Throughout the history, since the prehistoric times, the River Tisza, a Pannonian beauty, has provided welfare, but it has also represented a great challenge in attempts to establish settlements on its banks and fortified, controlled crossings over the river. Hardly visible ruins of an “old town”, situated one kilometer upstream from the centre of Novi Becej, testify silently to the barely known history of this region. It is beyond doubt that this crossing has been used since the ancient era. It was not used only by the Romans during their military campaigns against the barbarians, but also for the purposes of a developed commerce. Preserved Roman bricks, built in a medieval fortress, indicate that there had been an ancient fortification situated on a sandy island in the middle of the Tisza River.
Until the end of the 11th century, there was no information about this fortification in the written historical documents. The only certain fact is that this area was owned by Becsey Family, after which two nearby settlements were named later on. The fortress was used for the protection of the crossing over the Tisza River. There was a ferry and the crew who charged a fee and controlled sailing on the river. Because of the significance of this crossing, there was church in its vicinity, in Araca. The crossing was used for the transport of Banat wheat, salt, wood and stone from the Romanian part of Banat to the west. The charter that dates from 1091 has recently been discovered in Budapest Archive. It states that the barbaric tribe, the Cumans, was defeated near Becej settlement. Nevertheless, the historians have not determined for certain whether the charter is referring to the fortress situated between contemporary Novi Becej and Becej. The first reliable information about the fortress was found in the donation charter of the Hungarian king Bela IV that dates from 1238. He gave this fortress to the medieval knights, the Hospitalers, which was another proof of its great, foremost economical, importance. The town was mentioned as a fortified settlement at the beginning of the 1330’s, in an account about a certain commander of the fortress. In the following years, the Hungarian crown was also paying considerable attention to the fortress. A future king, Sigismund of Luxemburg, gave this fortress to the brothers, Ladislav and Stevan Losonci. At the beginning of the 15th century, a Serbian ruler, Stefan Lazarevic, was given an estate for being a Hungarian subject, which included Becej, among other fortresses. After his death, his significant estate on the territory of contemporary Vojvodina was inherited by his nephew Djuradj Brankovic. That was the period when the Serbs started to inhabit this region more intensively. The importance of the fortress is indicated by the fact that the district assemblies were organized here and in Araca. Despot Djuradj spent his old age in the fortress hunting and negotiating. In 1450, the fortress was held by Janos Hunyadi.
In the middle of the 16th century, the fortress became even more significant during the Turkish conquest. Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic seized the fortress on September 19th 1551, while Araca was burned and plundered. We know very little about the Turkish period in the history of the fortress, but even those few preserved documents indicate its importance at that time, as well. The valuable data about the fortress were noted down by the travel writer, Evlija Celebija, who claimed that it was the property of a Muslim religious community with a tax inspector, customs’ office and janissary sirdar. The rental of the customs belonged to the military crew in Timisoara. Celebija also wrote that the “quadrangular town on the Tisza River had been beautiful”. There was an inn near a port and 50 shops. He mentioned a mosque (most probably referring to Araca), bath, Muslim lower seminary and 100 houses. He acclaimed the hospitality of the local population.
During the Austro-Turkish war (1683 – 1699), the fortress did not have a significant role. According to the decisions of the Peace Treaty signed in Sremski Karlovci in 1699, all fortresses along the Tisza River were to be destroyed. The demolition of the Becej Fortress started in March 1701, under the direction of the commander of Szeged, Johan Fridrih de Goblic. An engineer Johan Kristian de Kolet participated in the organization of the works, which included both the demolition and preparation of the terrain around the fortress for the establishing of a new settlement. He wrote the detailed description and plan of the fortress, which have been kept in the War Archive in Vienna. The bulwarks with four towers were 280 meters long and the fortress encompassed 2331 m2. A main, central tower was 17.2 meters high. During the demolition approximately 3,000 m2 of the walls were to be removed, which was, unfortunately, done very religiously until the middle of May 1701. The construction of the new settlement for the accommodation of the Serbian police on the right bank of the Tisza River started in parallel with the demolition. This settlement got the name Noe Beche unlike the namesake Turkish settlement in Banat, which still remained under the Turkish government for the next 17 years. This name was changed into Novi Becej in the 20th century, while the town in Backa became Stari Becej.
Due to the great reclamation works, namely, the alteration of the riverbed of the Tisza, at the end of the 18th century, nowadays, the river flows over the site of the island fortress and only the remains of one of the towers are visible.
Text is taken from: Fragments from “History of Becej fortress”,
written by dr Aleksandar Kasas