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It has a length of almost a thousand kilometers: the secrets of the name and legend of the largest river in Transcarpathia

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One of the largest tributaries of the Danube, the Tisza River , originates in Transcarpathia . It has a long history, it was described in poems, painted on canvases and sung in songs.

It has a length of almost a thousand kilometers: the secrets of the name and legend of the largest river in Transcarpathia

Majestic Tisza

The largest river in Transcarpathia, the Tisza, is almost a thousand kilometers long (966) and flows through as many as five countries: Ukraine (Zakarpattia region), Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia and flows into the Danube.  It originates on the territory of Rakhiv region as a result of the confluence of two small rivers – the Black and Bila Tisza. In general, only the upper reaches of the river with a length of 201 km pass through our region  . 

This legendary waterway has a very long history and the life of Transcarpathians is largely connected with the Tisza. Its name is known to everyone, but few people know what it means. So what do the secrets of the Tisza hide? Who called it so and why did daredevils look for treasures at its bottom for hundreds of years? This is what the "Carpathian Lens" found out.

Why was Tisza called Tisza?

There is a lot of discussion about the name of the river, and which one is the most accurate is up to everyone to decide for themselves. We'll just list them... Moreover, each is described in different sources and even in scientific circles they are still arguing among themselves about the most plausible.

 First, let's take a look at the "Etymological Dictionary of Toponyms of Ukraine". There is a "Slavic" version of the origin of  the name Tisza.

"There is some reason to associate the hydronym Tisza with the Proto-Slavic Hisn- / Hesn- "to press, tight", His- / Hais- "to melt; Melt; disappear", which is reflected in the geographical term Hesnina – "gorge, gorge, ravine, abyss, riverbed, narrow valley", Ukrainian twilight – "a very narrow, cramped street, a narrow passage". The reconstructed motivational feature "narrow gorge, narrow channel, narrow passage, etc." is relevant for mountain rivers, so the concentration of the corresponding hydronyms in Transcarpathia can be considered as an additional out-of-order argument in favor of such an etymology," the encyclopedia says.

However, this is not the only hypothesis. Transcarpathian old-timers claim that the reservoir was named after the tree. 87-year-old Yurii Kovach from Tyachiv assures that not so long ago, Bokorash rafted timber along the Tisza, and our region was rich in yew, from which bows and cannonballs were made in Khust Castle until it was struck by lightning .

"I am not a scientist, but once there were very dense forests in Transcarpathia. Here, quite naturally, the river could be named after the plant. After all, we have, for example, Mount Yavirnyk, or Vynogradovo in honor of grapes. In Hungarian, by the way, the name once  sounded "Nagyszőlős", which translates as "big vineyard," the man shared his thoughts . – In old books that were published in the times of Austria-Hungary,  you can find documentary evidence that the yew was considered a very valuable breed. For centuries, the garrison stationed in Khust Castle used this tree to make cannonballs for cannons, and craftsmen made bows for soldiers. Even coffins were made of yew, this tree symbolized eternal life and immortality. That's why my grandfather always said that Tisza was named after a yew tree. Perhaps his ancestors told him about it, and this is how this information was passed on orally from generation to generation."

It is indeed known that yew grew in the Carpathians 180 million years ago, so it is likely that once in Transcarpathia there was so much of this species of tree that they decided to "christen" an entire river in its honor. However, linguist Ivan Halai has a different opinion. 

"Once upon a time, the Tisza was not as small a river as it is now. It was a full-flowing waterway like the Dnieper or the Danube. Its name can be deciphered as "narrow gorge", or "wild water". My words can be confirmed by an interesting description of the reservoir in the Hungarian edition of "SÜLI-ZAKAR ISTVÁN: Az élő Tisza". Several synonyms-names of the Tisza are described there at once: blonde, wild, confused, wrapped. Since our ancestors were pagans, they worshiped the river before adopting Christianity, ascribed human qualities to it, worshiped water, and even offered sacrifices. In general, almost until the last century, the Tisza was really considered a crazy, unpredictable, scary river.... And only in the last hundred years, unfortunately, the reservoir has become very shallow," he assured.

Another researcher of Transcarpathian toponyms, Valentyn Stetsyuk, believes that the name Tisza means "pure water".

"In my opinion, the name may come either from the Bulgarian word "tasa", which means "pure", or from the Hungarian "tiszta", which has the same meaning. It is known that Transcarpathia was part of Hungary for a long time, so the explanation, most likely, of the hydronym should be sought in the Hungarian language. By the way, the ancient Dacians wrote about Tisza in their chronicles and they called it a word that translates into our language with the meaning of "pure".

However, it is not known who actually and when named the river in this way, but it has been known in the world for a very long time, because in the VI century the Gothic historian Jordan mentioned the reservoir in the Carpathians in his works. He called the Tisza a great navigable river and focused his attention on the fact that he was struck by its mountainous purity and transparency.

