Rijeka (Fiume in Italian and Hungarian, Reka in Slovene; R(ij)eka and Fiume both mean river) is the principal seaport of Croatia, located on the Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic Sea. It has 144,043 inhabitants (2001) and it is the third largest city of Croatia.
Founded during or before the time of the Roman Empire, the town came under successive Frankish, Croatian and Hungarian rule before coming under the control of the Austrian Habsburgs during the 15th century.
Created a free port in 1723, Fiume passed during the 18th and 19th centuries between the Habsburgs' Austrian, Croatian, and Hungarian possessions until its attachment to the latter kingdom for the third and last time in 1870. Although Croatia had a constitutional autonomy within Hungary, the City of Fiume was independent, governed directly from Budapest (by an appointed governor), as Hungary's only international port. There was a competition between Austria's Port of Trieste and Hungary's Port of Fiume.
Major port development, the general expansion of international trade and the city's connection (1873) to the Hungarian and Austrian railway networks contributed to rapid population growth from 21,000 in 1880 to 50,000 in 1910. Lot of major building of the city was built at that time, including the Governor's Palace by the Hungarian architect Alajos Hauszmann. The future mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia, lived in the city at the turn of the 20th century, and reportedly even played football for the local sports club.
Habsburg-ruled Austria-Hungary's defeat and disintegration in the closing weeks of World War I led to the establishment of rival Italian and Croatian administrations in the city as both Italy and the founders of the new Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia) claimed sovereignty over it.
After a brief Italian occupation, an international force of French, British and United States troops occupied the city (November 1918) while its future was discussed at the Paris Peace Conference during the course of 1919.
Italy based her claim on the fact that Italians were the largest single nationality within the city. Croats made up most of the remainder, and were also a majority in the surrounding area, including the neighbouring town of Sušak. Negotiations were rudely interrupted by the city's seizure on September 12, 1919 by a force of Italian nationalist irregulars led by the writer Gabriele d'Annunzio, who established a state (the "Italian Regency of Carnaro"). This happened just two days after the Treaty of Saint-Germain was signed that declared the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy dissolved.
The resumption of Italy's premiership by the Liberal Giovanni Giolitti in June 1920 signalled a hardening of official attitudes to d'Annunzio's coup. On November 12, Italy and Yugoslavia concluded the Treaty of Rapallo, under which Fiume was to be an independent state under a regime acceptable to both.
D'Annunzio's response was characteristically flamboyant and of doubtful judgment: his declaration of war against Italy invited the bombardment by Italian royal forces which led to his surrender of the city at the end of the year. Italian troops took over in January 1921. The election of an autonomist-led constituent assembly for the territory did not put an end to strife: a brief Italian nationalist seizure of power was ended by the intervention of an Italian royal commissioner, and a short-lived local Fascist takeover in March 1922 ended in a third Italian military occupation. Seven months later Italy herself fell under Fascist rule.
A period of diplomatic acrimony closed with the Treaty of Rome (January 27, 1924), which assigned Fiume to Italy and Sušak to Yugoslavia, with joint port administration. Formal Italian annexation (March 16, 1924) inaugurated twenty years of Fascist rule, followed by twenty months of German military occupation.
The aftermath of World War II saw the city's fate again resolved by a combination of force and diplomacy. This time, Yugoslav troops advanced (early May 1945) as far west as Trieste in their campaign against the German occupiers of both countries: Fiume finally became the Croatian (and until June 1991, Yugoslav) city of Rijeka, a situation formalised by the Paris peace treaty between Italy and the wartime Allies on February 10, 1947. Most of the Italian-speaking minority flew (Esuli) under the threat of the Tito regime. A great part of it, spoiled, suffered also injuries and even deaths.