The name Rijeka means "river" in Croatian. Rijeka is the principal seaport and the third largest city in Croatia. Historically, because of its strategic position and its excellent deep-water Port of Rijeka, the city was fiercely contested, especially among Italy, Hungary, and Croatia, changing hands and demographics many times over centuries.


Rječina, a river that flows through the city and continues into the Adriatic sea, has often, throughout history, been the border between different states. It is about 19 kilometers long, with an average width of 9–16 meters. It springs from the cave at a height of 325 meters above sea level, below the high cliff of Kičej hill. The most noticeable confluents are Sušica, Lužac, Zala, Zahumčica, Golubinka, Ričinica and Borovšćica, but they are dry for most of the year. Rječina flows through the canyon for almost half of her length. In Rijeka, the river branches into two parts: Mrtvi kanal (the old basin), and the new canal, which was built in the 19th century when Mrtvi kanal was used as a harbour.


Rijeka's economy largely depends on shipbuilding (shipyards "3. Maj" and "Viktor Lenac Shipyard") and maritime transport.


Parallel with its industrial growth, Rijeka transformed into the center of Western Croatia (Istria, the Croatian Coast and Gorski Kotar). The beginning of the 60s sees the emergence of new town quarters and the development of the suburbs. In short, towards the end of the 20th century, Rijeka is a thriving urban and industrial center, as well as the center of various growth initiatives vital to the overall development of the Republic of Croatia. Rijeka also became the seat of the newly founded Archdiocese and metropolis of Rijeka and Senj, as well as the seat of the University.