( Zrenjanin )

Zrenjanin (Serbian Cyrillic: Зрењанин, pronounced [zrɛ̌ɲanin]; Hungarian: Nagybecskerek; Romanian: Becicherecu Mare; Slovak: Zreňanin; German: Großbetschkerek) is a city and the administrative center of the Central Banat District in the autonomous province of Vojvodina, Serbia. The city urban area has a population of 67,129 inhabitants, while the city administrative area has 105,722 inhabitants (2022 census data). The old name for Zrenjanin is Veliki Bečkerek or Nagybecskerek as it was known under Austria-Hungary up until 1918. A thousand Catalans founded on 1735 New Barcelona in a place which is now the suburb of Dolja within Zrenjanin, exiled from the War of the Spanish Succession. After the World War I and the liberation of Veliki Bečkerek the new name of the city was Petrovgrad, in honor of His Majesty ...Read more

Zrenjanin (Serbian Cyrillic: Зрењанин, pronounced [zrɛ̌ɲanin]; Hungarian: Nagybecskerek; Romanian: Becicherecu Mare; Slovak: Zreňanin; German: Großbetschkerek) is a city and the administrative center of the Central Banat District in the autonomous province of Vojvodina, Serbia. The city urban area has a population of 67,129 inhabitants, while the city administrative area has 105,722 inhabitants (2022 census data). The old name for Zrenjanin is Veliki Bečkerek or Nagybecskerek as it was known under Austria-Hungary up until 1918. A thousand Catalans founded on 1735 New Barcelona in a place which is now the suburb of Dolja within Zrenjanin, exiled from the War of the Spanish Succession. After the World War I and the liberation of Veliki Bečkerek the new name of the city was Petrovgrad, in honor of His Majesty King Peter I the Great Liberator, the King of Serbia and the King of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Zrenjanin is the 2nd largest city in the Serbian part of the Banat geographical region, and the fourth largest city in Vojvodina (after Novi Sad, Subotica and Pančevo). The city was designated European city of sport.

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Prehistory  Old postcard of Zrenjanin Old postcard of Zrenjanin

Prehistory can be divided into the Palaeolithic – Old Stone Age and the Neolithic – New Stone Age. In Zrenjanin's regions no archaeological sites of the Palaeolithic have been found. The only exception makes the discovery of mammoth’s head and other bones found on the banks of Tisa River near Novi Bečej in the year 1952. The discovered archaeological sites, however, indicate that these regions had already been inhabited in the early Neolithic period about 5000 years BC. The most important archaeological site from this period is so-called Krstić tumulus, near Mužlja, about 10 km (6 mi) away from Zrenjanin. Here were found the ceramics, with interesting ornaments. Beside the brewery ground have been found rough, with coloured fine ceramics, ornaments (Starčevo culture). The middle Neolithic appeared in our area as Vinča and Potisje culture, in the down course of the Tisa River. What makes this area important is the fact that the influence of two parallel cultures flew through it at the same time. The Iron Age has not been enough explored yet. A few regions with some archaeological materials from the Iron Age have been found: in the residential area Šumica a tip of a spear was found and near the oil factory, pieces of ceramics from the Bronze Age were discovered.

At the beginning of the common era,[clarification needed] this area was settled by many native tribes, but also by many newcomer tribes: the Illyrians, the Celts, the Goths, the Geths, the Sarmatian and Jazghs. In the end of the third century and in the middle of the fourth century, in the area of Zrenjanin and its surroundings, the Sarmatian tribe Roxolani appeared. From this period a Sarmatian’s graveyard has been found in a city residential district, near the railroad bridge. Finally in the necropolis, not far from Aradac, “Mečka”, more than 120 graves, which date from the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century, have been excavated in 1952.

 Postcardː Brewery Dundjerski and the banks of the river Begej in Becskerek (Zrenjanin)Middle Ages  Ottoman city of Bečkerek (Zrenjanin) in 1697–98, including mosque with minaret that dominated the city.

