Rijeka is the principal seaport and the third largest city in Croatia (after Zagreb and Split). It is located on Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic Sea and has a population of 128,624 inhabitants (2011). The conurbation, which includes adjacent towns and municipalities of Opatija, Lovran, Mošćenička Draga, Matulji, Kastav, Viškovo, Klana, Kostrena, Čavle, Jelenje, Bakar, and Kraljevica has a population of 213,666 (2011).
Historically, because of its strategic position and its excellent deep-water Port of Rijeka, the city was fiercely contested, especially among Italy, Hungary, and Croatia, changing hands and demographics many times over centuries. According to the 2011 census data, the overwhelming majority of its citizens (82.52%) are Croats, with important Serb and Italian minorities. Apart from Croatian, the population also uses its own unique version of the Venetian language (Fiumano), with an estimated 20,000 speakers among the autochtone Croats and various minorities. Historically it served as a Lingua Franca for the many ethnicities inhabiting the multicultural port-town.
Rijeka is the center of Primorje-Gorski Kotar County in Croatia. The city's economy largely depends on shipbuilding (shipyards "3. Maj" and "Viktor Lenac Shipyard") and maritime transport. Rijeka hosts the Croatian National Theatre "Ivan pl. Zajc", first built in 1765, as well as the University of Rijeka, founded in 1973 but with roots dating back to 1632.
Ancient and medieval times
Though traces of Neolithic settlements can be found in the region, the earliest modern settlements on the site were Celtic Tarsatica (modern Trsat, now part of Rijeka) on the hill, and the tribe of mariners, the Liburni, in the natural harbour below. The city long retained its dual character. Pliny mentioned Tarsatica in his Natural History (iii.140).
From the 5th century onwards, the town was ruled successively by the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, the Lombards, the Avars, the Franks, the Croats, the Hungarians and the Venetians before coming under the control of the Archduchy of Austria ruled by Austrian Habsburgs in 1466, where it remained for over 450 years except for French rule between 1805 and 1813, until its occupation by Italian and Croat irregulars at the end of World War.
After the 4th century the city was rededicated to St. Vitus, the city's patron saint, as Terra Fluminis sancti Sancti Viti or in German Sankt Veit am Pflaum. In medieval times Rijeka acquired its Croatian name, Rika svetoga Vida ("the river of St. Vitus").
Medieval Rijeka was a city surrounded by a wall and was thus a feudal stronghold. The fort was in the centre of the city, at its highest point.
Under Habsburg sovereignty
The City of Rijeka was governed as a corpus separatum directly from Budapest by an appointed governor, as Hungary's only international port. There was competition between Austria's Port of Trieste and Hungary's Port of Fiume. In the early 19th century, the prominent economical and cultural leader of the city was Andrija Ljudevit Adamić.
Fiume also had a significant naval base, and in the mid-19th century it became the site of the Austro-Hungarian Naval Academy (K.u.K. Marine-Akademie), where the Austro-Hungarian Navy trained its officers.
Giovanni de Ciotta (mayor from 1872 to 1896) proved to be an authoritative local political leader. Under his leadership, an impressive phase of expansion of the city started, marked by major port development, fuelled by the general expansion of international trade and the city's connection (1873) to the Hungarian and Austrian railway networks. Modern industrial and commercial enterprises such as the Royal Hungarian Sea Navigation Company "Adria", and the Papermill, situated in the Rječina canyon, producing cigarette paper, which became famous the world over, became trademarks of the city.
The second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (up to World War I) was a period of rapid economic growth and technological dynamism for Rijeka. The industrial development of the city included the first industrial scale oil refinery in Europe in 1882 and the first torpedo factory in the world in 1866, after Robert Whitehead, manager of the "Stabilimento Tecnico Fiumano" (an Austrian engineering company engaged in providing engines for the Austro-Hungarian Navy), designed and successfully tested the world's first torpedo.
Rijeka also became a pioneering centre for high-speed photography. The Austrian physicist dr. Peter Salcher working in Rijeka's Austro-Hungarian Marine Academy took the first photograph of a bullet flying at supersonic speed in 1886, devising a technique that was later used by Ernst Mach in his studies of supersonic motion.
