Place Branding and the Heritage of the Austrian Riviera in Croatia

The Place Branding Challenge

The globally competitive environment in which we live today makes it important for places, no matter their size or composition, to clearly differentiate themselves and to convey why they are relevant and valued options for tourists, investors and residents. Undoubtedly, places have always competed with each other, but today, following economic and cultural globalisation and collective mobility of talents and capital, the competitive environment is increasingly fierce.

Today place branding is more important than ever, and a powerful place brand strategy can mean the difference between stumbling and success, between economic growth and stagnation. Especially for attracting tourism, it is important to target the place branding strategy towards the intended geographical and cultural target markets.

clip_image002When looking into the future of Istria (and Kvarner) in northern Croatia with the viewpoint of place branding, the Austrian Riviera heritage should be considered. A revival of the ‘’Golden age’’ ambiance can be established through well planned actions, using the heritage of the Littoral as a memory of the space.

Many projects are currently being planned for this region, and some of them are already using these guidelines as their basis. Especially when targeting to attract tourism from Central Europe, this is very important. With this article I want to present the background to the Austrian Riviera and introduce some ideas on how the glamour of the past can be revitalised.

Architecture in Croatia reflects influences of bordering nations. Austrian and Hungarian influence is visible in public spaces and buildings in the north and in the central regions. Large squares named after culture heroes, well-groomed parks, and pedestrian-only zones, are features of these orderly towns and cities. In the Austrian countries at the beginning of 19th century (to which Croatia belonged in that period), building in Classicist Manner prevailed.

Present-day parts of Croatia were located within the boundaries of Austro-Hungarian Empire as a part of these three governing areas when it dissolved:

  • Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia as a part Translethania (Kingdom of Hungary),
  • Kingdom of Dalmatia and Austrian Littoral both as a part of Cislethania (Empire of Austria)

The Austrian Riviera

The Austrian Riviera (Croatian – Austrijska rivijera) is a description for the coastal strip of former Austrian Littoral, a Habsburg crown land which until 1919 stretched along the north-eastern Adriatic Coast.

Austrian Littoral Province was established as a crown land of the Austrian Empire in 1849. It consisted of three regions: the Istria peninsula, Gorizia and Gradišća, and the city of Trieste. Istria was divided into Croatian districts Krk, Lošinj, Poreč, Pazin, Pula and Volosko and Slovenian Koper.

The Austrian Riviera covered coastal areas south of the port city of Trieste, all the way to the Kvarner region in Croatia. In 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars, the coastal villages became part of the new Austrian Empire and the completion of the South railway (Vienna–Trieste) in 1857 not only helped to further develop trade between the two cities but also brought Viennese upper class society to the mild winters of the Littoral. The railway had substantial influence in developing tourism along the surrounding Adriatic coasts.

clip_image004Pictured: Hotel Kvarner in Opatija

The most famous coastal resorts from that period in the Croatian area were in Poreč, Rovinj, Opatija, Lovran and Mali Lošinj. Several luxury hotels were built during this era, like Hotel Kvarner in Opatija in 1884, soon after a railway link was established between Vienna and Opatija in 1873.

Eastern shore of Kvarner Gulf was then under administration of Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary with additional resorts developing, like Kraljevica, Crikvenica and Novi Vinodolski.

In 1850, the Croatian island Lošinj became a summer residence of the Habsburg Imperial family. In 1883, the beach resort on Brijuni Islands was set up, and in 1904 the Austrian Riviera Journal was first published in Pula.

This period is sometimes also called ‘’Golden Age of the Austro-Hungarian period’’. The strong aesthetic appeal of the region has attracted visitors and many artists came to recharge their batteries. The relative closeness for the Austro-Hungarian guests, good rail connections to the cities of the Austro-Hungarian area all contributed to success and tourism development. The coast presents a charming landscape and a year-round mild climate, and Istria became a symbol of a time, a place for pleasure, relaxation and inspiration.

The perception of why this period was so prosperous is:

  • Construction of the railway all the way to Opatija, building around accommodation facilities that were invested by the “South railway“ company from Vienna.
  • The synergy of the public and private sector who were working in the same direction.
  • Organized programs for entertainment for the aristocracy in their own special way, hidden from the public eye through private parties. For the average person there was cabaret, sports, tennis, folk festivals etc.

clip_image006Pictured: Austro-Hungarian dreadnoughts at Pula

Besides from the tourism, the region was also significant for its ports, namely Pula. Under Austrian rule, Pula regained prosperity. Its large natural harbour became Austria’s main naval base and a major shipbuilding centre.

In conclusion, it is apparent that influences of the Austro-Hungarian reign and culture were prominent in parts of Croatia, and some aspects were greatly developed. The position of the Istria peninsula and Kvarner with its mild climate and the possibility to reach it easily from the continental central Europe still make it a very desirable vacation, as well as business destination. The county of Istria and the municipalities on the Austrian Riviera and the Istrian peninsula should take this into account as they enhance their place brands, and crucial in this is to develop the place brands for clearly identified target audiences and through well-thought through channels and activities.

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