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How Did Novi Sad Come to Be: the Ways of Beer and Silk

On the left bank of the Danube, exactly where it formed a double bend, the City of Novi Sad was formed. It was a swampy, often flooded and unhealthy area, with harsh winters, windy springs and autumns, and hot summers, full of mosquitoes and other insects.

Such living environment wasn’t pleasant, but its favourable geographic position was more important. Danube mud and loam hide the remains of previous cultures, the ones that are even six centuries old – Neolithic farmers, fishermen and hunters of the Bronze Age, and then the Yazigi, Sarmatians, Romans, Huns, Ostrogoths, Gepids, Slavs, Hungarians. Before the Turks ruled these areas in the 16th century, Vašaroš Varad or Stari Petrovaradin (en. Old Petrovaradin) was located on the site of today’s Klisa. Across from Kamenica, on the site of today’s Telep, was the village of Sent Marton, which bordered Stari Futog. A small village called Bakša was located on the site of today’s Grbavica neighbourhood, between Stari Petrovaradin and Sent Marton. The Upper and Lower Zajol, today known as Sajlovo, stretched to the northeast. Across the Danube, on the foundations of the ancient fortlet ‘Kuzum’ at the Petrovaradin Rock (the former name of the Fortress), the Hungarian kings built a new fortification and settled the Cistercians, monks from Champagne. Along with the Fortress and the abbey, the place ‘Bélakut’ got bigger as well. It was named after the Hungarian king Béla. This name was lost over time and the settlement was given a new name – Petrovaradin. The Petrovaradin Fortress will play the decisive role in the beginnings and the development of Novi Sad.

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The first written trace of the existence of some kind of settlement on the territory of Novi Sad dates back to 1694, when the Austrian General Engelshofen wrote a report on the completion of the bridgehead on the Bačka side of the Danube. The settlement was called Racka Town, Serbian City, Petrovaradin Suburb, and lastly, Petrovaradinski Šanac – and it stayed that way until 1748.

The first inhabitants were the bridgehead builders, along with the merchants who supplied the Fortress, which speaks of how much the formation of Novi Sad depended on the development of this Austro-Hungarian fortification. Blacksmiths, innkeepers, butchers, bakers, tailors, all the craftsmen who at that time followed the army and lived from it, came from different places and brought with them their culture, language, religion, tradition and habits, but also emotions, destinies, experiences and life beliefs. All these migrations were conditioned by historical circumstances and war whirlwinds. It was the first wave of immigrants to this area.

The second wave consisted of Bosnians and Herzegovinians, which is why the ‘natives’ called them Sarajlije (en. people from Sarajevo). One of the most famous Herzegovinians was Sava Vuković from Mostar, who became a citizen of Novi Sad in 1776, and who bequeathed a large sum of money for the establishment of the Novi Sad Grammar School.

The third wave of immigrants was of great importance for the development of the city. Those were the citizens of Belgrade who came to the territory of the Austrian Empire having fled from the Turks after the surrender of Belgrade in 1739. In the late 17th century, the Danube Swabians, mainly shippers, fishermen, merchants and craftsmen, along with the families of Greeks, Aromanians, Armenians and Jews also immigrated here. The immigration of Hungarians happened gradually and lasted for about 100 years, until the end of the 19th century, and it was mainly the clerks and the working population, and then the Slovak families came here as well. The majority of people were the Serbs. That’s where the unusual potential for turbulent and successful development of Novi Sad stems from. It lasted throughout the 18th and 19th century, until the tragic bombarding of the city on 12 June, 1849.

The chroniclers explained that the position of Novi Sad was the cause of such an expansion, located on the border of two completely different economic areas – the agricultural Bačka Plain, and Fruška Gora with its viticultural and animal husbandry life. At the same time, the Danube is the narrowest in this part, only about 200 meters wide, so the crossing over the river is the most suitable here. In addition to this, Novi Sad was created between the two, at the time strong and important, places of this part of Vojvodina: Futog, the strong trade hub with widely known fairs in the 18th and 19th century, and Sremski Karlovci, the ecclesiastical, administrative and cultural centre of the Serbs in Hungary. In less than half a century, Novi Sad will overtake Karlovci and Futog, becoming the Free Royal City, with over 20 thousand inhabitants right before the bombing in 1849.

How much did Novi Sad cost?

In the first half of the 18th century, the local population called their city Petrovaradinski Šanac. Their biggest problem was the duality of border (military) and county (civil) authorities.

In those years, the city was divided into two visible zones, which can be seen on the preserved map from 1745, whose author is the engineer A. Karltschmidt. A dividing line into a civilian-cameral part and a military part went along Miletićeva Street. The cameral part, which included the right side of Dunavska Street, the Fish Market, and the surroundings of the Catholic Church and Uspenska Church, was governed by the municipality and managed by a judge, alternately Serb, then German. The boarder part, encompassing the Almaš neighbourhood, the surroundings of the Nikolajevska Church and the Orthodox Church, as well as the left side of the Danube alley, was commanded by the ober-kapetan. He was subordinated to the commander of the Fortress, but all in all quite independent and often arbitrary. The citizens used to describe him as being ‘always grumpy.’ Dissatisfaction accelerated the efforts to obtain the status of a free royal city, while the bearers of the independence movement were merchants who suffered economic damage.

