While walking through Liberty Square in Novi Sad, you must have stopped numerous times to look at the details of the imposing façade of the City Hall building, which is the work of sculptor Julije Anika. This Neo-Renaissance style building was built in 1895 according to the project of the Hungarian architect György Molnár, and at the top of its tower hides an interesting detail, unknown to many residents of Novi Sad. It is a bell called Matilda, with an interesting story.
After obtaining the status of a free royal city in 1748, Novi Sad did not have a permanent seat for the city government at that time. A little more than a decade after the Buna (revolt), during which Novi Sad suffered destruction in 1849, and was later rebuilt, the then-mayor Svetozar Miletić proposed that the seat of the city government be erected on the site of today’s Matica Srpska, that is, in the Marija Trandafil Square. In the next two decades, other proposals came up, and the City Hall was finally built in Liberty Square, and since then it has attracted the attention of many city visitors. The magnificent façade of the building contains a tall tower topped by the Matilda bell, which played a very important role in the 19th century.
How Did Matilda Warn the Novi Sad Citizens?
Many Novi Sad residents do not actually know what the function of this bell was. It would sound in case of fire, and it was transferred to the top of the City Hall from the Fire Department, where it had the same role since 1880. Why Matilda? The bell was named after the benefactress who donated it to the fire department. What is also interesting is the way that the bell warned of a fire – namely, two guards would stand and watch Novi Sad day and night, in shifts, on the balcony of the tower, next to the bell. If a fire broke out somewhere in the city, the guards informed the firefighters and citizens about which part of the city a fire broke out in, with short signals as follows: the number of bells marked the number of the city district where the fire broke out, which made it easier for firefighters.
Matilda ‘performed’ her duty until 1900, when, by chance, it cracked. It was later replaced by a bell with the emblem of Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, and that bell fulfilled its role until the end of the Second World War, when, thanks to advances in 20th-century technology, the need for this kind of danger warning in the city ceased.
Author: Marina Marić
Photo: Vladimir Veličković