History and Serbia: Almost 300 years ago, Spaniards lived in Banat, and Zrenjanin had its own Barcelona – BBC News in Serbian

Francesco Griselini
Map of Banat from 1740 – one of the rare proofs of the settlement of Spanish colonists 300 years ago. The settlement of Mala Barcelona is marked on it, and Zrenjanin (then Beckerek) is marked as Beckeros

Dušan Juvanin from Zrenjanin has long been tormented by a dilemma – where does his last name come from?

Although the history of his family is connected to Banat and Vojvodina centuries ago, he did not meet anyone with a similar surname, and the visit of a Catalan from the European Union delegation in Serbia opened his eyes.

“We exchanged business cards and, when he looked at mine, he asked me if my original surname was Juvanin – I answered that it was originally Juanin, without the letter` V`.

“Then he asked me if I was aware that my last name was very common in Barcelona – like Petrovic or Djordjevic in Serbia,” the former deputy president of the Zrenjanin municipal assembly told the BBC in Serbian.

He was soon convinced that this was true, he realized that his roots go back to the Iberian Peninsula and the dice were put together – his ancestors were Spanish colonists who briefly inhabited Banat in the 18th century.

The immigration of Spaniards to Banat took place in three waves between 1735 and 1738, by order of the Court Council of the Habsburg Monarchy based in Vienna, which issued an order on November 14 to start the first wave.

However, due to the difficult living conditions in the then swampy area, the Spaniards stayed there for only a few years.

They fell ill and died of various diseases, and those who survived soon left Banat, historian Filip Krcmar, a native of Zrenjanin and author of the text, told the BBC in Serbian On the trail of Spanish colonists in Banat which was published in the 82nd collection Matice srpske.

There is almost no material evidence of the stay of the Spaniards in this area, and one of the few is a map of Banat from 1740 in the book by historian Francesco Griselini An attempt at the political and natural history of Timisoara’s Banat, they say from the National Museum in Zrenjanin for the BBC in Serbian.

The settlement of Nova Barcelona was recorded on it, and Zrenjanin (then Beckerek) was marked as Beckeros.

Despite that, the Spanish colonists are remembered for bringing mulberry trees to these parts and starting to grow silkworms, they participated in the reconstruction of the Beckerec fortress and the construction of a grain warehouse.

The memory of this epoch is also maintained by the New Barcelona Orchestra, whose name serves as a “reminder and review” of the history of Zrenjanin, the founder and conductor of the orchestra, Milan Aleksić, points out for the BBC in Serbian.

How the Spaniards got to Banat

The Ottoman army led by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic conquered Timisoara in 1552, and in the same year the Timisoara pashaluq was formed, which included most of Banat.

This region was part of the Ottoman Empire until the conclusion of the Peace of Požarevac in 1718, between the Habsburg Monarchy and Turkey – Banat then belonged to the Habsburgs as a military region.

At the beginning of the 18th century, there was turmoil on the other side of Europe as well – King Charles II of Spain died in 1700, followed by the War of the Spanish Succession, which lasted from 1701 to 1714.

Potential heirs to the Spanish throne came from the ranks of the Austrian Habsburgs and the French Bourbons, so the struggle for the throne divided Spain – some were on the side of the Habsburg monarchy and among them were Catalans, while others sided with the French dynasty.

The war was won by the Bourbons, and many who fought on the defeated side were forced to flee the country and found refuge in the Habsburg monarchy.

They moved around the monarchy, from Vienna and Budapest to Naples and Sicily, but they failed to adapt and the authorities decided to send them to the newly conquered Banat territories, which were sparsely populated after the expulsion of the Turks.

“It is mentioned that at that time in the whole of Banat, from the Tisza to the Carpathians, only four to 10 thousand people lived, so then many peoples began to settle and the Spaniards arrived with them.”

“In the 18th century, Banat was in a way what America would become in the 19th century – the French, Germans, Italians, French people immigrated and in that period it resembled the Wild West,” says Dušan Juvanin.

This Zrenjanin man, searching for the origin of his surname, collected data through conversations with fellow citizens and various archives, and he also says that he plans to write about this topic.

At the beginning, they arrived in Pancevo, then in Vrsac, Timisoara and other Banat places.

In the end, a settlement was formed in Zrenjanin New Barcelona which were built for them by local craftsmen, is stated in the text of Filip Krčmar for Matica Srpska.

According to Mileker’s writings, this settlement was built in 1737.

“It is important to emphasize that the whole city was not New Barcelona, ​​but only the settlement built by craftsmen from Zrenjanin, Vrsac, Pancevo and other places,” underlines Juvanin.

Augusti Alcobero, a professor at the University of Barcelona, ​​also wrote about the exile of the Catalan population after the War of the Spanish Succession in his work New Barcelona on the Danube.

National Theater in Zrenjanin
Donald Cuka
The National Theater in Zrenjanin, in the construction of which Catalan immigrants also participated

“Non-working people” without a chance to survive in the swamp

74 Spanish families arrived in the settlement of New Barcelona, ​​it is stated in Mileker’s work An attempt to settle the Spaniards in Banat.

Habsburg official Josef Huber, who was responsible for accommodating and fitting the Spaniards, wrote that it was “a non-working people, which caused many misfortunes and was therefore removed from Vienna,” according to Felix Milker’s writings.

