Port of Rijeka
Review and History

The Port of Rijeka is Croatia’s third largest city, its most important port, and its main commercial, industrial, and cultural center. Located on Kvarner Bay off the Adriatic Sea, the Port of Rijeka lies on a narrow strip of land between the Adriatic and the Julian Alps.

The port is an important naval base and commercial shipping center with rail connections to Zagreb, Ljubluana, and Trieste. The Port of Rijeka contains important shipyards, oil refineries, and a diesel-engine works where Englishman Robert Whitehead invented the torpedo in 1866. In 2001, the Port of Rijeka’s population was over 144 thousand, but the urban area was home to 270 thousand people.

Port History

Archaeological evidence suggests that there were Neolithic settlements in the area. In ancient times, the Celtic settlement of Tarsatica rested on the hill, and the natural harbor was occupied by the Liburni. Roman Emperor Augustus rebuilt the village in the 3rd Century AD.

In the 6th and 7th Centuries, Avars and Slavs began to settle there, and by the 10th Century, there was a significant settlement on the banks of the Rjecina River. From the 5th to 15th Centuries, the town was occupied by Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards, Franks, Croats, and Hungarians. In the late 13th Century, the Port of Rijeka exported wool, timber, leather and imported salt, oil, salted fish, and cereals.

The city was incorporated into Austria in 1471. The medieval city was a feudal stronghold surrounded by a city wall with a fort at the highest point in the city’s center.

In 1719, Emperor Karl VI made the Port of Rijeka a free port. Growth in maritime trade led the emperor to reduce tariffs on cargos and to create routes to the hinterlands. Over the remainder of the 18th Century, several roads were constructed to link the port with important cities in the Empire.

The Port of Rijeka was united with Croatia in 1776. In 1779, Empress Maria Teresa made it an autonomous city in the Hungarian kingdom, leading to increased growth and port development. At the time, Croatia was an autonomous district within Hungary, but the Port of Rijeka was Hungary’s international port, independent, and governed directly by Budapest. It was a rival to Austria’s Port of Trieste.

The Port of Rijeka’s modern development began in 1873 when it was connected by rail to the Hungarian and Austrian railway networks. In 1880, only 21 thousand people lived in the Port of Rijeka. In 1910, it was home to 50 thousand souls. Before the First World War, the Port of Rijeka was Europe’s 10th busiest port. However, the advent of the war brought difficult times to Rijeka.

After World War I when the Habsburg Empire fell, the Port of Rijeka was a major subject in peace talks. At first, it was made part of Yugoslavia, but it came under Italy’s rule in 1924 under Benito Mussolini when it lost its status as an autonomous city. The port waned under Italian rule, as trade with the hinterlands ceased. In 1918, the city was occupied by an international force while the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 decided its fate.

Italian nationalists seized the city late in 1919 and established the Italian Regency of Carnaro there. In 1920, the Treaty of Rapallo established the Port of Rijeka as an independent state under a government that was acceptable to both Yugoslavia and Italy, at least for a time. In 1921, Italian troops took the city over. In 1922, both Rijeka and Italy fell under Fascist control. In 1924, the Treaty of Rome gave the Port of Rijeka to Italy.

In 1943, Germany took the Port of Rijeka, and it suffered from intense air raids by the Allies. Yugoslavs liberated the Port of Rijeka in 1945, but the Germans had blown up many important structures. After World War II, intensive redevelopment efforts led to port facilities being constructed at Bar and Ploce to augment the facilities at the Port of Rijeka.

In 1947, the Paris Peace Treaty formalized Yugoslavian rule of the Port of Rijeka, and almost 90% of the city’s Italians fled the city. They had experienced great persecution by the Yugoslavs during the last days of the war, including executions of Italian military officials and public servants.

Today, the Port of Rijeka plays an important role for maritime traffic for Eastern Europe. Croatia has granted the Port special international and economic status. After a decade of civil strife and war, the Port of Rijeka has embarked on revitalization and modernization efforts with the support of the Croatian government. Both domestic and foreign investment has helped the efforts. Included in those efforts have been expansions so that the port can accommodate the world’s latest and largest cargo vessels and container ships.

In 1999, a joint project between the Croatian government, the Port of Rijeka authority, Croatian railroads, and others began regular services between the Port of Rijeka and hub ports in the Mediterranean region (e.g., Venice, Damietta, and Piraeus). Success at this project has led to further feeder projects and brought trade relationships with Egypt, Greece, and Far East nations. In addition to adding new handling equipment, the Port of Rijeka has fitted itself to handle increased container traffic.

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