Road Sign

New Hunt for Old Happiness
The elite of the Habsburg Monarchy gathered at the official opening of this hunters’ palace, owned by Armenian merchant Lukač Lazar, on August 30, 1820. Later, monarchs came here to hunt and enjoy parties, thus the name Carska Bara (Imperial Swamp). Prince Rudolf, Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and Yugoslav king Aleksandar Karađorđević used to come here. This is where Franz List held his first concert, at the age of nine. Today, the palace regained its old attractiveness, while Carska Bara has never lost it

By: Vlada Arsić
Photo: Dragan Bosnić

It was late summer when the traveling theatrical troupe of Jova Čizmić reached Zrenjanin. Since early morning, it was very busy in Ečka, in the park in front of the palace that used to belong to the Lazar family. Actors, who were also coachmen, carpenters, stunts and treasurers, were setting an improvised stage next to the small fountain. They agreed with the landlords they would stay several days and play a show every night. Numerous peasants and palace servants watched their strenuous work. At the end of the XIX century, a theater was a novelty for their suffering, tired eyes.
A young, handsome actor caught the attention of the landlord’s daughters, especially the youngest one. His appearance intoxicated the young girl so much, that even her father felt the unexpected danger. Immediately after the first play, he called the leader of the troupe, paid him a lot more than agreed and ordered them to immediately pack their things and leave his estate. So it was.
Perhaps this detail from the Hunters’ Palace ”Kaštel” would have been covered by dust of oblivion a long time ago, if the story didn’t have a sequel. Unfortunately, a tragic one. The troupe left, but the young actor stayed. He hid at the estate, in the thick woods, and occasionally dated the beautiful aristocrat. Their romance lasted for a while and who knows how it would have ended if the landlord himself did not hear about their love. The legend says that he saw them deep in the park one evening. He unleashed his dogs and set them off to the young man. The unfortunate boy started running, but did not go far. The dogs caught up with him in front of the big tower, across the castle, and tore him apart alive. The girl went dumb. She was ill for a long time, carrying her sorrow in her heart. She never married and stayed in the castle until her death, waiting for the day when she will again be together with her beloved.
This is just one of the legends heard today in the palace previously owned by Lukač Lazar, now hotel ”Kaštel” in Ečka. The story, however, is rarely mentioned, because there is no valid historical proof, years deleted dates, names of participants were forgotten, but fact is that the sinister tower still exists and, probably, hides numerous secrets.
The castle, however, remembers happier times as well. The legend says that the palace estate, actually previously desolated 17 hectares of land, was purchased by a small, yet successful Armenian merchant Lukač Lazar at the auction of goods in Timisoara in 1871. After his arrival to these lands, his fortune suddenly began increasing. The crown of his success was the construction of the palace, and the entire elite of the then Habsburg Monarchy attended the official opening ceremony on August 30, 1820.
During the entire XIX century, the palace in Ečka was the gathering place of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. They came here to hunt, have fun, drink and rest. The chosen guests also included aspirants to the throne, so it was noted that Franz Ferdinand himself visited Ečka four times. His last visit was only two days before his assassination in Sarajevo, on June 28, 1914. He had so much fun here that he also got married in secrecy, while the church marriage, far from the public, was held in a nearby catholic church, also endowment of the Lazar family.


The biggest attraction of Ečka is its surrounding, especially Carska Bara, only a few kilometers from the palace. Today it is a special nature reserve including the old bed of the Begej river and three swamps – Tiganjica, Perleška and Carska Bara. Although it is now a real empire of flora and fauna, it owes its name to its first guests, crowned and uncrowned monarchs. They hunted big and small game here, threw parties, however destiny was not on their side.
– Strange is the fate of its then guests, as well as hosts – reminds Milivoj Putić, man in charge of tourism development in this reserve. – Prince Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz Joseph, came here hunting and later hung himself. Archduke Franz Ferdinand also hunted here, and he was assassinated. King Aleksandar was a frequent guest, and we all know how he ended. Janos, one of the sons of the palace founder Lukač Lazar, ended his life romantically. Fighting for the honor of a lady, he died in a duel in the palace near Elemir. I guess it’s good we introduced a permanent ban on hunting, and guests now come armed only with cameras.
Carska Bara, the empress of swamps, attracts people today as well. Children come to field trips, nature lovers, couples in love, foreigners… A few years ago, our rangers were confused by a group of veiled women, who came here.
– We thought, God forbid, they are from some cult or something – tells Putić. – Only later we were told that they are from the embassy of a large Islamic country in Belgrade. They wanted to take a walk alone through the forest; I guess they didn’t feel comfortable with male escort, so we allowed them. They were gone for two-three hours, and we already started worrying. Unpleasant situation, man. Women, alone, employees of a foreign diplomatic mission in Serbia. How could we lose them of all people! Luckily, they returned soon, thrilled by what they had seen. I can understand their amazement, if I only think about the endless sand in their country.


The reserve has strict rules. Visitors are not allowed after 10 p.m., fire is forbidden, number of guests strictly limited. The objective is, they say, to protect animals from people, as well as people from animals. The reserve has hiking paths, belvederes, volleyball on grass and sand grounds, a small café and resting places under straw roofs. One can take a photo safari by boat or canoe, and for bigger groups, on weekends and holidays, there is an unusual boat, looking as if coming from a fairytale.
– It was brought a long time ago from Slovenia, on a truck – says our host. – Its capacity is about fifty guests, it is a shallow-draft boat and can sail through the most shallow canals. Unfortunately, due to such a draft, it is pretty unstable, so we don’t sail when the wind is strong.
Strong south-eastern wind accompanied us during our return to the palace. Branches of birch trees and planes rock in the wonderful park, covering about four hectares. Hidden in the greenery, out of sight, the old stable of the Lazar family still stands. This is where, in the mid-1970s, portraits of Mihalj Lazar, an unknown little girl and Viktorina Eldesfaher, wife of Sigesmund, Lukač’s great-granddaughter, were discovered. Unfortunately, the fate of the entire family was unfortunate.
Alisa Harlokurt, last descendant of the Lazar family, left the palace in 1945. She sailed to North America with her second husband and children from her first marriage and never returned. There are no living descendants of the Lazar family any more. Someone would say they paid the price of enormous and quick fortune, restless passions and desolate hopes.
Until a few years ago, the Hunters’ Palace was a ruin. In the meantime it was privatized, got a new owner and old plans. The wish is, they say, to have guests gathering again, to organize balls, renew the memory of the old times. They are also not giving up on hunting tourism; their wish is to become again the gathering place of hunters from all over the world. If they succeed, during long winter nights, with the roar of the icy northern wind and taste of mulled wine, stories about previous guests will again be told, about their trophies and tragic destinies. They will also tell the story of the unfortunate actor, wild dogs and restless souls. Many years have passed, the wheel of history finally stopped. Or at least we thought so.


Franz List’s First Concert
The legend says that there were about 300 guests at the opening of ”Kaštel”, including Count Esterhazy, the greatest and most powerful Hungarian aristocrat. An ordinary and pretty shy nine year-old boy was with him, although his name at that moment did not mean a thing. Only when, that evening in the ballroom, he sat at the piano and went over the keys, the story about Franz List, the wunderkind, quickly started spreading through the Empire.


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