Following World War I, Italy’s failure to win territories in the eastern Adriatic provoked profound feelings of national frustration. Italian army officers calculated that an attack on Rijeka would be enormously popular with the Italian public, and chose flamboyant poet, orator and decorated war hero Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863–1938) to lead the enterprise.

D’Annunzio marched into Rijeka on September 12, 1919, at the head of 297 volunteers – whose numbers were soon swelled by patriotic adventurers. He immediately declared Italy’s annexation of Rijeka, a deed that the Italian government in Rome, suspicious of the radical d’Annunzio, disowned. By September 1920, d’Annunzio – who now styled himself “Il Commandante” – had established Rijeka as an independent state entitled the Reggenza del Carnaro, or “Regency of the Kvarner”, which he hoped to use as a base from which to topple the Italian government and establish a dictatorship. The enterprise attracted all kinds of ex-soldiers and political idealists from Italy and beyond. D’Annunzio’s court was copiously provisioned with both cocaine and courtesans, providing these adventurous souls with added inducements to stick around.

Under d’Annunzio, political life in Rijeka became an experiment in totalitarian theory from which fellow Italian nationalist Benito Mussolini was to borrow freely. D’Annunzio’s main innovation was the establishment of a corporate state, ostensibly based on the Italian medieval guild system, in which electoral democracy was suspended and replaced by nine “corporations” – each corresponding to a different group of professions – by which the populace could be organized and controlled. The Regency was also a proving ground for fascism’s love of spectacle, with d’Annunzio mounting bombastic parades and carefully choreographed mass meetings.

Pressured by the Western allies to bring d’Annunzio to heel, Italian forces began a bombardment of the city on Christmas Eve, 1920. D’Annunzio surrendered four days later, finally leaving town on January 18, thereby ending one of twentieth-century history’s more bizarre episodes.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Croatia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you'd rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are th…

21 Dec 2016 • Rachel Mills camera_alt Gallery
A first-timer's guide to Central and Eastern Europe: 10 places to visit

A first-timer's guide to Central and Eastern Europe: 10 places to visit

Central and Eastern Europe are among the culturally diverse parts of the world, preserving a plethora of deep-rooted traditions. What’s more, large tracts of …

12 Dec 2016 • Jonathan Bousfield insert_drive_file Article
Vukovar: inland Croatia's laidback escape

Vukovar: inland Croatia's laidback escape

The fastest-emerging tourist destination in inland Croatia is not one you might expect. Twenty five years ago, the pretty Danube-hugging town of Vukovar was alm…

06 Dec 2016 • Jonathan Bousfield insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month