Rijeka: The City and Harbour

Rijeka is the third-largest city in Croatia (after Zagreb and Split) and is a part of the larger Kvarner Gulf of the Adriatic Sea. It was once Hungary’s only international port when it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War I, Italian nationalists took control of the city, creating the free state of Fiume (the Italian name for the city being Fiume). Italian control in various forms lasted until World War II, where it became a part of Yugoslavia. Once the change in sovereignty was formalized, 58,000 of the 66,000 Italian speakers emigrated (known in Italian as esuli or exiles) to avoid oppression by the new Yugoslav regime. There are still remnants of the Italian influence including the use of a dialect of the Venetian language, Fiumano. Since Croatia became independent in 1991, the city has stagnated economically.

We chose to go here because it was easiest city to reach on the Adriatic Sea (in comparison to the more famous Split and Dubrovnik). On Saturday morning, we caught an early train to Rijeka from Zagreb, arriving in the city around noon. The four-hour journey took us through the countryside and national forest, with views of the ocean in the last hour. Our Airbnb host picked us up at the station and took us to our apartment, a nice touch as it was raining.

Day One

After dropping our stuff at the Airbnb, we researched places to eat. We ended up getting lunch a short walk away at Placa 51, a restaurant located on the edge of Rijeka’s harbour. We ordered two local specialties, my choice being pasta with chicken and vegetables in a turmeric sauce while Michael ordered octopus in the oven with vegetables.

The pasta, vegetables, and chicken in a turmeric sauce.
A pan of octopus and vegetables, straight from the oven.
A sculpture from the restaurant next door.

After lunch, we decided to explore the nearby harbour, a popular place for dog-walkers and runners. The water around the harbour was incredibly clear, letting us get a good look at the many different fish.

Three boats tied up at the Rijeka Harbour.
A shipping container decorated with a cityscape mural.

After finishing at the harbour, we went back into the city centre to run some errands, including buying post cards, before heading back to the Airbnb where we made dinner and spent the night in.

Day Two

The next day we decided to walk up to the Trsat Castle, which will be covered in the next blog post. After that adventure, we decided to walk a little more around the city, and found the Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc (Hrvatsko narodno kazalište Ivana pl. Zajca).

This national theatre was opened in October 1885, with ornamental work contributed by the Venetian sculptor August Bevenuti and ceiling paintings by the Austrian artist Franz Matsch in cooperation with Ernst and Gustav Klimt. For the opening, two operas were prepared: Verdi’s “Aida” and Ponchielli’s “Gioconda”. The first performance of a work in Croatian took place in 1946; it was Ivan Gundulić’s “Dubravka”. In 1953, it was named after a citizen of Rijeka, the composer Ivan Zajc (1832-1914), and in the 1990s, it became a national theatre.

A view of the Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc.

Unfortunately, immediately after taking in the building, clouds came in and a drizzle began which quickly turned into a downpour. We walked quickly back to the Airbnb, but we both ended up drenched so we decided to spend the rest of the day and night in, using up the rest of the pasta and butter in the apartment.

Day Three

For our last day in the city, we took all our luggage and just walked around until it was time to head to the train station. We began our day of exploring on the familiar main shopping street, Korzo. On one end is a sculpture of a walking man that was gifted to the city in 2010. Titled Hodač, it was made by Ivan Kožarić to represent the universality of walkers. Born in 1921, the sculptor has shown at around 60 independent and 200 collective exhibitions.

The sculpture Hodač, located in front of a bookshop on Korzo.

In a different part of the town, the Ivan Kobler Square, we found an interesting, modern looking fountain. Built in 1974 for the 150th anniversary of Rijeka’s Paper Factory, the oldest in this part of Europe, the local architect Igor Emili used paper press equipment from the factory in his design.

The fountain in Ivan Kobler Square featuring paper press equipment.

Rijeka provided a good contrast of new sculptures and fountains with crumbling apartment blocks and ancient arches. The Old Gateway, or Roman Arch, shown in this image was representative of the entrance to the center of the command compound of the Roman Tarsatica, an ancient town on whose ruins medieval Rijeka was built.

An alleyway featuring crumbling plaster and a Roman arch at the end.

Directly across from the Old Gateway were two examples of street art.

A fading poster found on the side of a building.
A decorated wall in one of the many hidden squares.

On the edge of the city center, at the other end of Korzo, was a small fountain and garden that was presented to the city in 1988 by the Japanese city of Kawasaki as a symbol of their friendship. The centerpiece of the fountain is a sculpture of two children and a bird.

The Kawasaki fountain symbolizing friendship.

We decided soon after seeing the fountain to get a late lunch/early dinner. We stopped at an English Pub and ordered some coffee in addition to a hamburger and a local potato dish.

A potato dish with vegetables and an avocado sauce.

From where we were sitting, we could see some murals on a building across the canal. After eating, we headed over there to take pictures. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information on the works or artists

A faded mural of a boy ‘s face.
An abstract human figure speaking in English.
A framed mural of a horse.
Another animal, this time a cow, as portrayed in a painting.

After taking in the wall of art, we decided it was probably time to begin our walk to the train station as we didn’t know how long it would take. On the way we came across the beautiful Capuchin Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. Designed by Giovanni Maria Curet and Cornelio Budinich, construction lasted from 1904 until 1929. It was built as a double neo-Gothic basilica with artwork in the Lombard-style, the church’s facades decorated by the Venetian sculptor Urbano Bottasso and Rijeka’s carver Antonio Marietti.

The outside of the Capuchin Church of Our Lady of Lourdes.

We reached the train station not long after our stop at the church and hung out until our train arrived. With an 8pm departure, we arrived in Salzburg at 4am and promptly went home to get the sleep we could before school that day. It was overall a relaxing Easter Weekend, though I wish we would have had more time in Zagreb and less horrible train times.




2 thoughts on “Rijeka: The City and Harbour

  1. I found it interesting to be reminded of the many changes in present-day Croatia’s nationhood – Roman, Austro-Hungarian, Italian, Yugoslavian, and now Croatian. Borders in Eastern Europe have morphed and been re-delineated time and time again over the centuries. Your exploration of Rijeka is an eclectic one as you point out in the contrasting modern and ancient features. Michael was an adventurous eater to try the octopus dish. Your pasta and chicken dish looks much more appealing to me. I enjoyed your photos of the many murals and the sculptures. I look forward to reading about your visit to Trast Castle.


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