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Rich history of the Rijeka Port

Published on 02/02/2021 (last modified 12/02/2021)

Visit the MyPortHeritage virtual exhibition and learn about the historical development of Rijeka 

Rijeka largely owns its development to the evolution of its port, while the development of the port hinged upon several factors outside of the scope of influence of the city itself, such as political stability and road infrastructure. 

The development of the land transport system in the 18th century between Rijeka and the mainland played a key role in the development of the Rijeka Port. Until the First Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine during the second half of the 18th century, the port was mainly used to build wooden ships and docks in the workshops of caulkers, shipwrights and other manufacturers. The invention of the steam engine and the consequent burgeoning of new industries brought about major changes. Of particular significance is the arrival of the railway to the port, which spurred the shift from manual labour to industrial production.

For centuries, the Rijeka Port was a small, cramped terminal for small galleys, sailing ships and steamboats sailing on local routes. As it was somewhat curbed by Trieste, Pula, and even Mali Lošinj as hubs of naval power, few could have foreseen its transformation, namely from the second half of the 19th century onwards, into one of the mightiest ports in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, let alone the seat of many deep-sea shipping companies. 



The combined port complex of the Rijeka and Sušak basins, the Petroleum Port, the smaller Maritime Academy Port and the Torpedo factory managed to scale up the vision of the Austrian Emperor Charles VI and his successor, Maria Theresa, to hitherto unimaginable levels. The decade prior to World War One transformed the Rijeka Port into a link between the Adriatic, Mediterranean and Atlantic. For many travellers and emigrants, this port was much closer and more convenient than Trieste or other Italian and Western European ports. 
In 1892, the German shipbuilding company HowaldtsWerke built a shipyard that was destroyed in World War Two. However, the post-war period saw a rapid and thorough reconstruction, and the first motor ship built in the port, named “Zagreb”, sailed in 1949. The renovated shipyard, named “3. Maj” (Second May Shipyard), employed seven thousand workers, making it the largest company in Rijeka in the 1980s.

In the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to the continued economic growth, the Rijeka Port achieved the greatest economic growth in its history.
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