Újlak (Croatian: Ilok) literally means “new dwelling place” in the Hungarian language and it used to be a frontier castle of southern Hungary during the Ottoman wars. It can be found in the easternmost corner of Croatia, it lies on a hill overlooking the Danube River. It is in the Tarcal mountains and it is also famous for its wine. The Romans settled there in the 1st or 2nd century and built Cuccium, the first border fortification on the Danube.
The Slavs settled here in the 6th century, and the Croats arrived here probably after the collapse of the second Avar Khanate. Some historians believe that the Avar people were the connections between the Huns of King Attila and the Hungarians of Árpád who arrived there in the 9th century. Regardless of this, Croats and Hungarians used to fight together against their common enemy for many long centuries.
The area was on the border of Hungary and it was later ruled by the Bulgarian Empire until it was included in the medieval Kingdom of Hungary. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the market-town of Újlak was mentioned in documents under various names (Iwnlak, Vilak, Vylok, Wyhok, Wylak). At the end of the 13th century, Hungarian kings gave the “Vylak castrum” to the powerful Csák noble family. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Újlak was the capital of Upper Syrmia (Szerémség) ruled by Csák Ugrin. The city was also the center of the Bishopry of Szerémség.
After 1354, the town of Újlak belonged to Garay Miklós and Pál (in Croatian references Gorjanski), and then to Újlaki Miklós and his descendants, among which was his great-grandson Miklós and the last member of the Újlaki family was Lőrinc of Újlak. (Please note, that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where family names come first.) Garay Miklós, the Bán of Macsó, chased away the rebelling Horvát family in 1387.
Újlak had 10,000 inhabitants in the 14th century and thus it belonged to the biggest towns of the Kingdom of Hungary. After the famous siege of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) in 1456, Saint Giovanni da Capestrano (Kapisztrán János), the greatest hero of the siege next to Hunyadi János, died in Újlak during the same year. We can see his chapel next to the castle. More about the fights of Hunyadi:
Újlaki Miklós was the Ban (Duke) of All Slavonia from 1457-63, and his son, Lőrinc was a duke of Syrmia (Szerémség) from 1477 to 1524. The king of Hungary took the castle into his possession from the Újlaki family and the king’s troops moved into the castle in 1494, led by Lord Drágffy.
It was in Újlak, too, that Tomori Pál was elected as the Archbishop of Kalocsa. He was the General of King Louis II who advised the king of the seemingly good idea of destroying Suleiman’s army one by one at Mohács in 1526. He knew that they would not have a chance in an open battle if the Sultan could unite his army. Unfortunately, Suleiman had already united his army so Tomori paid with his life for the poor recon reports he received.
The Hungarian and Croatian warriors had been valiantly defending the Borderland of the Kingdom of Hungary, protecting the rest of Europe at the same time against the Sultan’s Empire but Újlak had to fall. It was Pasha Ibrahim who took the castle after an eight-day-long siege in 1526. Since 1526, the town was under Ottoman rule. During the Ottoman rule, the town was mainly populated by Muslims. In 1566-69, Újlak had 238 Muslim and 27 Christian houses.
In 1572, it had 386 Muslim and 18 Christian houses. In 1669, the population numbered 1,160 houses, and the town possessed two mosques. It was a so-called “kaza” center in the Sanjak of Syrmia, meaning that it belonged directly under the Sultan. According to Evlija Celebi, the Turkish historian, and traveler, Újlak was the nicest town between Belgrade (Nándorfehérvár) and Buda, boasting more than 200 shops and several schools.
The Imperial army first occupied Újlak in 1688, but the Ottomans recaptured it in 1690. In 1697, the Habsburg army definitively retook Újlak from the Ottomans and it was the time when the Muslim population fled. After 1688, the Odelscalch family received the place from the Habsburg Emperor who invited Christian settlers from Bosnia. They built a nice palace there, too.
The wine of Újlak has remained world-famous, even Queen Elisabeth was drinking it in the 1990s. According to the statistics of 1991, there were 6775 inhabitants in the town, 4248 of them Croatians, 1157 Slovakians (had settled there in the 1860s), 484 Serbians, and 105 were Hungarians. The town has suffered a lot in the wars in the 1990s.
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