Prehistoric times – The Liburnian Age
History of the Bakar town begins in prehistoric and ancient times. There is material evidence suggesting that in the Bronze Age (3rd and 2nd millennium B.C.) the area of Bakar was inhabited by Illyrian tribes. The last prehistoric period in Croatia was the Iron Age and lasted during the 1st millennium B.C. when people stopped living like nomads and began making homes for themselves. This was followed by the end of ethno genesis of the Illyrians.
The area of the town Bakar was inhabited by the Illyrian tribe Liburna, who occupied the area from the Krka River in Dalmatia to the Raša River in Istria, and the islands from Murter to Krk. The Liburnians were maritime people and dominated the Adriatic Sea up to the 5th century B.C.
The Liburnians left important material marks of their culture in this area- various artefacts, and their architectural heritage that we recognize in a series of remains of the Liburnian castles. The name Liburnija, which is still a name used for this area, is a reminder of the Liburnian people who once lived here. Also, the Liburnians left us the oldest most popular name for the town of Bakar – Vel-Kier (Rocky Bay).
Ancient times –The Roman Age
The Roman Age in Bakar’s area begins at the end of the 2nd century B.C., to be more exact in 129 BC, when the Roman consul Sempronius Tuditan conquered Liburnia and established the Roman power. In the mid-1st century B.C., the Liburnians unsuccessfully tried to liberate themselves from the Roman power. The Illyrian states, as well as Liburnian, were part of the Roman province of Illyric. At the beginning of the 1st century A.D., the Romans established a military and administrative district in Liburna; Liburnian-Japodian headquarters, and soon afterwards the Illyric province was divided into two regions; Panonia and Dalmatia, where Liburnia became a part of Dalmatia. In Bakar, we can find the remains of the Roman reign which is proved by the Bakar’s cemetery with oil-lamps, little bowls, rings and bracelets, etc. Also, the Roman money from the times of the emperors Nero, Trajan, Hadrian, Atonin and empress Faustine was found. The antic geographer, astronomer, and mathematician, Claudius Ptolomeus, mentioned the existence of the town of Velcera in Liburnia, situated between Senj and Trsat, about 160 AD. Velcera (Volcera) is the Roman name for Bakar (Latin form of the Illyrian name Vel-Kier).
The Byzantine period and the great movement of people
After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476, our regions came under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire. In 533, Bakar belonged to the western region of the Byzantine Empire. In that time, the Byzantines were threatened by the Bulgarians and Avars followed by Slavs. In 630, Senj was conquered by the Avars, and the Croats followed them. There is no historical data that shows that the Avars went farther. While on the other hand, the Croats who were in greater numbers moved north along the coast. Then, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius allowed them to inhabit the area from Vinodol to Bakar.
Period of the People’s Monarchy
At the beginning of the 9th century Liburnia and Bakar were governed by duke Borna (810-821). It was then that the Croatian name for the Roman Velcera (Bakar) was mentioned for the first time. For a short period of time, Bakar was once again under the rule of the Byzantines. During the period of Duke Trpimir (845-864), the town Bakar was a part of the Croatian district of Krbava where it remained during the periods of the rule of Croatian dukes and kings. At the beginning of the 12th century, the district was ruled by the district prefect Dasimir. There is an important record dating from that period, made by an Arab travel writer, a doctor and geographer, Ibn Idris, who said that Bakar was a beautiful and inhabited town.
The Feudal Age – The period of Frankopan and Zrinski families
After the Kingdom of Hungary was founded in 1102, in 1225 the king Andrew II of Hungary handed over Vinodol and Bakar to the Dukes of Krk, later named Frankopan, with a special deed of gift. During the rule of the Frankopan family, Bakar was among the towns that signed the famous Vinodol Code dating from 1288, and the town was then mentioned for the first time under its Croatian name. Under the Frankopans rule, the town of Bakar was an independent municipality, community, and had its own administrative, religious, and military organization. All this helped Bakar to develop further as a transit, trade, and cultural centre. At the end of the 15th century, particularly at the beginning of the 16th century, the town faced rainy days as the Turks’ invasion prevented trading activities with the continental part, and trading was disturbed as well by the Venetians on the sea side.
