Opatija

From its very earliest tourism, Opatija has been just that – pretty, casual, economic... the first lady.

And it should not have been called Opatija at all.

Today's name of Opatija was created through the mutual connection of a number of settlements located on the coast - Črnikovica, Volosko, Lipovica, Škrbić, Opatija and Vasanska. The oldest of these is surely Volosko. Volosko used to be the county seat – the lowest level, but nevertheless respected, within the state administration. As a county seat, Volosko not only became an important port, but also a pleasant blue collar destination for many at the time.

Opatija owes its name to a Benedictine abbey, „opatija“, located immediately on the shore. That little abbey was built at the beginning of 12th century, at the same time as other Benedictine monasteries in Istria and in the area of Kvarner. There are numerous witness accounts of the abbey from the very early stage and it is an interesting observation that it is labelled under many names in the written records: St Jacob on the Kvarner, ad Preluca, ad Palum, ad Stocken, de Rosacis...

The name „of roses“ indicates the rich vegetation around the monastery building. The abbey and the chapel next to it were renovated and expanded in 1506 during the time of Šimun the Abbot, as is related by a label on the doors of St. Jacob’s church. Even before that, as early as 1490, the Statute of the City of Kastav mentions St. Jacob's abbey in many places, there by the Abbey“. The Benedictine abbey was obviously in a vassal relationship to the city of Kastav and the Kastav feudal estate at the time. The statute expressly states the obligations of the abbot. The abbot every year owed the Captain and Kastav judges one measure of chestnuts, clearly indicating that they were present in the abbey estate, and on the day of the celebration of the patron saint of St. Jacob, on 25th of July, he was obliged to serve the guard of the City of Kastav, also guarding the monastery, with a measure of wine, a quarter of an ox and twelve „breads“.

Although small, the monastery of St. Jacob often changed masters, probably due to its good earnings. Many desired to own it. It was in the ownership of the Kastav feudal estate until 1522, when Emperor Ferdinand give it to Bishop Živković of Senj to exclusively administer the monastery and have all of the profits at his disposal. Three years later, that privilege was transferred to the Augustine monastery in Rijeka. The Augustines of Rijeka sold it in 1723 to a powerful Jesuit seminary in Rijeka and then, after the Jesuit order was disbanded at the end of 18th century, it belonged to the Collegial Capitollium of Rijeka.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Opatija was far from road connections since the main route from Rijeka up North, and to the South and West lead over Kastav and Mt. Učka, then further into Istria, i.e. through Lipa and Rupa into Trieste or Ljubljana. Finally in 1838 a road was built by the sea from Rijeka to Volosko. This finally opened this area up to the population of Rijeka and its guests from that direction, who can now all come to Volosko by coach, and then further on to Opatija.

In the mid 19th century, due to the decisive role steam ships played over sailing vessels, the importance of Volosko as an important trade port began to dwindle, but at the same time the town of Opatija began its rise as a vacation destination suitable for the tired population of the ever growing and noisy cities.

In 1844, Iginio Scarpa, the patrician of Rijeka, ordered the villa „Angiolina“ to be built in the vicinity as a summer house. That year is seen as the beginning of tourism in Opatija since the villa „Angiolina“ was visited by numerous partners and friends of the Scarpa couple from the very first and virtually from around the world.

At the end of the 19th century, the construction of the first hotel in Opatija– the Kvarner Hotel – began on the sizable lot spreading from the harbour of the time all the way to the St. Jacob chapel. At the same time, additional structures and buildings were erected, as well as access roads, walkways and promenades along the sea front and towards Mt. Učka, as well as a water supply and a large restaurant. From then on, Opatija has been a destination of the famous in both winter and summer.

A rowing regatta was held in Opatija at the end of the 19th century and, at that time, a section of the Austrian Yacht Club was established marking the beginning of nautical tourism. The rumours of this most beautiful small town on the Adriatic coast rapidly began to spread throughout Europe.

A few years later, Opatija is officially proclaimed a spa, initiating a new round of expansion. The town then receives an electric public lighting system and electricity from its own power station, while a donation from the Romanian royal couple allows the expansion of the walkway through the hills of Mt. Učka. Opatija greeted the new century with over 16 kilometres of forest and seven kilometres of sea routes leading to Lovran, which is unique worldwide.

The list of dignitaries and guests who were possessed by the charms of Opatija would be a long one. It has been attended by many crowned heads – the Austrian emperor Franz Josef, German and Swedish royal couples, the ruling pair from the duchy of Luxembourg, Romanian royalty, King Georg of Greece, Prince Villim Hohenzollern, the Bulgarian queen and many other princes, dukes, archdukes...

Opatija also attracted artists. Anton Pavlovich Chehov, the famous Russian writer, came here. The famous American ballerina Isadora Duncan happily pointed out in her memoirs that her unique shoulder dance movements were inspired by palms of Opatija, when watching the shimmering of the palm leaves in a gentle breeze.

The rise of Opatija was interrupted by World War One. Despite many initiatives, Opatija would never reach the level it once held as winter/summer holiday destination and spa until the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Through the Treaty in Rapall, it passed into the hands of the Kingdom of Italy and found itself on the very fringes of the country, thus its growth as tourist destination was marginalised.

After World War Two, tourism begins to come alive once again. Old hotel buildings were modernised – their interior looks were polished in accordance with the requirements of the new age. Through the launch of Thalassotherapy, which, in association with other hotels, began to offer the services of medical tourism, Opatija once again became a world famous tourist spot and spa. The rapid construction of luxurious hotels and tourist estates began to enrich the tourist offering with new models of tourism – nautical and business congress tourism. The doors of many hotels and camps are opened to all types of visitors and so Opatija began to be visited by tourists arriving from the farthest reaches of Europe and from overseas destinations throughout the year, accompanying all those traditionally in love with this area.