New Barcelona (Hungary, 1735)

“The governor came to the New Barcelona. This name was demanded by the Spaniards, for whom the Turco-Serbian name of the ancient and uninhabited Beckerek was an unpronounceable word. With great hopes they came to the empire of their former king Charles. But these poor people could not stand the weather of this region. The canal towards Temesvar went through wetlands. Their place was surrounded by standing water, and after the flooding millions of fishes scattered over the fields were rotting in the sun. The stench filled the air of the zone.”
(Adam Müller-Guttenbrunn, Der Grosse Schwabenzug, Leipzig, 1931)

The town of Nagybecskerek (Hungarian), Bečkerek (Serbian), Großbetschkerek (German), Becicherecul Mare (Rumanian), that is, the current Zrenjanin in Serbia was surrounded by large swamps already in this detail of the Tabula Hungariae, of ca. 1528. In 1551 it was occupied by the Turks, until in 1716 it was incorporated into the Hapsburg monarchy, which made great efforts to improve and exploit the area, repopulating it mainly with Swabian settlers (this is the origin of the family of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009 Herta Muller). The place was more or less like this in 1735, when the Spaniards arrived here to found the city of New Barcelona.

Josephinische Landesaufnahme, 1763-87. The detail of the area of Becskerek, where the New Barcelona was founded. Click for the full map in high resolution (35 mb)

A few days ago we told about the creation of the Republic of the Angel around Vilnius, beyond the river. However, the story of this foundation beyond another river, the Danube, on the banks of the river Béga, is darker and more poignant, and it ended badly. Its protagonists are a group of Spaniards, mainly Catalans, whose fate was caught between two intricate plots: the exile of the defeated Hapsburg party during the War of the Spanish Succession on the one hand, and on the other hand the territorial policy of the Hapsburgs along the Turkish borders, particularly in the Banat region around Temesvár (today Timișoara in Romania).

The Bourbon repression in Catalonia was very hard after 11 September 1714, when the troops of the new king Philip V occupied Barcelona after a siege which lasted more than a year. The exile of the Catalans started already in 1713, but there was still an active guerilla resistance as late as 1718-20. However, it was also gradually diluted, and one of its most active captains, the bullet-proof and picturesque Pere Joan Barceló, alias Carrasquet (see a modern drawing of his figure) was also there at the foundation of the New Barcelona in the Banat, only to die along the Rhine, by fighting in the fortress of Brisach in 1743.

Some of the most exalted exiles hatched utopian plans to found a new country far away from Spain. The gorgeous Brera Library of Milan, founded by Archduchess Maria Theresa in 1773, preserves a curious manuscript whose author, Josep Plantí, apart to compare Barcelona with Troy in flames and the exiles leaving it to found a new and better country under the patronage of Charles VI with Aeneas and his companions, describes in detail the rules and the organization of an ideal city where the Spaniards should live together in harmony and peace in the Hungarian lands.

Urbem, quam statuo, vestra est, subducite
rebus experti revocatae animos maestumque
timorem mittite forsan, et haec meminisse
juvabit. Tendimus Ungariam, sedes ubi fata
quietas ostendunt, illic fac regna resurgere
Ibericae. Durate et vosmet rebus servate
secundis. […]
The town I’m telling about, is yours: let us go,
start the work, and with your experience
put every fear aside, and remember:
we are going to Hungary, where our fate
offers a peaceful seat to us: there we shall
resurrect the Iberian kingdom. Resist
and be steadfast in adverse fate.

Josep Plantí: Exhortation to Emperor Charles VI, in Hemistichia ex Virgiio lib. 1 Aeneidos (after 1725).

There is no evidence that the manuscript came to the hands of any minister. The fact is that time was passing. The Spanish exiles, generously hosted in Vienna and Buda, where they received various pensions, begin to be financially too burdensome to their hosts, while there were large and potentially fertile lands to the south-east, recently recovered from the Turks, which called for new residents. They were resettled to the Banat, an area of harsh conditions for the Spaniards who were no longer young, and were not accustomed to the farm works that awaited them there.

Plant of New Barcelona, earlier and later Nagybecskerek, today Zrenjanin, in the Banat around Temesvár, 1766 (ÖStA/Finanz und Hoffkamerarchiv, Viena)

As a result, from the over eight hundred persons who arrived there in three batches, three years later, at the end of the adventure returned to Buda and Pest (from where most of them went to Vienna) only 347, according to the most reliable estimates. The plague and other diseases were their worst enemies. Maria Theresa of Austria, in an act of generosity, offered two years of pension in advance to those exiles who wanted to return to Spain. The adventure lasted from 1735 to 1738, when the New Barcelona project was definitely abandoned. The Fourth Turkish War (1737-1739) turned the Banat into a front line again. The eventful lives of the protagonists of this story remains largely in the dark. Recently, the historian Agustí Alcoberro published an excellent summary of what is known about these events: La «Nova Barcelona» del Danubi (1735-1738). La ciutat dels exiliats de la Guerra de Successió, Barcelona, 2011, but there is certainly a lot of documents waiting to be discovered in the archives of Vienna and Budapest.

Nagybecskerek was always ready to host visitors from the most impossible parts of the world, as it is attested by this photo representing Buffalo Bill and his Indians in the city in 1906. Here you can see more vintage pictures of the city.

2 comentarios:

Studiolum dijo...

A commentary by Dániel Szávoszt-Vass in the Hungarian version of the post:

“As a descendant of the Swabians of Banat, I am very much interested in this region. A part of my family is from Fehértemplom and Temesvár. Apart from the Spaniards, a lot of other ethnic groups lived side by side in the Banat. For me, another striking fact was the settlement of French peasants around Zsombolya. But there were also Catholic Bulgarians, Csángós, “Pannonian” Rusyns, Slovaks. Each of them would merit a post.”

Alex R. dijo...

I just wanted to thank you for the work you do here at this site. I've really been enjoying it.