Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Town on the Tisza River

Town on the Tisza River

The vast Banat plain sprawls like a sea, stretching from the Danube, Tisza, and Moris rivers to the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. In this expanse of fields and meadows, scattered villages and towns dot the landscape, resembling each other much like the Banat fields near Novi Becej, similar to those near Kikinda, Pancevo, Timisoara, or anywhere else in Banat.

The seemingly monotonous landscape might be thought dull by those unfamiliar with living on the plains. However, it is not so. The view and the entire human being find respite in the breadth that extends on all sides, filling one with a sense of freedom.

Whether those born and raised in the hills would agree with this statement is uncertain. Yet, they should recall their experiences and feelings from their mountainous regions. In the valleys, they never felt the freedom of vastness, always somewhat constrained. Only when they climbed to the mountaintop, casting their gaze from there, did joy arise, filling a person when they see or experience something beautiful. The infinite expanse of varied colors provides those feelings. The true essence of hiking lies precisely in experiencing a sense of strength and freedom in the breadth of the view.

In the Banat plain, wherever you look, you see a full horizon, or as the locals call it, 'where the sky meets the earth.'

The endless fields, in spring, resemble a carpet of green interspersed with the yellow blooms of rapeseed and the fragrant wildflowers that attract swarms of bees. There are patterns of sprouted rows of sugar beets and slightly taller, but still low, dark green cornstalks. All of this is seasoned with the more beautiful interplay of colors, the scent of wildflowers and greenery, or the cheerful song of the magpie, which has long made itself at home here. The lively magpie seems to want to convey the beauty of the plain and the blessings of nature to every visitor of these fields. Hovering almost in one place, fluttering its mischievous wings, it seems to dislike singing in vain. It will always position itself high above the heads of farmers and even casual visitors to these rich fields, offering its musicality to ease an otherwise arduous task and to enchant others.

The freshness of greenery and the scent of chamomile and other flowers alter the rhythm of breathing. Breathing becomes slower but deeper—full breaths. The magpie's song is further encouragement to indulge in the richness of nature and the general joy that envelops the entire human being, invoking only the most beautiful thoughts about the beauty of life.

Instead of the green base of the field carpet, the summer transforms it into a golden ocher hue, adorned with even more beautiful patterns of warm colors from the blossoming sunflowers and the cool green color of already tall, sturdy cornstalks. Villages and towns, covered in the greenery of trees along the streets and fruit in the gardens, with the pointed steeples of churches emerging, appear like a relief on the tapestry of fertile fields.

I know this is just an attempt to capture the beauty and fertility of the Banat plain. Therefore, I will use the words of the renowned Hungarian poet Petofi:

'Fields of the plain, my heart salutes you, My soul prefers to be with you, That steep slope with mountains and hills, A book I must constantly peruse, But you, plain, whenever I looked at you, You always seemed like an open letter, Eyes, heart, and soul easily deciphered, Although in you, much is written...'

The true reality, as written by the Serbian writer Janko Veselinovic about the Macva plain, is: 'It is like a stranger, not easily known to everyone... To know its charms and beauties, one must live in it. It opens its bosom to that, giving its grace... And whoever lives in it, easily does not leave.'

To highlight the beauty of the Banat plain, I will also use a legend from the East, which tells of a wonderful flower whose fragrant crown opened only to a person who, in addition to genuine admiration, also had warm love for it. Thus, the plain opens up, with all its fertility, only to those whose devotion it has confirmed, and only they experience and feel its beauty to the fullest.

All those born and raised on the plain, who have left for other places, experience a special joy upon each reunion with it.

Novi Becej is situated in such a beautiful flat area. Its central part leans against the left bank of the Tisza River. The entire riverbank in that part is covered with tall poplar groves. A bit north of the city center, between the embankment and the riverbed itself, spread the forest of centuries-old poplars and oaks. The locals called it 'Gradiste.' The forest stretched to the ruins of the old town, whose walls could be clearly seen when the Tisza receded.

From the Tisza, whose riverbank forests from a distance resemble a high barrier preventing westward expansion, Novi Becej has extended eastward for several kilometers. With its wide and straight streets, adorned with mulberry and locust tree-lined sidewalks, with its gardens full of fruit trees, it resembles a large forest from which peek four distinct bell towers of Novi Becej churches and a not very beautiful but quite tall fire tower.

