Begej, and Tamiš, as these three rivers more frequently and intensely flooded the county than the Tisza itself.

According to the extensive Hungarian lexicon A. Pallas, the regulation of the Tisza's course began in 1830 and lasted until 1844. However, information from a Budapest-published book in 1971, "A Tisza szabalvozasa I rész (1846—1879)," raises doubts about these dates. According to this source, the Tiszavölgvi Társulat organized eight regional offices for regulating specific sections of the Tisza during its assembly on January 18, 1846. Torontál County is not mentioned in this context, suggesting that works in this region may have been carried out earlier, and the county might have built embankments to address basic flood protection issues. Nonetheless, a report from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in 1873 indicates that embankments were constructed in sections totaling 1,243 km in length, including 153 km in Torontál County. This suggests that works on further construction and reinforcement of embankments continued along the Tisza through Torontál County after 1844, as confirmed by the "History of work on water management 1845—1975" by the Basic Organization of United Labor in Upper Banat, issued in Kikinda in 1975.

While the construction of embankments did not completely eliminate floods in Torontál County, they likely became less frequent. A lecture by Ištvanfi Endrea in Novi Bečej at the end of the 19th or early 20th century vividly illustrates this assumption.

"The decade from 1870 could rightly be called the decade of floods. The peaceful sleep of Turkish Bečej on the night before Christmas in 1870 was disturbed by gunfire and terrifying ringing from the churches. For the first time since regulation, the full force of the Tisza appeared in all its swollen and destructive power. With its first appearance, the muddy undulating river caused fear and horror... Muddy waves were already lapping against the embankment promenade on the Tisza, and the piled-up ice in front of the narrow passage near Burđoš created a huge barrier. The market square was already swimming in water; narrow embankments separated adjacent streets from the vast undulating sea of water in front of the large tavern. Faced with the impending danger, the Olvasóegvlet (reading association) committee gathered, and at the invitation of county chief Nikola Nikolić, formed a defensive commission chaired by Ištvanfi Ištvana. The commission immediately began taking defensive measures, determining the number of buildings constructed on higher ground that could be made available to the flooded in case of a flood. They placed several boats in each street, with a commissioner for boats and under the guidance of boatmen. Thanks to divine providence, these measures were not implemented. Turkish Bečej was saved by its tireless people and their serious efforts. In early February, the Defense Commission lodged a complaint with the government: 'Turkish Bečej is defending itself with superhuman efforts. We are on our feet day and night. We carry earth, fill sacks, and toil under the guidance of Kepeši, the Hungarian royal chief engineer. Even if we embed our bodies in the embankment, our effort is in vain — we are to perish due to the negligence and lack of compassion from other independent organs."

To avoid a recurrence of such situations, in 1887, József Betlen was appointed as the government commissioner for floods. He was authorized to engage the Titel Şajkaş Battalion and nearby forces from Bačka and Torontál County, as well as the forces from the Kikinda district, to protect against floods.

"One February morning, Géza Lukseder, a grain merchant whose boats were in winter storage near Čurug, was informed by his helmsman that the water level of the Tisza near Turkish Bečej was at least 4 meters higher than that near Čurug. After this information, delivered by a messenger on horseback, it became clear that a mass of ice had blocked the flow of the Tisza, and the river had been rising and rising... Through well-coordinated, superhuman efforts with picks, the water flow was cleared after 36 hours through the ice barrier. If this had been delayed by just one more day, the memories of former Turkish Bečej would now be relegated to history.

This superhuman flood defense effort had not only local significance, as, according to the engineers of that time, if Turkish Bečej fell, a part of Banat up to near Timișoara would become prey to the waves. Thus, the fate of Canaan (the old name for Palestine — the promised land) was decided here, as its destruction would mean the destruction of the country's granary.

In this decade, almost every spring brought water-related challenges. It was not just the swollen Tisza that the people of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo had to fear but also underground waters. Istvánfi Endre describes their impact:

"Under the influence of underground waters and rainy weather, lower lands and poorly built houses in Šušanj were repeatedly submerged. Ferenc Karačonji from Beodra traveled these areas in a carriage whose upper part could be used as a boat. These difficult circumstances, which recurred almost every rainy spring, came to an end in the late 1880s when extensive work on regulating underground waters was completed. The basis of these works was the deep-water basin, the so-called Venice, located between Turkish Bečej and Arač (Vranjevo), in front of Gradište, among large warehouses. There, where young orchards now take root in the muddy soil, according to eyewitnesses, fish weighing four to five kilograms were caught.

In the 1880s, the tranquility of Turkish Bečej was not disrupted by dangerous floods. It was a time of working to ensure that we no longer feared our formidable neighbor. Extensive work was carried out on the regulation of internal underground waters. Diligent efforts were made to raise embankments, and floodgates were installed in vulnerable areas of watercourses. Nevertheless, all these efforts did not eliminate every danger, as demonstrated by the major flood of 1895. However, the clatter of shovels and spades in the hands of hundreds of our people changed the mood created by nature. At the end of this decade, residents standing on high embankments could proudly watch the swollen water. They forgave everything to the Tisza—all the bitter moments, all the great damage... they even began to love it jealously. And there were plenty of reasons for all of that."

Even after the construction of embankments, the Tisza continued to be regulated, not only for flood protection but also for the shortening of the waterway. The Biserno Ostrvo meander, the largest bend of the Tisza at that time, with a length of twenty-three kilometers, became a dead arm in 1858 when a new channel was cut over a length of 83 km. The meander in the Medenjača area, fifteen km in length, became a dead arm in 1863 by cutting a new channel of 3.2 km. However, long after that, the meander was used as the main channel, and the new channel became a distributary. Therefore, in 1900, the distributary was widened, and the meander was filled. Medenjača practically became a dead arm only in 1900.

After the construction of embankments alongside rivers and drainage canals until 1840, the county took care of their maintenance. However, from that year onwards, flood defense, construction, and maintenance of embankments and canals shifted to interested owners of larger estates—primarily to landlords. Water communities were formed for this purpose.

In Novi Bečej, the Association for Surface Water Protection was founded in 1875 for the Novi Bečej – Taraš area. The founders were: Đula Urban, Gedeon Rohonci, Jovan Bašić, and Józef Rosenberg, large landowners from Novi Bečej.

Finally, some data on the level of the Tisza River: its elevation at Szeged is 74.47 m, at Senta 72.79 m, at Novi Bečej 72.05 m, and at Titel 69.79 m. It is likely that the level during the summer water level of the Tisza was considered, as there is a considerable difference in height between the water level and the elevation of Novi Bečej itself. The Tisza is 230 m wide at low water level, 302 m at average, and 1,680 m at high water level (all at Novi Bečej). The depth of the Tisza is 4.2 m at low water level, 7.7 m at average, and 9.7 m at high water level.

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