Meet Red Marta – a Mistress Crueller Than a Dragon

Meet Red Marta – a Mistress Crueller Than a Dragon

The village of Zmajevac is located in the easternmost part of Croatia, in the embrace of the mighty Danube river. Although its name, which comes from the Croatian word for “dragon” (zmaj), might lead you to believe this area was once inhabited by dragons, the actual story is a bit different.

 

This picturesque region of vineyards and gentle plains, which is now the centre of the Baranja wine country, used to be known for “Red Marta” (Crvena Marta), who terrified the locals even more than a dragon might.

Sergio Gobbo

Up until a hundred years or so, Zmajevac was called Vörösmart, or “Red Marta” in Hungarian, after the cruel feudal lord of the area who had long red hair and struck fear into the hearts of everyone in Baranja.

Sergio Gobbo

Legend has it that this powerful noblewoman charged money to all those who wanted to cross the Danube. Anyone who couldn’t afford a gold coin was forced to work in her vineyards, while she hit and whipped them.

Red Marta’s Gold Coins Still Shimmer at the Bottom of the Danube

The stories of her fees and cruelty soon reached the Hungarian court, and even led King Matthias Corvinus to come from Buda to Baranja to see if there was any truth to them.

 

He disguised himself as a peasant and when he was unable to pay the gold coin for the barge, he ended up in Marta’s vineyard. He laboured all day long, and gained insight into the terrible fates of the serfs who had no choice but to earn their passage there. While he was digging, he secretly dropped a gold coin in the vineyard, which he used to pay the evil mistress her fee.

 

Upon his return to Buda, he sent a letter to Red Marta, describing all of the horrible things he had witnessed in her vineyard. In fear of the king’s retaliation, and driven to madness with her obsession with gold coins, she loaded them into her carriage and threw herself in the Danube.

 

The place where her body washed up was given the name of Vörösmart (which would become Zmajevac later on), while the place where her whip was found, which she used to beat the serfs, was given the name of Batina (“cudgel” in Croatian).

Ivo Biočina

According to legend, for many years to come, the people of Zmajevac and the neighbouring villages would see a red-headed woman at dusk, floating in the air and looking upon the vineyards. Today, the shine of Marta’s gold coins is reflected in the sunlit Danube.