 Therefore, most likely, the name of the Tisza still meant its purity, which, unfortunately, this beautiful river is deprived of today.

The Tisza is a sacred river for Transcarpathians, as the Ganges is for Hindus

The inhabitants of the Tisyansky valley, who live along the banks of the river, know many legends about it. Many of them exist only in a certain place and not all of them have historical confirmation, but each of them is interesting and deserves attention.

"For centuries, Tisza has been a breadwinner for Transcarpathians. It is not for nothing that people built settlements on the banks of reservoirs. The river irrigated the land, provided food, and allowed trade with others," says Ivan Demesh, a historian from Khust. "Therefore, it is not surprising that songs, fairy tales and legends were composed about the Tisza. One of the most famous tales is the story of the creation of the world. According to legend, when God created our planet, he saw how beautiful it was and was very happy. However, he especially liked the patch with the mountains, which the Creator called the Carpathians. But there was not enough for a complete picture of some picturesque reservoir there. Therefore, the Almighty called an angel to Himself and asked him to make a furrow for the river, even gave him oxen and a plow. But in this beautiful wooded area, there were a lot of nettles that burned the feet of the messenger of the Lord, so he had to maneuver around the plant. Because of this, the ditch into which God launched the Tisza turned out to be quite winding and crooked. This is the way of the river even to this day. Of course, this is only a beautiful fairy tale, but it shows how important the Tisza has been to the local population at all times."

However, our ancestors tried to explain not only the very appearance of the reservoir in the Carpathians, but also why its waters are so noisy... Especially during terrible floods...

"Unfortunately, the Tisza is not only rafting, not only recreation, not only swimming... It caused a lot of trouble for Transcarpathians and all those who lived along its course, especially during floods. Tisza was not only loved, she was also feared. And they were looking for an explanation for their warnings in fictional mystical stories," Mr. Ivan emphasizes. "Our ancestors were especially afraid of drownings, so they tried to associate their fears with them. So, there is a romantic legend about two lovers – a girl from a rich family and a guy from a poor one. They lived in the Carpathians, loved each other to the point of insanity, but could not be together because their parents did not allow them to combine destinies. Realizing that the feelings were doomed, the couple joined hands and jumped from the abyss into the Tisza, which took two young lives. When their parents discovered their bodies, they cried and cried a lot. However, they could not return the children. And the Tisza, which became the last refuge for the highlanders, made a noise with sadness, hummed, and huddled between the banks... And since then, in memory of the young couple, every spring it becomes full-flowing and scary to remind people of this tragedy and that it is impossible to stand in the way of love."

However, there is another story about the river, which is the most interesting of all and which explains why adventurers were looking for treasures under the waters of Tisyan. And this legend is about the leader of the Huns Atilla, who is considered the ancestor of modern Hungarians.

"Atilla is considered a real historical character who lived in 434-441. He managed to create a powerful alliance of tribes that controlled a powerful and vast territory from the Rhine all the way to China. However, no one knows for sure where he is buried, and there are many fictions and fairy tales around his grave. The fact is that the rulers were once sent to another world not just in golden coffins, but also put a lot of gold and jewelry there, which were then hunted for by those who did not have such wealth. So, according to folklore, Atilla was buried somewhere near the Tisza," the historian emphasizes, "And before giving the remains of the earth, his body was placed first in a lead coffin, then in a silver one, and only then in a gold one. To prevent anyone from finding the grave, people close to the leader gave the order to block the Tisza and let it go to the fields. At the place of the current, they dug a deep hole, placed a coffin and treasures there, buried everything and returned the river to its original place. To prevent anyone from knowing where the leader was buried, they first killed the fighters, who were all on a special assignment, then shot their killers, and then the archer executioners. All this conspiracy and ruthless executions, according to the story, were carried out not just like that, but for the safety and good of all mankind, because supposedly if someone digs up the grave of Atilla, wars and cataclysms await the world, because his spirit, freed from the afterlife, will want new conquests. Be that as it may, the treasures of the ancient leader were really sought by many generations of people, including in Transcarpathia."

As you can see, the Tisza has always been a source for people's creativity, and not just a river that gives fish and water, coolness in summer and aesthetic pleasure from contemplating beauty. Now, unfortunately, it is far from being as full-flowing and clean as it used to be, but most Transcarpathians still love it, because from year to year various eco-actions are held along its banks, when caring countrymen and even volunteers from Hungary clean its mouth from various rubbish. Of course, I would like not only the former greatness to return to the Tisza, but also the purity that the historian Jordan praised in his works and which even our grandfathers and great-grandfathers recall.

Recall that earlier we wrote that the majestic Tisza River was shown from a height.

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