The first historical records mentioning Zrenjanin (Bečkerek) date from the 14th century, the time when Charles I, King of Hungary and Croatia (1301–1342), used to visit Banat and spend time in his capital Timișoara. (Near today's Zrenjanin a coin was found with the inscription "Charles I".) Many noblemen came with the King, including the powerful Imre Becsei. The areas where Becsei settled down were named for him, “Bechereki” and “Beche” (Novi Bečej). The oldest written records of Bečkerek date from Budim Capitulum's document of collecting the Pope’s tens taxes in 1326, 1331 and 1332. Judging by the size of the taxes, Bečkerek of 1330s was an average village. The first settlers were the landless Hungarian peasants. There were the Serbs in Banat, too. During the reign of Louis I of Hungary (1343–1382), more Serbs migrated to the area from the south, and with them many Orthodox priests.

After the Turkish victory at the battle of Nicopolis (1396) the Hungarian King Sigismund (1387–1437) was considering defending the territory settled by the Serbs, and he is known to have visited Bečkerek on September 30, 1398. The town was granted to Stefan Lazarević at the end of the 1403. The despot became the vassal of the Hungarian King; but he got Bečkerek and the title of the Great Head of the Torontál County.

Ottoman period  Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, founder of Bečkerek vakuf

The Hungarian King Ferdinand appointed friar Djordje Martinović, a commander of his forces, to defend the town from the Ottomans. Hungary was attacked by 80,000 Ottoman soldiers under the command of Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha. On 15 September 1551, the siege of the town Bečej was raised and the town was taken after four days. On 24 September, the Bečkerek fortress was besieged. Many people left town earlier and with few defenders the town couldn't be defended and those eighty, who left surrendered the next day. Malković was appointed the lord of Bečkerek. After the Ottomans had taken Timișoara in 1552, Banat became a special province, the Temeşvar Eyalet, which was made up of several sanjaks, including the Sanjak of Beçkerek.

During Ottoman occupation, the sanjak had a military administration. Due to good behaviour of the rayah, the inhabitants were exempt from war taxes. During the 165 years of Ottoman rule, Bečkerek consisted of two separate settlements: the settlement of Bečkerek and the village of Gradnulica. The town was divided into two parts, a Turkish and a Serbian. The Turkish part was fenced and closed, while the Serbian one was open. On the main square there was a large mosque built and inside the fortress there was a little one. There was a Turkish bath, and around it there were about twenty stores. Gradnulica was a disorderly village, whose centre was approximately on the crossroad of the present streets Sindjelićeva and Djurdjevska. Prior to Ottoman occupation, the citizens were Serbs and Hungarians. At the end of the 18th century there were about fifty Turkish families. According to the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699), the Temeşvar Eyalet, including Bečkerek, stayed under Ottoman rule, while bordering territories once again came under the Military Frontier. After the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–18 Bečkerek went under Habsburg rule.

Habsburg and Austrian period (1718–1914)  Theatre building, Zrenjanin

As a crown province, Banat belonged directly to the Vienna court. The first governor, appointed by the Emperor, was Count Claudius Mercy. By the imperial edict on 12 September 1718, Banat was divided into 13 districts, with the main administration in Timișoara at its head. The District of Banat included a few settlements: Idjoš, Arač, Bečej, Itebej, Elemir, Ečka and Aradac. The first chief of this district was Titus Vespanius Slucki. After the Turkish forces and Turks families had withdrawn, the land was left devastated without labour, which could till the soil and paid taxes. That's why the Austrian court tried to settle Banat as soon as possible.

The colonization lasted from 1718–24, when the town was settled mostly by Germans, but the Serbs never stopped arriving. The military frontier in Potisje was displaced. In the following years Italians, Frenchmen, Romanians arrived and then the Catalans from Barcelona, who escaped the repression after the War of the Spanish Succession and settled in a place which is now the suburb of Dolja within Zrenjanin. The town was called New Barcelona. But the life was difficult in this marsh area with many contagious diseases, so many died and others left.