Stephen III Frankopan was the last Duke of Krk who governed the town of Bakar. He had no descendants and decided that the sons of his sister Katarina Šubić would inherit his land. He died in 1577 and his nephew Nikola Zrinski became the governor of Bakar. From then until 1671, the town of Bakar was governed by another important noble Croatian family, Zrinski. During the period of the Zrinski trade in Bakar was revived. However the town found itself at odds with the Venetians due to Uskok activity. The Bakar’s Urbar (a collection of documents) was amended in 1605, and it was published in 1524 during the rule of Duke Bernardin Frankopan. It served as a basis for establishing tariffs for merchant ships, as well as other legal regulations. The Zrinski family ran a wise trade policy, particularly Petar Zrinski who governed Bakar since 1649, allowing free trade with low duties. This resulted in Bakar becoming the leading transit port in the entire coastal region of Croatia. The neighbouring Rijeka, which was under Austrian rule, was disturbed by it and tried to obstruct Bakar’s trade activities in different ways. That trade war lasted during the entire 17th century.
After the execution of Petar Zrinski and Fran Krsto Frankopan in 1671 in Bečko Novo Mesto, their land was confiscated, including Bakar, and the Austrian army plundered all the goods. After the army’s plundering, the decision was made in which the Royal Hungarian Chamber would confiscate the remaining properties of the Zrinski and Frankopan families. In this way, the town of Bakar became Estate of the Royal Hungarian Chamber. The chamber ruled poorly due to its weak administrators, and civil officials pilfered money from the town’s funds. Additional problem arose, which was restraining of all trade activities completely. At the end, in 1692 the Hungarian Chamber sold Bakar to the Austrian Chamber.
The Port Authority of Bakar was organized, and it controlled the town and the entire Vinodol area, therefore the economy started to improve. The emperor and king Karlo III (VI) of Austria proclaimed freedom on the sea, so the trade not only revived but also expanded, contributing to termination of the Turkish invasion. Also, due to Karlo’s input, a road was built named Karolina after him, which connected the Coastal Croatia with inland positively affecting the growth of the economy. During that period (1671-1778), Bakar was the administrative, executive, and judicial centre of the coastal region and its authorities were constituted as in other large towns.
Municipality of Bakar
The empress and queen Maria Theresa came to power in 1740 and continued promoting the development of trade and crafts. With a charter, on 13th May, 1778 the empress gave to Bakar status of a free town, actually free merchant port, and from Bakar, Hreljin, and Trsat’s regions she established a municipality of Bakar. With another charter, on 23th of April, 1779 Maria Theresa proclaimed Bakar a free royal town, and awarded it a town’s emblem and autonomy. As a municipal town, Bakar became independent, it had its own privileges. and it elected representatives into the Croatian Parliament. This was a period of great prosperity for Bakar, its port was developing, and shipbuilding and shipping activities were expanding. Also, a primary school was founded and by the end of the 18th century, Bakar became the largest town in Croatia. There is no doubt that the municipality of Bakar positively affected the expansion of trade and transit in our region. In the period from 1809 to 1813, Bakar was under the rule of Napoleon’s French rule, and the economy came to a standstill. After the French left, Bakar struggled for a long time to regain its autonomy. The municipality was re-established in 1834, but did not last long due to disharmony between Bakar and its neighbouring towns. At the end, in September 1874, the municipality of Bakar was closed down and the town’s municipalities became counties.
Bakar as town’s county
The railroad built in 1873 ended in Rijeka which came as a heavy blow to future development of Bakar, as well as the slowness in transferring from sail boats to new steamships. On the other side, Bakar was still very much alive in the cultural and social aspect, preserving its Nautical Academy and the usage of printing trade producing several important papers and various books. Also, Bakar remained influential as a political, religious, and national centre, which showed in election of several famous representatives to the Croatian parliament that came from Bakar.