The Palace that the people of Rijeka today call the Benčić Palace was built as one of the facilities of Rijeka’s sugar refinery compound and it was known as the Sugar Refinery Palace. The sugar plant marked the beginning of Rijeka’s industrial story and wrote the first chapter of the city’s industrialisation, after which nothing was the same again. The processes launched by the sugar plant reached their pinnacle in mid-19th century, when Rijeka accounted for as much as one half of industrial production in Croatia.
The sugar refinery was established in 1750 by a Dutch-based company Arnoldt & Co., which opened its first plant in the part of the city known today as Mlaka, which at that time formed the western outskirts of Rijeka. The refinery soon started to spread onto new locations in the city. One of these locations was the area of today’s Benčić Palace. In the past, this was a coastal part suitable for sailing ships to drop their anchors and unload their cargo of raw sugar right in front of the refinery’s gate. At the time, the refinery had seven hundred workers. In 1826, the refinery was shut down; however, the factory compound soon began to fulfil new purposes. The Hungarian army used it from 1832 to 1848 as military barracks, and in 1851 it was turned into a tobacco factory. It didn’t take long for the factory to evolve into the largest tobacco processing plant in the Austro-Hungarian Empire: in the 1860s, it employed as much as 2000 workers, most of whom were women. Finally, from 1945 to 1998, the factory compound housed the Factory of Engines and Tractors Rikard Benčić.
A permanent display forms the central part of the palace. Its concept rests on two foundations. The first is made up of stories being told by the painted and ornamented chambers, while the other consists of the Museum’s collections. The permanent display follows the spatial structure of the facility and it contains two aspects. On the first floor of the palace, the visitors are able to learn more about the social and economic history of Rijeka from the 18th century, when Rijeka began to rise as the central European port and an industrial hub, all the way to the end of the 20th century. The second floor reveals the story about the former industrial compound where the museum is located. The story encompasses the period of the refinery (18th century – beginning of the 19th century), the period of the tobacco factory (19th century – 20th century) and the period of metal industry, i.e., the Rikard Benčić engine factory (from the mid to the end of the 20th century).