 National Museum of Zrenjanin

In the summer of 1738 there was the great plague. The Count Mersy wanted to turn marshes into fertile soil and he began to regulate the Begej River. In the middle and down course of the river a long canal was built, to make the river traffic possible between Bečkerek and Timișoara. On the first of November 1745 Sebastian Krazeisen began to make beer in the first brewery and that meant the first start of the industrialization. In the same year the first Serb’s school was mentioned.

On 6 June 1769, Maria Theresa granted the Community of Great Bečkerek, the privilege of becoming the trading centre. By this privilege the whole social-economic life of the former Bečkerek was regulated and it got the status of the town. In 1769 the first hospital was built. In 1779, by the new organization of Torontál County, Bečkerek became its centre. The city was briefly restored to Ottoman administration from 1787 to 1788 during Austro-Turkish War (1787–91).

 Zrenjanin Court House

During the 18th century it developed into thriving economic and cultural centre, but the great fire destroyed a large portion of the town in 1807. The town was soon rebuilt. The fire came from the brewery, on 30 August 1807. After the fire a new regulation of streets had been done, houses had been built from stronger materials, roads had been rebuilt. The river traffic was especially intensive. The theatre building with an attractively decorated hall was built in 1839. In 1846 the Grammar School was opened and in 1847 the first printing shop.

The 1848–49 Revolutions impacted Bečkerek. The Serbs revolted, aiming for autonomy within the Austrian Empire. At the May Assembly (13–15 May 1848), the Serbian Vojvodina was proclaimed, including most of what is today Vojvodina. Serbs from Bečkerek participated in the uprising against Hungarian authority (which refused Serb rights) and from 26 January to 29 April 1849 the town was under Serb rebel control. In 1849, the town became part of the Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temeschwar until 1860.

Although that time was known in history as a period of Bach's absolutism, the second part of the 19th century brought the town new developing benefits. New industrial facilities and handicraft stores were opened in every part of the town. Late 19th and early 20th century was progressive period for Veliki Bečkerek. Railway arrived in 1883, while post office was opened back in 1737.

World War I and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia  Lake (former Begej riverbed) in Zrenjanin

After the Sarajevo assassination, more than 30 citizens of Bečkerek were accused by the Austria-Hungary’s authorities of high treason. Among them was Dr Emil Gavrila, who together with Svetozar Miletić and Jaša Tomić, worked very hard on the cultural and social strengthening of Serbs. Those Serbs recruited in the Austria-Hungary's army began to desert to avoid having to fight their own people. 7,000 of them formed volunteer detachments (people were from Banat and Srem) at the Eastern front and fought at Dobruja, but 79 fought on the Salonice front. After years, the Serbs forces made a breakthrough of the Salonice front in 1918 and began to liberate their own country. The First Army in command of Vojvoda Petar Bojović freed Belgrade on 1 November 1918 and began to occupy Vojvodina.

On 17 November, Serbian army arrived at Veliki Bečkerek. On 31 October 1918, the Serb Chamber of People of the town founded in the war conditions, as a temporary authority with Dr Slavko Župunski at its head. Serb army, the infantry iron regiment “Prince Mihajlo” and the infantry brigade with Colonel Dragutin Ristić in command came into the town on 17 November 1918. A few days after Vojvodina had been occupied, its provinces were attached to the Kingdom of Serbs and on December 1, 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was founded, as the first South Slavic state. The town of Veliki Bečkerek became the administrative centre of Torontal-Tamiš County, and after its repealing, the town became the headquarters of District Office. In 1929 the town became part of the Danube Banovina. By the Town Council decision made on 29 September 1934, and confirmed by the Town Authority on 18 February 1935, the town was renamed Petrovgrad, after the king Peter I.