Rijeka's port underwent tremendous development fueled by generous Hungarian investments, becoming the main maritime outlet for Hungary and the eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the fifth port in the Mediterranean, after Marseilles, Genova, Naples and Trieste. The population grew rapidly from only 21,000 in 1880 to 50,000 in 1910. A lot of major civic buildings went up during this time, including the Governor's Palace, designed by the Hungarian architect Alajos Hauszmann.
Apart from the rapid economic growth, the period encompassing the second half of the 19th century and up to World War I also saw a shift in the ethnic composition of the city. The Kingdom of Hungary, which administered the city during that period, favoured the Hungarian element in the city and encouraged immigration from all lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1910, there were 24,000 Italian speaking, and 13,000 Croat speaking inhabitants of Rijeka (in addition to the 6,500 Hungarians and several thousands of other nationalities, like Slovenians, Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Greeks).
The Italo-Yugoslav dispute and the Free State of Fiume
Habsburg-ruled Austria-Hungary's disintegration in the closing weeks of World War I in the fall of 1918 led to the establishment of rival Croatian-Serbian and Italian administrations in the city; both Italy and the founders of the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) claimed sovereignty based on their "irredentist" ("unredeemed") ethnic populations.
After a brief military occupation by the Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes, followed by the unilateral annexation of the former Corpus Separatum by the Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes, an international force of British, Italian, French and American troops entered the city (November 1918), while its future was discussed at the Paris Peace Conference during the course of 1919.
Italy based its claim on the fact that Italians were the largest single nationality within the city (65% of the total population). Croats made up most of the remainder and were also a majority in the surrounding area, including the neighbouring town of Sušak. Andrea Ossoinack, who had been the last delegate from Fiume to the Hungarian Parliament, was admitted to the conference as a representative of Fiume, and essentially supported the Italian claims. Despite these claims, in the city there was a strong and very active autonomist party, which also had its delegates at the Paris conference.
On 10 September 1919, the Treaty of Saint-Germain was signed declaring the Austro-Hungarian monarchy dissolved. Negotiations over the future of the city were interrupted two days later when a force of Italian nationalist irregulars led by the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio seized control of the city by force; d'Annunzio eventually established a state, the Italian Regency of Carnaro.
The resumption of Italy's premiership by the liberal Giovanni Giolitti in June 1920 signaled a hardening of official attitudes to d'Annunzio's coup. On 12 November, Italy and Yugoslavia concluded the Treaty of Rapallo, under which Rijeka was to be an independent state, the Free State of Fiume, under a government acceptable to both. d'Annunzio's response was characteristically flamboyant and of doubtful judgment: his declaration of war against Italy invited the bombardment by Italian royal forces which led to his surrender of the city at the end of the year, after five days' resistance (known as Bloody Christmas. Italian troops freed the city from d'annunzio's militias in January 1921. The subsequent democratic election brought the overwhelming victory of the autonomist party and the election of Rijeka's first president Riccardo Zanella, officially recognized and greeted by all major powers. Despite the creation of a constituent assembly for the new country did not put an end to strife within the city: a brief Italian nationalist seizure of power was ended by the intervention of an Italian royal commissioner, and a short-lived local Fascist takeover in March 1922 ended in a third Italian intervention. Seven months later Italy herself fell under Fascist rule and the fate of Rijeka was set, being the fascist party among the strongest proponents of the annexation of Rijeka to Italy.
Rijeka in World War II
At the beginning of World War II Rijeka immediately found itself in an awkward position. The city was overwhelmingly Italian, but its immediate surroundings and the city of Sušak, just across the Rječina river (today a suburb of Rijeka proper) were inhabited almost exclusively by Croatians and part of a potentially hostile power – Yugoslavia. Once the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, the Croatian areas surrounding the city were occupied by the Italian military, setting the stage for an intense and bloody insurgency which would last until the end of the war. Partisan activity included guerrilla-style attacks on isolated positions or supply columns, sabotage and killings of civilians believed to be connected to the Italian and (later) German authorities. This, in turn, was met by stiff reprisals from the Italian and German military. On 14 July 1942, in reprisal for the killing of 4 civilians of Italian origin by the Partisans, the Italian military killed 100 men from the suburban village of Podhum, resettling the remaining 800 people to concentration camps.
