History and natural beauty
The oldest traces of human existence in today’s Rijeka area date back to the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods, and the remains of the prehistoric castles (Solin above Martinšćica, Trsatski brijeg and Veli vrh – Gradišće above the Rječina River) to the Bronze and Iron Ages. These kinds of settlements dominated over Rijeka’s Bay and protected the port even during the period when the Ilyrians (Liburnians) lived here.
The Romans moved the residential centre closer to the sea, on the right of the Rječina confluence with the Adriatic, on the site of the present Old city. Numerous archaeological finds (the foundations of the Roman walls, the walls of buildings, the remains of the Roman baths, Roman doors) are proof of the urban level of Roman Tarsatica. This location on the gentle slope, with its narrow shore zone, abundant sources of fresh water and sheltered bay and with a natural characteristic of a port, this city had all the predispositions to develop into an important port and commercial city.
Flumen Sancti Viti – Rijeka of St. Vitus
This stimulated the newly arrived Slavic settlers – the Croats – to conquer Tarsatica and to start to form a new settlement. The first original news about the medieval settlement dates back to the first half of 13th century when two settlements appear in historical sources: TRSAT, on the hill on the left bank of the Rječina River on the site of the Liburnian settlement TARSATA and RIJEKA, on the shore, on the site of the Roman TARSATIKA. This Rijeka was a small, fortified town, compact inside its walls with several defence towers, divided into two parts: in the upper part is the medieval castle and St. Vitus church (which is where the name Flumen Sancti Viti came from), and the lower popular, commercial and crafts settlement whose inhabitants called it Rika or Rijeka.
Both at the beginning and at the end of 14th century, Rijeka was ruled by Devin noblemen, princes of Krk (later the Frankopans), then by the Walsee family and, since 1466, by the Habsburg family. During that period Rijeka had around 3000 inhabitants.
The considerable economic development began in 16th century, thanks to the trade of iron, oil, wood, wool, cattle and leather.
In 16th century, there was even a printing house in the town operates which printed books in the Croatian - Glagolitic alphabet.
At that time, the settlement on the left bank of the Rječina River, below Trsat did not yet exist (Sušak). That settlement was only formed in 18th century.
The golden period of Rijeka’s commerce suddenly weakened during the second half of 15th century.
Frequent Ottoman attacks interrupted the traffic routes, together with the wars of claimants for the Hungarian throne and the eternal conflicts between the Uskoci and the Venetians. War began to calm down in the second half of 17th century.
The arrival of the Jesuits in Rijeka and the foundation of their high school significantly developed education and cultural life and strengthened the Roman influence to the cost of the Croatian language and the Glagolitic alphabet. Rijeka's economy began to achieve a significant advantage in 18th century. That is when the emperor, Charles VI, proclaimed Rijeka a free port, but the soon-to-be strengthened Hungary, as a part of the Habsburg Monarchy, began to see Rijeka as its exit to the world.
In the passage from 18th to 19th century, Rijeka was under French administration and then under Austria again.
The turbulent 20th century
During the civil revolution in 1848, the city was included in Banovina, and the banus, Josip Jelačić became governor of Rijeka. The fight for Rijeka between Croatia and Hungary was intensifying and with the Croatian-Hungarian settlement from 1868, the so called “Riječka krpica” determined a tentative solution according to which Rijeka came under direct Hungarian rule. It rapidly developed it in its largest maritime and port emporium.
After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918, Rijeka and Sušak became part of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs whose headquarters were located in Zagreb, but it was soon occupied by the Kingdom of Italy.
With regard to the fact that Italy was not interested in Rijeka earlier, leaving it to Croatia, a passage period set in: After D’Annunzio’s occupation in 1919 and the Free State of Rijeka in 1920, in 1924 it fell into the hands of Italy. Rijeka was falling rapidly with regard to the economy and became a suburb town. Sušak was included in the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs whose headquarters were in Belgrade and it rapidly broadened leaning on the wider hinterland.
Besides nearby Istria, Rijeka was the first place in the world to offer resistance to fascism and was, in the Second World War, part of the anti-fascism front-line.
After Italian capitulation in 1943, Rijeka and Sušak were occupied by the Germans who held it until 3rd May 1945 when they were freed.
According to conclusions of the Paris Peace Conference in 1947, Rijeka was again returned to its parent country, Croatia as part of Yugoslavia. In 1948, the cities of Rijeka and Sušak were joined in the city of Rijeka, which developed rapidly in a number of districts.
After reconstruction, Rijeka took on the function of the main port in socialist Yugoslavia. Amongst its industrial structures, traditional Rijeka industries were reconstructed: ship building, the paper factory, the oil refinery, the production of ship devices and motors, cookery, the clothing industry, hydroelectric power plants as well as thermal power plants. Apart from the shipping companies, the confluence of five main roads heading towards Zagreb, Ljubljana, Trieste, Pula and Zadar and the railroad ensured Rijeka a development of the tertiary sector.
This expansive social and economic development increased the number of inhabitants as well. Today, Rijeka together with its suburbs has around 200,000 inhabitants. At the same time as the industrial development, Rijeka became the centre of western Croatia (Istria, the Croatian Littoral and Gorski kotar (mountain area)). Since the beginning of 1960s new city areas have been built, and have strengthened the suburban settlements.
Briefly, at the end of 20th century Rijeka was a developed urban and industrial centre as well as a centre for numerous developing initiatives that played an important role in the total development of the Republic of Croatia. It became the centre of the newly founded Rijeka and Senj archdiocese as well as the centre of the metropolis and universities.
Croatian ambitions for a rapid approach to the democratic and liberal western world’s views brought about some radical changes in the state and social system. 1991. Croatia became an independent and sovereign country and the Yugoslav and Serbian aggression was both directly and indirectly present in the city, although Rijeka missed the armed conflicts as part of the Croatian War for Independence. Consequences of the war were the stagnation of the economy, whilst manufacturing was diverted to the war effort and to help in supplying the battle areas throughout Croatia.
Many Rijeka volunteers fought on Croatian battle fields. Rijeka accommodated and took care of numerous exiles from other parts of Croatia. Democratic changes and a turn towards the market economy led to significant changes – political party life blossomed, investment of private capital began in the development of the economy, the transition of public assets was in progress which resulted in rise in unemployment and Rijeka became the centre of Primorje and Gorski kotar County.
The war stimulated spiritual resistance against aggression; numerous valuable scientific and cultural goods have been created, as well as numerous sporting achievements. Of course, those that died can never be replaced, but life goes on as it did over the last hundred years.