History & Culture
A brief overview of the history of the area of the lower reaches of the Drava and Mura rivers and the middle Danube
In the areas along the lower reaches of the Drava and Mura rivers and the middle Danube, for centuries European, regional and local roads were at a crossroads, causing a collision of compatible and diverse cultures of numerous nations. The longitudinal connection with the southern Drava valley, which from ancient times connected the west with the east (and vice versa), as well as the transversal directions that crossed it from north to south, was extremely important for the historical development and for the creation of the local settlement grid.. The first permanent medieval settlements were created on these routes. It seems that in stable times the majority of settlements were concentrated on slightly elevated terrain, but during times of instability the settlements would move to impassable, swampy areas closer to rivers.
The Sereti, Serapili, Jasi, Andizeti and Amantini are the first peoples known by name who lived along the lower reaches of the Drava and Mura rivers and the middle Danube. Some researchers believe that they were descendants of a Late Bronze Age culture, which lasted from the beginning of the 13th century BC to the end of the 8th century BC. At the beginning of the 3rd century BC, the Celts moved in and continued to live alongside the natives. They were later joined by the Scythians, whose traces were found south of the Drava, near Jalžabet.
In the beginning, the areas along the lower reaches of the Drava and Mura rivers and the middle Danube were the sphere of interest of Rome only, but in the 1st century military occupation followed. The main concern of the Romans was how to build a road network in the newly founded province of Pannonia so that they could more easily control the conquered tribes.
Northly and southly, local or vicinal routes connected to the main Podravina road route from Poetovia (Ptuj) via Iovia (Ludbreg) to Mursa (Osijek). In 379, with the permission of Emperor Gratian, the first groups of barbarian peoples – Goths, Alans and Huns – settled in the Roman province of Pannonia. Since then, Pannonia was often ravaged and plundered, and its roads were penetrated by barbarians from the north.
In addition to the remnants of the earlier Avars, Slavs, and probably Gepids who survived the fall of the Avar Khaganate, numerous new colonists from the west began to arrive in Pannonia. The areas around the lower reaches of the Drava and Mura rivers and the middle Danube became a kind of “melting pot”, in which the Slavs had the upper hand. The ethnic picture stabilized for a long time with the coming of the Hungarian population at the end of the 9th century and the formation of the Hungarian state.
From the second half of the 16th century and throughout the 17th century, these areas were marked by conflicts between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. The life of people in the pre-industrial era depended on the natural environment to which the population was exposed. During the 18th and 19th centuries, people tried to defend themselves against the encroachment of the rivers on their settlements and roads, livestock and arable fields, by cutting meanders, building embankments and digging drainage channels. It remains a question to what extent the works on river regulation made the population happy, since their way of life in the pre-industrial era was deeply dependent on the benefits the rivers provided as well as the harm they caused. Regulating the rivers at first glance eliminates the damages; but at the same time the benefits and the lifestyle of the population who were in complete harmony with nature are also irreversibly lost.
After 1918/1919 parts of the area along the lower reaches of the Drava and Mura rivers and the middle Danube became part of Yugoslavia, Austria and Hungary. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, independent Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia assumed responsibility for their parts of the Drava, Mura and Danube rivers. Stronger protection of nature has been institutionalized since 1976, when the Kopački rit nature park was established in Croatia. In Hungary, the Danube-Drava National Park was established in 1996. With the recent declaration of the Mura-Drava-Danube world biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the lower reaches of the Drava and Mura rivers and part of the middle Danube became part of the largest protected river area in Europe.
The area’s cultural heritage is the evidence of a vibrant past with various cultural influences from east and west. The presence of the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires are visible in the architecture of many old cities in the region.
Croatians, Hungarians, Serbs and even some Austrian, German or Czech descendants can still be found in the villages of Croatian Baranja or Serbian Vojvodina.