Non-Fading Graciousness
It was raised in 1820, based on the project of Joseph Fischer. It was dressed in neo-baroque by Gyula Pártos and Ödön Lechner in 1887. Famous for its Ceremonial Hall, Pantelić’s Clock, Kratzmann’s stained glass. Dragutin Ristić, colonel of the Serbian Royal Army, announced freedom from its balcony on November 17, 1918. The balcony was rearranged so that Josip Broz Tito could wave from it on May 11, 1952. Many movies, series, videos were filmed in this beautiful building. A monograph, which will eternalize all this, will soon be published

Text and Photo: Miodrag Grubački

When the three year-long construction of the County Palace, present City Hall in Zrenjanin, was completed, the city had a population of a bit more than 11 thousand. The importance of a city was measured by different criteria, so this town in Banat had a much bigger influence than it could be assumed based on its population. Accordingly, it received an edifice, which has remained its symbol and recognizable veduta. It is considered one of the most important examples of neo-baroque architecture in Vojvodina, especially if we have in mind that architects and artists which left their traces in the biggest cities of former Austro-Hungary – Budapest and Vienna – were in charge of its construction.
It has always been the seat of the local administration – formerly Torontal County, then the Bečkerek, Petrovgrad and Zrenjanin county, Municipality Assembly and today the City Administration of Zrenjanin. It is also home of the Middle-Banat County administration, as well as an important cultural institution – Historical Archive of the City of Zrenjanin, an inexhaustible source of information for all city chroniclers and interpreters of the local past.
Built based on the design of architect Joseph Fischer from Pest, the building has been significantly altered, upgraded and rearranged a bit less than seven decades after its opening. In the year 1887, it put on a neo-baroque appearance, still preserved today. Gyula Pártos and Ödön Lechner, also architects from Budapest, were responsible for it. Lehner is considered the forerunner of Hungarian secession, and he realized his ideas on several monumental objects in the capital city. He used his friendship with Zsolnay Vilmos, founder of the famous ceramics factory in Pecs, for specific decorations of objects, and unusual, flamboyant edifices, inspired by folk architecture, were raised in that period throughout the monarchy.
Pártos and Lechner equipped the County Building in Zrenjanin with its own waterworks, steam heating, electrical illumination and signalization devices, installations still inaccessible to any other house in the city and around. When the city authorities took over the building from subcontractors, it was the most up to date edifice in this part of the monarchy, including much bigger and more influential Timisoara. As a representative of then economic and political power of the city and Torontal area (present Banat), it was built at the time of building city halls in other cities on the edges of Austro-Hungary: Szeged, Sombor, Kikinda, Kecskemet, and a bit later Subotica, Kanjiža and Senta.
Having in mind that separate rooms were on the upper floor, where the head of the county used to live with his family – the great mayor, appointed directly by the Viennese court, it could be said that the building also had a ”palace” character. The entrance hall was designed so that a horse carriage could comfortably pass through it, the host’s or the guest’s, all the same.


