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City Bijeljina

Zrenjanin (Serbia)

Zrenjanin is the largest city of the Serbian part of Banat and its political, economic, cultural and sport centre. With the area of 1,326 square kilometres, it is the largest local community in Vojvodina, or second in Serbia. In the urban part of Zrenjanin, there are around 76,000 people, and with the surroundings settlements there are around 130,000 inhabitants belonging to more than 20 different ethnic groups, and it is the third local community in Vojvodina according to the number of inhabitants. Zrenjanin is the city of tolerance, culture, art, sport, bridges, youth, and strong economic momentum.
Cooperation agreement between Bijeljina and Zrenjanin (at the level of twinning agreement) was signed in 2018 by the mayors of Bijeljina and Zrenjanin, Mićo Mićić and Čedomir Janjić.
The first traces of life of people near Zrenjanin originate from the Neolithic and belong to Starčevo culture. A necropolis from the period of great migrations was also discovered. The oldest written trace of a settlement at the location of today’s Zrenjanin originates from 1326, when it was mentioned as a village built on three islands of Begej River.
It is believed that there used to be an Avarian-Slavic ring at the location of today’s city centre, and after that this location was owned by Hungarian lords. At the beginning of the 15th century, Hungarian King Sigismund of Luxembourg gifted Bečkerek to Serbian despot Stean Lazarević as his vassal, who remained under the rule of Hungarian kings until Banat was conquered by Sokollu Mehmed Pasha in 1551, when the Serbs were majority in western Banat. With short breaks, the Turkish rule lasted until 1717, and the Treaty of Požarevac in 1718 marked the beginning of the rule of the Habsburgs, which lasted until 1918. The Turks left an empty land, so the government from Vienna rushed to settle people in order to strengthen the border in Banat towards Turkey – the number of inhabitants in Bečkerek grew, but ethnic structure changed: in addition to Serbs, also the Germans, Romanians, Italians, French, Hungarians, and even Catalonians settled here. The Catalonians called their part of the town New Barcelona.
After the liberation from the Turks, the Austrian authorities initiated extensive works to regulate Begej River, to dry swamps and to turn them into fertile land. A navigable canal with a length of 70 kilometres was built between Bečkerek and Timișoara, and a brewery was opened in Great Bečkerek in 1745, which marked the start of industrialisation of this town. The first Serbian school is mentioned in this year, too.
In 1769, the Queen Maria Theresia granted the Municipality of Great Bečkerek the privilege of becoming the trading centre, or a free trade town, and in 1779 Great Bečkerek became the seat of the administration of Torontal district. By the 1832 charter of Emperor Francis I, Great Bečkerek became a free royal town, thus its privileges were expanded.
Bečkerek had a great importance during the revolution of 1848/49, and from mid January to April 1849 it was held by Serbian revolutionary army. After the suppression of the revolution it became a part of the crownland of the Habsburgs called Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temeschwar,  which included most of Banat, Bačka and part of Srem. From 1860 it was a part of Hungarian part of Dual monarchy, until the liberation in 1918.
In the history of the fight for Serbian political rights in Austro-Hungary, Bečkerek will be noted as the place where Bečkerek Programme was introduced, and the Serbian National Liberal Party was found, with Svetozar Miletić as their leader. This marked the birth of the first modern party of the Serbs and gave guidelines for political activities of the Serbs in the Hungarian Parliament.
Even though Serbian population received certain national rights, the period from 1849 to 1918 was marked first by German, and then by Hungarian domination.
At the same time, it was a period of great economic progress, and many private and public buildings were built in town. These buildings are part of architectural heritage today, and their significance overcomes the limits of Zrenjanin.
Hungarian government in Great Bečkerek was finall overthrown on 7th November 1918, when Serbian troops marched into the town, and in accordance with the decisions made by the Great National Assembly of the Serbs, Bunjevci and other Slavs in Banat, Bačka and Baranja, held on 25th November 1918 in Novi Sad, this part of Banat became a part of the Kingdom of Serbia.
In 1935 the name of the town was changed to Petrovgrad, after the King Patar I Karađorđević the Liberator.
During the Second World War, the town changed its name again to Great Bečkerek and became the centre of German occupation government for Banat. During the war years, except for sporadic sabotages which were answered by severe retributions, there were no significant combat actions, but the Jewish community was completely destroyed. The town was liberated by the Red Army units on 2nd October 1944.
In 1946, Great Bečkerek changed its name again, and from that time it has been called Zrenjanin, after the national hero Žarko Zrenjanin Uča.
The post war period was the period of a new economic development and Zrenjanin became one of the largest economic centres in Yugoslavia.
Zrenjanin used to be known as “the largest food factory in the Balkans” with a food industry which was the main supplier of the whole ex Yugoslavian market. After the hard years of transition, Zrenjanin got back on old track of glory and once again became one of the largest food production centres, but also industry, and as such, it became an important driver of the economic growth of the whole of Serbia. In the industry sector, the most important are the food, textile, metal processing (including the ship building) and chemical industry, production of oil and natural gas.
