The city of Rijeka (known as Fiume in Italian) is the county seat and commercial center of Primorsko-goranska županija (Primorje-Gorski Kotar County) and the third-largest city in Croatia. The area has remnants of ancient castles, and it is said that the residential center, located by the sea in the present-day Old Town, was moved there by the Romans. You can see a Roman gate and ruins near the main pedestrian and shopping street, Korzo.
The first written records of Luka Rijeka (the Port of Rijeka) date from 1281. It was the main port of the Kingdom of Hungary, Yugoslavia, and today, Croatia. Rijeka has always been prized by its European neighbors for its strategic position as the European mainland’s northernmost Mediterranean deepwater port. Because of this prime location, it has seen a tumultuous history and interchange of rulers.
Rijeka is worth a visit for its many museums and wealth of ornate Hungarian and Italian architecture, which stand in contrast against plain-clothes residential towers from the Yugoslav period. The 1638 Katedrala Svetog Vida (Cathedral of St. Vitus, patron saint of Rijeka) is a Baroque Rotunda in the heart of the city. The 1885 Hrvatsko narodno kazalište Zajca (Croatian National Theater Zajc) was built by Austria-Hungary and is part of a two-century legacy of performing arts in Rijeka. On the hill overlooking the city center, the 13th-century Gradina Trsat (Trsat Castle) was built by the Croatian noble family, the Frankopans, on the site of an ancient Illyrian and Roman fortress. Nearby church Gospa Trsatska (Our Lady of Trsat) was built to commemorate the legend of Mary’s house, which was said to have been moved to the site from Nazareth in May of 1291 by angels; the house later disappeared and was found in Loreto, Italy, where it stands today. Over the centuries the church was enlarged to become a Baroque cathedral, and was even visited by the pope.
Today, Rijeka handles most of Croatia’s imports and exports, as well as passengers to the coastline and islands. There is an extensive bus terminal near the port and an airport on the nearby island of Krk. However, it pays to ask a local for tips on getting around—transportation can be a challenge, with poor rail service and bus and ferry schedules that change or stop altogether depending on the season.
Although small by global standards, Rijeka is nonetheless a gateway for products and outside influences, so open attitudes in culture and design can be found living side by side with old traditions. Rijeka has the honor of being named a European Capital of Culture for 2020, alongside Galway, Ireland; it is the first in Croatia since the EU began the program in 1985. But by far the biggest event of the year is the International Karneval Parade, when Korzo explodes with a full day of music and celebration, culminating with the evening arrival of the otherworldly Halubje Zvončari (bell-ringers with animal heads), and the burning of the human-like pust to purge the sins of the year—you’ll just have to experience it to believe it!
Rijeka is home to incredible artisans, both creative and traditional. We’re happy to carry some of their products.