Second World War and SFR Yugoslavia  City center with Bukovac's Palace (1895) in the front

After the Kingdom of Yugoslavia had capitulated on 18 April 1941, and Nazi Germany occupied the country, the German Forces came into Petrovgrad. The authority in Banat had domestic Germans – Volksdeutsche, who immediately started to confiscate Jews' property and arrested patriots. The town was renamed Great Bečkerek and it was the headquarters of the occupation authority for Banat (1941–44), headed by Juraj Špiler, and a concentration camp in Cara Dušana Street. The Petrovgrad Synagogue was razed brick by brick by order of Jurgen Wagner.

The camp existed for almost two years and thousands of people passed through it. In town there were many underground groups supported by the Communist Party, which fought the German occupiers and the Germans made reprisals. On 2 October 1944, the Red Army Forces came into town, and, after a short fight, took command of most vital public buildings. The following day the first meeting on National Liberation Committee for the town Petrovgrad was held. Eight members of the national liberation resistance, from the town and its surroundings were announced National Heroes: Žarko Zrenjanin, Svetozar Marković Toza, Pap Pavle, Stevica Jovanović, Servo Mihalj, Nedeljko Barnić Žarki, Boško Vrebalov, and Bora Mikin Marko.

During World War II, the town infrastructure was kept almost saved. Except in the final fights for the town, there were no war actions on the territory of the town. The Germans tried to damage and destroy some industrial buildings, but it was prevented. Only Anau-Winkler’s mill and the monumental Jewish synagogue in the centre of the town were destroyed. After World War II important social-political changes were made in the country, which, of course, had their influence on the development of Zrenjanin, newly named in 1946. In August 1945 the Agriculture Reform Act came into force, in June 1950 the Worker Self-Management Act, in 1959 the first direct urban plan of the town development, which indicated the urbanism-economic development of the town, was passed.

The development, in the first after war decade, was directed by the directive plans, which were based on the principles of socialist economy in which the most important industrial branches were industry and agriculture. By the 1980s many people left their villages and moved into towns which brought many changes in the social, educational and ethnic structure of the town. There was permanently shortage of housing. That is why many new parts of the town and many new apartment buildings were built. Zrenjanin became an important agricultural, industrial, cultural and sport centre, at the time Zrenjanin was one of the most powerful industrial centers of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia led by Tito.

After 1991  Main street Freedom square in the center of the city

The town's development has always been strongly affected by the social-economic circumstances reflecting the State surroundings that Zrenjanin found in. At the beginning of 1990s, when the war broke out on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and the country was falling apart, it led to rather hard social and economic crisis in this area, all that caused an economic stagnation, unemployment, large migrations of refugees from the former Yugoslav Republics: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The town experienced the first political changes by the introducing of multiparty system at the end of 1996 when the local government was ruled by the coalition Zajedno (Together) and in 2000 by the coalition Democratic opposition of Serbia. On 24 March 1999, the NATO bombing of Serbia began but the town was not targeted. Life in the town was quite normal, in spite of the dangerous situation elsewhere in the country.

In the first years after the end of war activities the Town and its citizens have been adjusting to new economic and social-economic conditions, known as transition. Instead of previous large economic combines and companies plenty of new flexible private enterprises are established and foreign capital is starting to flow in Zrenjanin. New industrial and work and residential zones are formed and the Town's General Plan 2006-2026 and Sustainable Development Strategy 2006-2013 are made and approved. At the end of 2007, introducing a new national territorial organisation followed by necessary legislation, the Municipality of Zrenjanin has been upgraded to an administrative and territorial status of a city.

In 2004, the town's tap water was deemed unsafe for consumption due to high levels of arsenic. As of 2022, the ban remains in place.[1]

^ "Zrenjaninci 18 godina bez vode za piće" [Zrenjanin citizens 18 years without potable water]. Politika (in Serbian (Latin script)). 20 January 2022. Archived from the original on 27 May 2022. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
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