The woods on the Tisza shore seem to overshadow the center or as if they have scattered Becej across the endless plain. The farther away from them, descending slightly because the houses on the periphery are lower, Becej seems to gradually disappear into the vastness of the plain.

The space occupied by Novi Becej and Vranjevo is large, even for flatland standards. The wide and straight streets with mandatory tree-lined avenues, large yards, and even larger gardens give the impression that they extend north-south for over four kilometers and from Ljutovo to the end of Novo Selo, east-west even over five kilometers. It can be exhausting for a person to walk from one end to the other.

The streets, those on the periphery as well as those closer to the center, differed somewhat. The houses were smaller, made of wattle, covered with thatch; they were almost identical, especially in those streets where the Hungarian population lived at the time. These were white-painted houses, with two, and not infrequently three windows facing the street. The gable was usually made of planks and tar-painted black. These streets differed in some respects from those closer to the center. They usually occupied a similar space, but the ratio of yards and gardens was reversed. Households in that area did not need large yards, but a larger garden was welcome for growing vegetables and fruit because they had no other land, and they had little livestock, poultry, and possibly one pig.

The streets closer to the center had a slightly different appearance. The houses were not only larger but also different in appearance from each other. In these streets, there were very nice houses—so-called 'overhanging' houses with an entire length facade facing the street. They were also decorative because of the arched and triangular pediments above the windows and 'big' doors. These houses belonged to wealthier farmers, and their yards were larger than those in the peripheral streets. Hence, the gardens were smaller, yet even in these streets, each house had a garden with fruit and vegetables. Around the houses, in the yard itself, in front of the buildings, there were small flower gardens, leaving a pleasant impression on anyone who came to the house for the first time. Yards were large because it was necessary to store livestock feed in them: cornstalks, straw, chaff. Also, in these yards were other buildings next to residential ones, stables, pigsties, sheepfolds, various sheds for storing wagons, machines, and other tools.

These yards did not lack a pigeon loft, which was more of a decoration for the house and yard than it offered economic benefits to the household. Pigeon lofts in some yards were small works of woodcutting art, attracting the gaze of every passerby. Larger pigeon lofts stood on two high wooden poles, and a smaller one needed only one, which at the top had two additional supports in the form of branches. The homeowner took care of the pigeons because it was an expression of some kind of nobility, so they protected them from cats, rats, and other intruders who could climb the poles and catch the pigeons. They protected them by pulling an old pot over the poles, or covering part of the pole with tin.

Yards were similar to each other, although houses differed in appearance and color. Besides the prevailing white color, streets closer to the center often saw yellow, green, gray, and a slightly blue color on houses.

Both peripheral and central streets had sidewalks paved with bricks, while five or six streets in the center itself had asphalt sidewalks. Roads were full of dust in the summer and muddy from autumn to spring. At that time, only horse-drawn vehicles could move along them, and only if they were pulled by good, strong horses, as only they could pull a load through such mud.

Mud and water in ditches, which were between sidewalks and roads, presented a very ugly picture. In some parts of the streets, water covered both the road and stayed there until spring. Geese waddled through the streets, using the street water for their daily fun, creating a real mud puddle when they emerged from the water. There were many geese at that time. Goose feathers were in demand because, in addition to ducats and furniture, brides brought twelve feather pillows and several 'duvets,' requiring large amounts of feathers. At that time, it was believed that the 'dowry' of a bride was richer the more pillows she had.

Geese were also raised because of the high consumption of goose meat and fat, especially the liver. Novi Becej Jews mostly 'used' goose meat and fat. They bought fattened geese from which they obtained not only meat but also fat. Goose liver was a particularly common delicacy on their table. Peasants in the fattening process used to salt the corn because it was believed to influence the growth of the liver. A fatter goose had a larger liver, making it easier to find regular buyers and thus ensuring the steady sale of fattening.

In summer, the Tisza was used for goose farming, so flocks of geese swimming in the river could be seen everywhere. It often happened that a ship intercepted them in the middle of the river, and then there would be a few dead ones.

Such was Novi Becej, mostly with wide streets, single-story buildings, and summer paths, not much different from all other places in Banat."

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