In 1747, all the inhabitants of Petrovaradinski Šanac concluded a very straightforward agreement which represented the basis of the city common life for the next hundred years. They agreed that everyone would have an equal number of representatives in the magistrate of the liberated city, equal rights in electing senators and the right to practice their religions. In that time, what this agreement provided in terms of national independence was quite a lot. The delegation, which consisted of two Germans and four Serbs, went to Vienna, or how they used to call it ‘Carstvujušča Vijena’, where they asked for a loan of 60 thousand forints to pay for the elibertation diploma. That amount eventually jumped to 95 thousand forints due to various taxes. All this paid off on 1 February, 1748, when the empress Maria Theresa issued a charter by which Petrovaradinski Šanac was granted the status of a free royal city.

The Empress gave this city the name Neo-Plantea (Neoplanta), which is Újvidék in Hungarian and NeuSatz in German. The Greeks called it Neofiton, and the Serbs, who were the majority of the population, called it Novi Sad, which will become the common and mostly used name. The name means new vineyard, which indicates the importance of Fruška Gora’s viticulture.

The oldest example of using the name ‘Novi Sad’ was on the vertical tombstone on the outer wall of Nikolajevska Church, where it was engraved (it’s barely visible today) that a certain Simeon Radonić, a citizen of Novi Sad, was buried there in 1749.

The city was given the right to its own administrative bodies and court, the right to its independent government in the form of mayor and Magistrate, which was composed of 12 senators, and it also received its coat of arms, which Maria Theresa described as follows: ‘In the field of the blue shield stand three towers of silver colour, each of which is surrounded by a canopy; the towers stand alone, built of rough stone, the canopy of their upper part is jagged, the gates are closed, the windows are open and set for shooting. They stand in line next to each other by the wavy Danube, which intersects the green field; the middle one is a little bit higher and wider, with Noah’s dove fluttering. This inscription goes along the edge of the shield: Seal of the free royal city of Novi Sad.’

The Ways of Beer and Silk

From 1748, and during the next hundred years, Novi Sad experienced a rapid, huge and turbulent economical, architectural and cultural development. Novi Sad has been a city of many nationalities and religions from the very beginning. Opening the first breweries in the city meant sowing the seeds of industrialisation. As traditional beer drinkers, the Germans brought the skills of making and the habit of drinking beer, which will soon be a gladly accepted practice and habit among the people of Novi Sad. The first Novi Sad beer factory was Hajlova Brewery, on the site of today’s Hotel Vojvodina, the second one was built in Bara, behind the gardens of the houses in Dunavska Street, and the third one was built by Gavrilo Barako a century later.

The first manufacturing workshop in the Bačka part of the monarchy was the state silk factory in Novi Sad, which was first mentioned in December, 1765. At that time, silkworms began to be grown in the city, and for that purpose, 1,550 mulberry trees were planted, so that after five years, there would be a thousand more in the city and its surroundings.

The former silk factory in the Almaš neighbourhood is today’s Svilara Cultural Station.

The first Novi Sad bookbinding workshop and bookstore was opened by the aromanian Damjan Stefanović Kaulici in Dunavska Street in the 80s. Soon enough, in 1790, he got some rivals. In the same street, Emanuil Manojlo opened a printing house and a bookstore. For the sake of comparison, the first bookstore in Belgrade was opened a few decades later – in 1827. Thanks to these two bookstores, the people of Novi Sad were buying books more and more often at the end of the 18th century, thus, the first family libraries were formed. Some time later, printers Arsa Pajević and Đorđe Ivković will come to the same street. So, this still oriental city, started to resemble major European cities.

This accelerated development was abruptly interrupted by one of the most tragic events in the history of Novi Sad – the bombing of the Petrovaradin Fortress on 12 June, 1849. Hungarian rebels bombed the city, which was subsequently destroyed, burned and looted, ending up with a large number of civilian casualties. Out of 20 thousand citizens, which Novi Sad had before the bombing, only around 7 thousand people remained. The bombing deprived us of valuable cultural objects: the portraits of Novi Sad icon painters, house painters and pictors all disappeared, private libraries were burnt down, and everything that has been acquired and collected for 200 years, perished and disappeared in one day. Monuments that preserve the memory of this tragic event are several gutters (sr. đulad) that were built into the facades of houses in Dunavska Street and a memorial cross in Temerinski Put, located right after the bridge in Klisa. After the rebellion subsided, Novi Sad received a good loan for the reconstruction of the destroyed city and the improvement of neglected agricultural potentials. Therefore, Novi Sad ended up being the largest construction site in the Habsburg Monarchy.

There is almost nothing left of the old city centre that would indicate a century-old urban heritage. It was the end of the oriental look of the city. During 1852 and 1853, construction works began, and a new city centre was formed, more beautiful and harmonious than the old one, preserving its appearance to this day.

Author: Ljiljana Dragosavljević Savin, master historian
Photo: Jelena Ivanović, Vladimir Veličković, Museum of Vojvodina