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A city of unobtrusive diversity and progressive ideas

A city that flows, port of diversity, Balthazar city, rainy city. Those are just a few of the nicknames Rijeka received during its many transformations. For some it might be just another port city, but it is much more than that. It is a city of unobtrusive diversity, a symbol of inclusivity and openness, situated between Mediterranean, Central European and Eastern European influence.

Author:  Špela Bizjak
Photo: Borko Vukosav

Rijeka, the center of the Primorsko-goranska municipality and the largest Croatian port, is a vibrant blend of the cold industry and the magnificent splendor of fine architecture with the influence of Austria, Hungary, Italy and Yugoslav modernism. It has developed its power of acceptance throughout its turbulent history. In the last 100 years, this city and the people have lived in seven different countries. The city kept its artistic spirit with an alternative touch. If other seaside towns in Croatia are represented as pearls of Adriatic and luxury tourism destinations, then Rijeka is a working-class port city which happens to be a birth city of the former Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

Welcome to Rijeka, the European Capital of Culture

On 1 February 2020 Rijeka will officially become the European Capital of Culture.

On 1 February, 2020 Rijeka will officially become the European Capital of Culture (ECOC) with a grand opening that will take place in the port of Rijeka, the city’s identity point. Preparations are in the final stages that included transforming former industrial complexes into art spaces and putting together a colorful and dynamic cultural arts program with over 600 individual events, with about 300 partner and associate organizations involved.

Rijeka 2020 making of promo video

The program of Rijeka’s ECOC project is based on the city’s four core values: courage, difference, progressiveness and ambition, and the topics are intertwined, creating a “port of diversity”. It has been developed within a framework that sets out three main themes: water, labor and migration that relate to the identity of Rijeka, but also current situation in the wider European environment. The city will use part of the finances it received from the EU funds to reconstruct the Galeb military vessel, which served as the floating residence of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito during his official trips abroad. The vessel will become the first Croatian museum ship, with plans to set up a permanent exhibition devoted to the role of Tito in the Non-Aligned Movement, that made Yugoslavia a significant political player on the global stage at that time. In 2020, two million tourists are expected to flock to the area of Primorje- Gorski Kotar. Things are starting to look a bit different in Rijeka indeed! 

Rijeka is also a European Best Destination nominee. There are 20 destinations in the competition – Madrid, Vienna, Paris, Prague, Rome being just a few Rijeka is competing with. You can vote for your favourite destination until February 5.

Former industrial complexes are being transformed into art spaces where colourful and dynamic cultural programs are put together

Rich architecture reflects rich history

Rijeka, or Fiume in Italian, has a rich history due to its strategic location. To this day, it remains one of the most important and biggest ports in Croatia. With the population of around 150,000, Rijeka is the third largest city in Croatia, handling millions of tons of cargo and 250,000 passengers per year. Rijeka’s harbor is a popular meeting point for friends going for a drink in one of many bars along the promenade. Rijeka is a city of incredible history, having been a part of seven different countries. This is noticeable in the architecture and in the way of life of Rijeka inhabitants. Due to the industrial look and the port city atmosphere, it was the inspiration for Professor Balthazar’s animated film series, the most psychedelic cartoon for children created by animator Zlatko Grgić. 

Ctiy is a vibrant blend of the cold industry and the magnificent splendour of fine architecture influenced by Austria, Hungary, Italy and Yugoslav modernism

Photo gallery

Best views are free

Trsat is a place to go and enjoy the best panoramic views of Rijeka. Located above the city, it is accessible by walking up the 561 stone stairs. Petar Kružić built the staircase for pilgrims as they walked to the Church of Our Lady of Trsat. The church is one of the oldest in Croatia and was visited by Pope John Paul II in 2003. In his memory there is his statue in front of the church entrance. An indispensable part of the Shrine of Our Lady of Trsat is the Chapel of Vows. Trsat sanctuary has received thousands of gifts by pilgrims as a symbol of gratitude for all their answered prayers or miraculous healings. Many seafarers also left a gift there as a thankyou note or a good-luck before they headed on a long sea journey. These gifts are collected in a special chapel and are decorating all the walls and every corner of the chapel. 

Molo Longo - Rijeka's longest pier

A city made for young people

Besides the sights that will take you back to the past, Trsat has also its younger part in every sense of the word. Nearby there is a new University campus which became a gathering place for students where they gain valuable knowledge and where their life path is just getting started.

Photo: Unsplash

A high number of young people it makes Rijeka one of the liveliest cities and it offers a great nightlife. This rebellious city has a reputation of a rich nightlife scene and supposed to be the most alternative (rock) city in Croatia, where many musicians performed their music for the first time.

When asking people why you like Rijeka many will not have a direct answer to this. It is just “something special” in this city. Iva Matić agrees with this. She runs journalism workshops at the Youth Club (Klub mladih) and thanks to that workshops an idea of an independent newspaper RiPort came up and was brought to life. She likes everything about Rijeka. “Since Rijeka is a harbor, there are diverse people living in the city, they are more open minded and that’s the beauty of it. Here I feel “at home”. I also like Zagreb but Rijeka is somehow special, it has some magic”, believes Iva.

Once a year Rijeka carnival takes the lead

The Rijeka Carnival is one of the oldest and largest cultural manifestations in the surrounding area and is one of the largest carnivals in the world. This year it will take place from January 17 until February 26 and will present an introduction to the Rijeka 2020 – the European Capital of Culture. Every year thousands of people dress up in creative masks, march the city streets. And compete for the most original, witted, and colorful masks title. The big parade is like a reunion of traditional and urban carnival and always strives to reflect the current social and political events. During carnival period the city is basking in colorful decorations. The organisers say it is difficult to describe the carnival in words or fully capture it in photos or television broadcasts. It must be lived and experienced!

Stairs with a portrait of Josip Pičman, innovative Croatian architect
Adriatic Journal


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