“It was even stated for one couple that a woman drinks more than her husband,” says Filip Krčmar, quoting Mileker.

Although the historian from the beginning of the 20th century notes that the Spaniards ended up in Banat as punishment, there are other versions of the story.

Milan Aleksić, the founder and conductor of the New Barcelona Orchestra, heard one of them while growing up in Zrenjanin.

“It is believed that they were sent here because they had experience with digging canals, so they came to drain the swamps, of which there were many in this area,” he recounts one of the old Viennese legends about the Spaniards.

“Of course, these are all stories that we could hear from other people from this area and we cannot take them as reliable facts,” notes Aleksić.

In part Review of the colonization of Vojvodina in the 18th and 19th centuries, the historian Miroslav Jankulov states that the Spaniards were “excellent gardeners, winegrowers and craftsmen”, as evidenced to some extent by the breeding of silkworms, which they were engaged in.

Historical sources agree on one thing – the Spanish colonization of Banat was short-lived.

The historian Aleksandar Stanojlić also wrote about that in a monograph Petrovgrad (Veliki Beckerek) which was issued in 1938.

“The Spaniards barely survived in Beckerek for a couple of years, because they could not withstand the unhealthy climate. They died quickly, so that in 1744 they were no longer in Beckerek “, it is stated in the monograph.

They were not helped by the new war between the Habsburg monarchy and Turkey (1737-1739), so those who did not suffer from the “swamp fever” were forced to move, mostly to Budapest, writes Milker’s writings, as reported by Filip Krčmar.

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Perlez and “small, black-haired, curly people” in the Banat plain

If the road takes you to Perlez, a Banat place west of Titel and south of Zrenjanin, you will get the impression that you are in the usual village for this region.

A plain, a church and a park in the middle of the village, houses along the shores (streets in local slang) with spacious courtyards in the background, in front of them benches where older locals mostly spend noon along the streets that intersect at right angles.

Again, there is something unusual in this village – the names of places in Banat are mostly of Serbian, Hungarian, German, Romanian or Slovak origin.

Spain is not represented in this part of Vojvodina, but Perlez is an exception.

Ramon Frederic de Vilana Perles was a Spanish nobleman who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, and during the reign of Charles VI he was in charge of connecting the port of Fiuma (today’s Rijeka in Croatia) with the Habsburg territories that stretched in today’s Vojvodina. .

His son Francesc Vilana Perles I Fabregas was later appointed governor of Timisoara Banat and held that title from 1753 to 1759.

Although short, his rule in this part of Vojvodina left its mark – the states changed, but hundreds of years later, Perlez kept the name he received in honor of this Spanish nobleman.

In addition to Perlez, Spain also lives in Taras, a village that stretches north of Zrenjanin along the Tisza River.

Due to the unfavorable climate, the local authorities in the middle of the 18th century tried to find a more suitable location where they could accommodate the Spanish colonists, and the choice fell on this place, says Milan Aleksić.

“It is on a hill and the wind is constantly blowing there and the wetland area was not so harsh in this part of Banat,” he says.

The Spaniards did not stay there for long either, but their trace can still be seen today, believes Aleksić.

“There is a commune of` Spaniards` in Taras from that time – even today you can see small, black, curly people who irresistibly resemble Spaniards in their physiognomy, “he added with a smile.

Spanish spirit in Zrenjanin – theater, special surnames, mulberry and silk

The legacy of Spanish and Catalan immigrants from the 18th century can also be read in the work of the writer and director Milan Tutorov entitled Banat Rhapsody.

They participated in the construction of today’s Freedom Square in Zrenjanin, using the remains of the Beckerec fortress, which was destroyed by the Turks, according to Tutorov.

They are also building a large grain warehouse, then the largest building in Beckerek, which will later become a theater whose director will be Milan Tutorov.

In his work, like Mileker and Jankulov, he mentions that the Spaniards were excellent silkworms at that time and that they brought a mulberry tree to Banat to feed silkworms.

What still intrigues many people from Zrenjanin today is the origin of surnames in these parts – some of them simply differ from the usual family names.

“So there are surnames like Solar from the Spanish word sun or Juanin from the word young.

“Anyone who does not know this part of the history of this region, would wonder where such surnames come from in Banat,” says Aleksić from the New Barcelona Orchestra.

Dusan Juvanin’s last name still confuses many.

“According to what I found, there are 18 of us with this surname, we are all relatives and we are from Vojvodina,” he claims.

As he says, the surname of his family was Juanin, but in his case, the registrar added the letter `V` by mistake.

Investigating the origin of the surname, Dušan determined that it is very popular in the Spanish province of Catalonia.

“Even one local television station was called Juanin TV, as well as the goalkeeper of the Barcelona handball club,” he points out.

He points out that the Catalan from the EU delegation explained to him that his surname comes from the Catalan name Juan, and the suffix “in” is characteristic of Banat.

This inspired him to get to know the family history better and he found data dating back to 1778.

He learned that a woman with a small child who bore the surname Juanin settled in Vranjevo, a settlement near Novi Becej, and from church books he established that all his ancestors were Serbs of the Orthodox faith.

“Afterwards, I read somewhere that Catalans left orphans and single mothers with children during the move, because they could not even take care of their families.

“I miss that bond, that father of this ancestor who was born in 1778 – I still don’t know when the transition happened, but, well, the last name is left,” he added.


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