Caroline, the Woman Who Saved Rijeka

Caroline, the Woman Who Saved Rijeka

Few cities in the world can say that one of the most important figures from their past was a lady.

Karolina Belinić (née Kranjec), better known as Karolina Riječka (Caroline of Rijeka), displayed such heroism that her fellow citizens felt strongly indebted to her, and the city still speaks of her with great pride to this day.

 

The legend of Caroline begins with the Napoleonic Wars, when the city was under French rule, and was in danger of being destroyed by the British. On 3 July 1813, a fleet of British ships appeared on the horizon near Rijeka. At first, locals saw nothing threatening in the sight; in fact, they watched the sailboats with great curiosity as they approached the city. However, once the first salvo of cannonballs from the heavily armed ships hit the city, the few soldiers that defended it soon fell silent, and 600 British soldiers descended upon the city

While the citizens, much like the remaining army, fled for their lives, the British began burning ships that were anchored in the Fiumara port. Suddenly, amid the flames and smoke that rose around the burning ships, the 22-year-old Karolina Belinić appeared.

A Single Lady is Worth More than a Hundred Cannons

Dressed in an elegant black dress with a deep neckline, she walked calmly and confidently, as if she was on a mission. She soon reached the British army, and asked them to let her speak to their commander. The story goes that the beautiful girl was soon taken to the admiral’s ship, where she used her charm and feminine wiles to convince the commanding officer of the British army that further destruction of the city was unnecessary.

 

On the other hand, historical documents show that Karolina was the daughter of Franjo Kranjec, a sea captain and merchant from Rijeka, who was – and this is important for the story – also the British Vice Consul to the Hungarian littoral region from 1797 to 1806, succeeded by his son Ignacije in the position later on.  It is believed that Karolina used the diplomatic relations as a bargaining chip to negotiate with the British and save Rijeka.

 

Her fellow citizens rewarded her for her bravery, and she was given recognition for her act of heroism from the city authorities in 1829. Today, a pier in the very centre of the port carries her name, while another reminder of her heroic mission is the cannonball lodged in the façade of St. Vitus Cathedral, with this interesting inscription: “This piece of fruit was sent by England when they tried to oust the Gauls from here.” Thanks to Caroline of Rijeka, this “fruit” was never again delivered to Rijeka.