The magnificent Rijeka fish market

In Rijeka, the Kvarner region’s largest city, a stroll along the Corso is a lovely way to get to know this lively city, its Old Town, and Trsat castle atop a 138-meter-high hill. However, the Velika placa (Big Market), as the locals call their central market, is undoubtedly one of the most popular spots. The ornate hall displays a vast selection of meat, fish and seafood sold by extremely friendly and talkative traders. The tasty local products are definitely mood-boosters — since the 19th century, the people of Rijeka have chosen the Big Market as the best place to dine.

The history of the market begins over 300 years ago, at about the same time Rijeka was proclaimed a free royal port. The market developed near the wooden pier, where the local fishermen used to unload their catch and take it in baskets to the market to sell.

As part of a project by Izidor Vauching, the director of Rijeka’s Office for Architecture, the construction of two pavilions began in 1880 next to the fish market. This is how other vendors found themselves with a roof over their heads. All of the buildings were constructed on a new seaside area created on a landfill. Over time, the city decided to build a new fish market, and the architect Carlo Pergoli completed its construction in 1916. The decoration in stone is the work of famous Venice sculptor Urbano Bottasso, who designed a timeless and impressive building for the fish market, with capitals and rich ornamentation on the outer façade and inside, fountains and tables made of warm grey Istrian stone for selling fish.

The best way to experience all the interior architectural grandeur and impressive views of the seafood spread out on tables is from the upper gallery, reached via the back entrance. This unique fish market is one of the most beautiful in Croatia. The fish pavilion was twice used as a venue for cultural events: the opening and closing ceremonies for Rijeka as European Capital of Culture 2020. Few know that this dynamic performance, metaphorically situated close to the Ivan Zajc Croatian National Theatre, took place where people could once have literally lost the ground under their feet, as the sea covered the whole area at one time.

Pavel Mrkus, a Czech artist, installed the audio–video installation The Masters in the Rijeka fish market on the internal balconies of the building as part of the Lungomare art program during Rijeka’s year as European capital of culture in 2020. It consists of projected digital images and sound composition forming a story that flows above the heads of the sellers and buyers, imitating the waves of the nearby sea. The Masters gives a precious glimpse into the experience, skills and everyday life of the masters of the sea: the local fishermen. It pays homage to people rarely seen yet who are to be thanked for keeping a steady supply of fish on Croatian tables.

For those who believe that love goes through the stomach, then Velika placa (Big Market), as Rijeka’s citizens call their central market, is the right place for you!

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