In order for one of the authorities – impersonated in the then supreme representative, lifelong president of socialist Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito – to reach to the people as close as possible, an almost unthinkable intervention was made on the balcony of the building in 1952, and Tito thus became the only statesman due to whom the City Hall in Zrenjanin suffered visible architectural alterations.
In order to enable as many people as possible from all sides of the Freedom Square to see the president, who visited Zrenjanin for the first time on that May 11, part of the up to then flat balcony fence was removed and the balcony was upgraded and enclosed with a new, semicircular fence. It kept this appearance to the very day and the people of Zrenjanin often call it ”Tito’s Balcony”.
In the old days, with limited communication means, the balcony was the only place in the city for announcing important information to the public. It was most often done by city drummers, who read different proclamations of the authorities, but the news about crucial historical events and commotions were announced by participants themselves – army commanders, generals, politicians…
Probably the most important message in the history of the City Hall was heard on November 17, 1918. The end of World War I signified the epochal replacement of authorities and states in these lands, impersonated in one day and one event – the addressing of colonel Dragutin Ristić, commander of the infantry brigade of the Iron Regiment ”Knjaz Mihailo”, military unit which liberated Veliki Bečkerek. He announced the liberation of the city to the enthralled people and Serbian army, who gathered on the central square, and the news that the army of King Petar I will protect Serbian brothers and all other nationalities which had been living together for hundreds of years in the former area of Despot Đurađ Branković.
Power was formally handed over to representatives of the new state in the County Palace. From that day, the most famous edifice in the city was no longer in the Austro-Hungarian territory.
The street in Veliki Bečkerek, which Colonel Ristić passed while walking to the city center on that last day of war, was named after him, and his military feats are part of many local stories.
The upgraded balcony of the City Hall thereby testifies about an (un)successful architectural idea, and all it went through in the recent period is perhaps best shown by a bizarre event from 2006: the balcony was damaged by ammunition fired from the gun of a merry godfather during a wedding celebration. It was pure luck that no one was injured in the incident.


The Baroque, Ceremonial or Great Hall of the City Hall, intended for County and today Assembly sessions, was decorated thanks to the skills of Bečkerek painter Joseph Geugner. The arches on the ceiling are ornamented with his plaster works, there are four figures of angels in the foot, and a small gallery with a balustrade under the ceiling, in the hall. Besides political gatherings, various artistic programs also take place in this representative space.
For many reasons, it is considered the most beautiful baroque hall in Serbia. It often attracts attention of musicians, who wish to film videos in it, as well as movie and TV directors. Biljana Krstić, Romana Panić, Amadeus Bend, Ekstra Nena, Adil Maksutović, shows from the Serbian music heritage cycle Fly, My Dear Song, Booters TV show, motion picture Trophy, are only some related to this space. As especially picturesque, we still remember the masquerade from the first episode of Dragan Bjelogrlić’s Shadows over the Balkans
The unusual ”Pantelić’s Clock” is in the hall on the first floor. It was constructed in 1902, in the famous workshop and foundry of the Pantelić family and unique because its mechanism, thanks to a particular transmission system through the building ceiling, is simultaneously operated by four mutually distant clock faces – in the very housing of the clock, in the Baroque Hall, on facades in the County Park and towards the Freedom Square. The clock is in operation, provided it is mechanically started every day.
Above the central stairway of the building, near ”Pantelić’s Clock”, there are three stained glass, which symbolize Wisdom, Justice and Power, placed also in 1902. They were created by Eduard Ketsmann from Prague, the most famous stain glass artist in Hungary and son of famous painter Gustav Kratsmann. The Kratsmanns established the Institute for Creating Stained Glass, where numerous stained glass for local churches and buildings were created.
Kratsman’s works in Zrenjanin are an example for what we today call ”public-private partnership”. Coats of arms of then aristocratic families from Banat, whose contributions enabled the creation of the stained glass are presented in the corners of every stained glass, thereby preserving an interesting memory of the Karacsonyi, Nikolić and Turn-Taksis families.
The symbols on glass still remind the elected representatives what they should be like while performing their duties – wise, just and strong.


Zemun Foundry
The ”Pantelić” foundry was established from Đorđe Pantelić’s locksmith workshop, opened in Zemun in 1854. In the year 1870, it began producing bells and tower clocks for churches and city palaces. The bells and clocks with the mark of the Zemun workshop are still in operation in more than 130 city and village churches. It is assumed that the unusual clock in the City Hall in Zrenjanin was made as a sign of gratitude to the local authorities, after successfully performed works and placing clocks in several churches in the city and its vicinity.


Monograph and Invitation
Everything mentioned and a series of other curiosities about this edifice, which already entered its third century of existence, will soon be found in a monograph. The book in preparation will certainly include an invitation to travelers to visit the City Hall in Zrenjanin. Admission is free, the doors are wide open and there is plenty to see and note.


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