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The third largest city in Croatia, also known by its Italian name of Fiume until becoming part of Yugoslavia in 1945. Both names, in fact, mean 'river', and refer to the straggly Rijeka svetog Vida that would mark the city's partition between Italy and Yugoslavia between the world wars. On the very east of the Istrian peninsula, Rijeka commands the Gulf of Kvarner near the top of the Adriatic Sea, and is now served by an airport on the nearby island of Krk.

Rijeka's development as a port stems from 1766 when it was put under Hungarian jurisdiction by the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa. Her father Charles VI had chosen Trieste ahead of Rijeka as the principal Austro-Hungarian port, in a conscious attempt to compete with a declining Venice. Previously, Trsat Castle, high above the city, had formed part of the Habsburg coastal defences against Venice, the Ottoman Empire and assorted Adriatic corsairs, but fell into disrepair until restored by an Irish-born Austrian general with a passion for archaeology on the side.

Rijeka became disputed between Hungary and Croatia, then an autonomous kingdom within Hungary, when its status had to be negotiated as part of the Ausgleich, or Compromise, which established the system of dualism between Austria and Hungary.

According to a possibly apocryphal tale, the Croatian text of the Nagodba, Hungary's own Compromise with Croatia, stated that it had not been possible to come to any agreement. A particularly sly Magyar then pasted on their own version (the so-called 'Rijeka patch') before it was delivered to Emperor Franz Joseph. Italian immigration into Rijeka was then encouraged to dilute the Slav population.

Rijeka was the site (along with Zadar) of the 1905 declaration to form the Croat-Serb Coalition, the first party belonging to more than one branch of the southern Slavs. This step towards Yugoslavian unification was ultimately of little help at the conference table in Paris: under pressure from nationalists to reclaim the full extent of Italia Irredenta, the Italian delegates Vittorio Orlando and Sidney Sonnino went beyond the extensive promises the Entente had made to Italy in the Treaty of London to induce her to enter the war and staked their claim to Rijeka as well.

In fact, as soon as the armistice had been signed, Italian troops had occupied Istria, one of their Treaty of London claims, and turned a blind eye to the occupation of Rijeka by the maverick poet and aviator Gabriele D'Annunzio. D'Annunzio stormed into Rijeka with three thousand black-shirted arditi, Italian shock troops, and declared himself dictator of the Republic of Fiume on September 12, 1919, to the embarrassment even of the Italian government.

During D'Annunzio's two-year regime, he would experiment with much of the civic ritual that later characterised the style of Benito Mussolini. Appearing on the balcony of the Governor's Palace, his official residence where he supposedly liked to have his four-poster bed strewn with red, white and pink roses, the citizens of Rijeka were expected to raise the Fascist salute and hail him as il Duce. Rijeka's status was not decided until 1924, when it was assigned to Italy, Yugoslavia having to develop Šibenik as her main outlet to the Adriatic.

In Tito's Yugoslavia, Rijeka was again a port and a shipbuilding centre, although eclipsed by Trieste and Koper during the 1990s as a result of the wars of the Yugoslavian succession. Under the first Croatian president Franjo Tudjman - liberator of Croatia or dictatorial nationalist, depending on whose newspapers you read - Rijeka was renowned as a centre of opposition, and its own newspaper Novi list one of the few remaining independent media.

It is probably the only city in Croatia where one is likely to see a gay rights billboard next to an advertisement for the country's leading nationalist rock star.

Just as typically rijecki, perhaps, is the clock tower in the middle of Rijeka's main shopping street, the Korzo (a pastel-coloured concourse in true Austrian style), which still displays the Habsburg emblem of the crowned double eagle, three changes of sovereignty later. Unfortunately, one has Titoism to thank for the giant shopping centre immediately opposite, masquerading as a Leicester Square multiplex to a casual observer.

Another of the city's landmarks, St. Vitus Cathedral, appears on the 100 kuna banknote. Drivers on the last bus from Rijeka to Opatija on a Saturday night are not as happy to see these as one might think.

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