After the surrender of Italy to the Allies in September 1943, Rijeka and the surrounding territories were annexed by Germany, becoming part of the Adriatic Littoral Zone. The partisan activity continued and intensified. On 30 April 1944, in the nearby village of Lipa, German troops killed 263 civilians in reprisal for the killing of several soldiers during a partisan attack.
Because of its industries (oil refinery, torpedo factory, shipyards) and its port facilities, the city was also a target of frequent (more than 30) Anglo-American air attacks, which caused widespread destruction and many hundreds of civilian deaths. Some of the worst bombardments happened on 12 January 1944 (attack on the refinery, part of the Oil Campaign), on 3–6 November 1944, when a series of attacks resulted in at least 125 deaths and between 15 and 25 February 1945 (200 dead, 300 wounded).
The area of Rijeka was heavily fortified even before World War II (the remains of these fortifications can be seen today on the city outskirts). This was the fortified border between Italy and Yugoslavia which, at that time, cut across the city area and its surroundings. When Yugoslav troops started to approach the city in April 1945, one of the fiercest and largest battles in this area of Europe ensued. The 27000 German and additional Italian troops fought tenaciously from behind these fortifications (renamed "Ingridstellung" – Ingrid Line – by the Germans). Under the command of the German general Ludwig Kübler they inflicted many thousands of casualties on the attacking Yugoslav partisans, which were forced to charge uphill against well-fortified positions to the north and east of the city. Ultimately the Germans were forced to retreat. Before leaving the city, in an act of wanton destruction (World War II was almost over), the German troops destroyed the harbour area and other infrastructure with a number of huge explosive charges. However, the German attempt to break out of the partisan encirclement north-west of the city was unsuccessful. Of the approximately 27,000 German and other troops retreating from the city, 11,000 were killed (many were executed after surrendering), while the remaining 16,000 were taken prisoner. Yugoslav troops entered Rijeka on 3 May 1945. The city had suffered extensive damage in the war. The economic infrastructure was almost completely destroyed, and of the 5400 buildings in the city at the time, 2890 (53%) were either completely destroyed or heavily damaged.
Post World War II
The aftermath of the war saw the city's fate again resolved by a combination of force and diplomacy. This time the city of Rijeka became Yugoslav, a situation formalized by the Paris peace treaty between Italy and the wartime Allies on 10 February 1947. Once the change in sovereignty was formalized, 58,000 of the 66,000 Italian speakers were gradually costrained to exile (they became known in Italian as esuli or the exiled ones) or endure a harsh oppression by the new Yugoslav communist regime during the first decade of its existence, when the communist party adopted a stalinist approach to the local ethnic question. The discrimination and persecution many inhabitants experienced at the hands of the Yugoslav populace and officials in the last days of World War II and the first years of peace still remain painful memories for the exiled ones and somewhat of a taboo for Rijeka's political elites which still deny the happening. Summary executions of alleged fascists (often proven anti-fascists or apolitical), which was aimed at hitting the intellectual class, Italian public servants, military officials and even ordinary civilians (at least 650 Italians were executed immediately after the war), forced most ethnic Italians to leave Rijeka in order to avoid being a victim of harsher forms of ethnic cleansing. The removal was a meticoulosly-organized operation, aimed at convincing the hardly assimilable Italians to leave the country, as testified decades later by representatives' of the Yugoslav leadership.
Only one third of the original population (mostly Croats) remained in the city, and in the post-World War II period the city was resettled by many immigrants from various parts of Yugoslavia, changing the city demographics once again. A period of reconstruction began. During the period of the Yugoslav communist administration in the 1950s–1980s the city grew both demographically and economically, based on its traditional manufacturing industries, its maritime economy and its port, then the largest in Yugoslavia. However, many of these industries were mostly a product of a socialist planned economy and could not be sustained once the economy transitioned to a more market-oriented model in the early 1990s.
In 1991 the city once again changed hands, becoming part of Croatia, which broke off from Yugoslavia during the Croatian War of Independence. Since then, the city has somewhat stagnated both economically as well as demographically, with some of its largest industries and employers either going out of business (the Jugolinija shipping company, the torpedo factory, the paper mill and many other medium or small manufacturing and commercial companies) or struggling to stay economically viable (the city's landmark 3. Maj shipyards). A difficult and uncertain transition of the city's economy away from manufacturing and towards the service industry and tourism is still in progress.