In 2008, the World Bank ranked Zrenjanin as the first among cities in Serbia in terms of the overall organised business environment, and Zrenjanin is among the first cities in Serbia to build its Free zone. On the outskirts of the cities three new industrial zones were built, which, thanks to attractive conditions for investments, good geographic location, and ambitious development plans, attract more and more domestic and foreign investors, including some of famous European and world brands.
Zrenjanin and surrounding settlements are rich with cultural and historical monuments and precious natural sites.
In architectural heritage in the urban zone, the most significant are the Town Hall, built in the period 1816-1820, and expanded from 1885 to 1887, National Theatre “Toša Jovanović” from 1839 (the oldest theatre in Serbia), National Museum (former Financial Palace) from 1894, Palace of Justice built in the beginning of the 20th century, Historical Archives, Library, religious buildings (Orthodox churches – Uspen Church from 1746, Vavedenje Church from 1777, Catholic Cathedral from 1865, Reformed Church...), little bridge from 1904, building of goldsmith Karl Helmbold (also known as Scheherazade) from 1900, Dunđerski Palace, Sokol Home, and a number of other buildings, mostly concentrated in the centre town street Kralj Aleksandar (King Alexander Street).
There is a settlement Ečka near Zrenjanin with cultural monuments – property of noble family Lazar, with castle “Kaštel” as its most famous part, built using English style from 1816 to 1820 (Franz Liszt played at the opening) with Catholic church, as well as the nearby Serbian church (from 1711 – the oldest Serbian church in Banat, characterised by a wooden tower) and Romanian Orthodox church, all attracting many visitors.
Spa Rusanda, founded in 1867, is also in the territory of the City of Zrenjanin, at the coast of the largest salt water lake in Serbia, known for its medicinal mud.
A true gem of nature is the Special nature reserve “Carska bara” – a natural mosaic of marsh-swamp, forest, meadow, steppe and Slatina ecosystems on 4,726 hectares, with a diverse living world with around 500 plant species, 239 bird species, 20 fish species, and 30 mammal species, rare in this part of Serbia.
The most visited, and the best known event in Zrenjanin is Days of Beer, established in 1986. It is one of the biggest events in Serbia with several tens of thousands of visitors daily. Days of Beer is held at the end of August and combine cultural, entertainment, sport and economic contents – concerts of rock, pop and traditional music, folklore and gastronomic events, contents for children and youth, exhibitions, sport competitions, but also contents characteristic for beer festivals, like competitions in fast beer drinking, holding of one-litre beer mug... As part of Days of Beer, since 2000, an International Fair of Innovations, Cooperation and Entrepreneurship is organised (INOKOP).
Zrenjanin is also known for several ethno festivals – “Banat Diligent Hands” and International Folklore Festival “Lala” are also held within the Days of Beer.
“Reaper festivities” in Mužlja, to celebrate harvest, cereals and bread is held in July, and, in addition to the competition of mowers, this event has an exhibition and tasting of Banat gourmet specialties, as an integral part of every harvest, as well as accompanying cultural events.
International Festival of Wind Orchestras “Begej Fest” was introduced in 2012, and since then, it has been attracting top orchestras from the county and region every June. Performances of the orchestras outdoors in the city centre are especially attractive for the audience, and there is always an attractive parade of the participants.
Days of Sremac in Elemir are organised at the end of June, and are dedicated to one of the greatest Serbian writer Stevan Sremac, who lived here for a while and dedicated his work The Elemir Ball to it. In addition to the thematic literary evenings, exhibitions, concerts, theatre plays are organised during the event in the town square and surrounding spaces.
Orlovat hosts the Days of Uroš Predić, which are organised to honour one of the greatest Serbian painters from the period of romanticism, born here. The meetings of painters are in the focus of the event, but also a series of accompanying programmes, literary promotions and entertaining contents used to evoke memories of Predić.
In addition to twinning, Zrenjanin and Bijeljina are bound by a story about the statues of King Petar I Karađorđević – the Liberator. The original versions of the statues in both cities were sculpted by the same artist – Rudolf Valdec, both were destroyed during the first days of occupation in 1941, and both statues, restored during the 1920s, were sculpted, again, by the same sculptor – Zoran Jezdimirović from Bijeljina.
Zrenjanin is also known as the city of sport, with the most “sporty” village in Serbia – Klek, and sportsmen and sportswomen like Dejan Bodiroga, brothers Nikola and Vladimir Grbić, Snežana Perić, Ivan Lenđer, Ivana Španović, Jovana Brakočević, Maja Ognjenović... It is also known for its Philharmonic orchestra and world-class choirs, the “Bridge on dry land”, numerous urban legends, city beach “Peskara”, dishes from Banat, but also dishes of the numerous colonists who settled in flat Banat...