Fun facts about sister cities

History, art, culture, language, or just having a funny name mean these famous places are somehow related…

“Twin towns”, “sister cities”, “friendship towns”, whatever you call them, the idea is basically the same: some sort of legal and social link between towns, cities or regions.

Although there had been a couple of examples of links in history (the English town of Keighley was said to have “adopted” Poix-du-Nord in France after World War I, for example), beginning in 1947 in the aftermath of World War II, twinning was seen as a way to create friendship and understanding between places that had been foes just a couple of years previously. Nowadays, they can be strategic business links, ways to encourage tourism, to celebrate a shared legacy, or simply done for a spot of publicity.

Here, we tell some of the stories of twin towns around the world.

The first: Coventry, Stalingrad (now Volgograd), and Dresden

As we’ve mentioned, there had been relationships between cities in the past (an agreement between Paderborn and Le Mans dates back to 836; on a slightly looser basis Toledo, Ohio began a relationship with Toledo, Spain purely because they shared a name), but this was the first post-wartime, socially-driven, legal link between places in the way that we know today.

In fact, it started in 1942 during World War II as the citizens — mainly women — of Coventry came together to raise money and aid for the Red Army, singling out Stalingrad as the focus of their campaign. Because of the cities being a similar size, both being centers of vehicle production, and the fact that they’d both been virtually wiped off the map by bombing, a kinship was felt through the large left-wing movement in Coventry at the time.

It was a humble beginning. Indeed, the town clerk of Coventry hoped merely that it “would find its manifestation in such matters as the mutual exchange of visits… the establishment of pen friendships… and the exchange of literature and information.” Not political, but socially-led. After a defeated and similarly destroyed Dresden created the three-way link in 1947, the original die was cast.

The most exclusive: Rome and Paris

It’s no surprise that two cities known for their history, beauty, and exclusivity should have joined forces, but what’s unusual is that they are just that: exclusive.

Rome is only twinned with Paris, and Paris is only twinned with Rome. The phrase “Only Paris is good enough for Rome, and only Rome is good enough for Paris” was coined on 22 June 1958 as their (slightly aloof?) twinning agreement was signed.

Both places get around this in a semantic way by having “partner cities” as well — Rome’s include Buenos Aires, Sydney, and Madrid, while Paris has snaffled Prague, Tokyo, and Athens — but the use of the phrase “twin cities” is only between the two. A slight difference, but one that seems about right.

The least exclusive: St. Petersburg and Barcelona, Los Angeles, Rotterdam, Shanghai…

Russia’s second city has 55 official partner cities, as well as unofficial links with 39 more. Many of these came about through the fact that Russia has had a very turbulent history, and the 20th century was no different.

Always having prided itself on its nautical side, St. Petersburg initially formed relationships based on a shared history or cultural background (Hamburg, Gdańsk and Piraeus, for example) then, during the height of the Soviet Union, agricultural or industrial ones. Following the end of Communism, business, education and tourism became vital, and so a third wave of twinning began.

Unofficial links have been established in the 21st century with places as diverse as Guadalajara, Khartoum, Porto Alegre, Oslo, Florence, Haifa, Ulan Bator, and the entire state of Maryland!

The most educated: Oxford and Bonn, Grenoble, Padua, Leiden, and more

When most people hear the word Oxford, they will automatically follow it up with the word university, which makes sense since there’s been one here since 1096, making it the oldest in the English-speaking world.

It made sense, then, to partner with some of the other great centers of learning. Padua, near Venice, has had a university since 1222, and was where the astronomer Galileo taught between 1592 and 1610. Leiden is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands and has produced 13 Nobel Laureates, while both Bonn and Grenoble are by-words for educational excellence in their respective countries.

The fastest: Indianapolis and Monza

Since 1911, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — colloquially known as The Brickyard — has hosted the Indianapolis 500, one of the most famous races in the world. In the town of Monza, near Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was constructed just a few years later, making it the oldest circuit in Europe still in use. Both venues are famous for being fearsomely fast, with Monza’s old banking still visible despite it last being used in 1969.

Nowadays these two races (the Indy 500 and the Italian Grand Prix) continue to draw crowds of hundreds of thousands to these two temples of speed, both essentially unchanged since their inception, both home to a century or so of glory, tragedy, and the sheer love of thrills, noise, and the ability to wrestle a vehicle round in circles quicker than the rest.

The most musical: Bristol and New Orleans

A nicely worded one here, in that although not an “official” twinning, Bristol in the UK and New Orleans in the US have what they call a “tuning” partnership, based on both cities’ musical heritage.

New Orleans is of course famous for its jazz and blues tradition that spawned a distinctive southern rock and roll sound, as well as for folksier types of music such as Cajun, Zydeco, and the swampy, gritty Delta blues. As time went on, the New Orleans music scene developed even further, and everything from southern rock to death metal and hip hop found a home.

Bristol kept itself more underground though no less varied. In the 1970s, a number of bands combining punk and political activism found fertile ground there, and in the early 1990s a new sound developed known as trip hop. Drum and bass, funk, jazz, house, soul, and a bunch of other styles combined to make something often downbeat, melancholic, atmospheric and oddly, industrially, emotionally British. Today, Bristol’s music scene is still one of the best in the UK.

The most distant (we think!): Dunedin and Edinburgh

There’s not a lot of information about which two sister cities are furthest apart, but we reckon it might just be Dunedin, towards the tip of New Zealand’s South Island and Edinburgh, over 18,800 km away in Scotland.

So why did these two distant cities decide on twinning? Well, the connection is closer than you might think. The name Dunedin comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh. Settled by Scots in 1848, thousands made the long, long journey south in search of their fortune during the Otago Gold Rush of the mid-19th century. Thomas Burns, nephew of the poet Robert Burns, also founded New Zealand’s first university in the city.

Edinburgh itself possibly needs less of an introduction. The capital of Scotland is well-known for its comedy and performing arts festival, its grand architecture, its castle, and Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that affords wonderful views over the city (when it’s not raining of course!). Attracting millions of visitors each year, it’s one of the UK’s most-visited cities.

…and a few bonus twinnings!

The Scottish town of Dull twinned itself with Boring, Oregon in 2012, and in 2017 they went a step further, welcoming Bland, Australia into the group.

Elkader, Iowa seems an unlikely relation to Mascara in Algeria, but only until you learn that the town’s founder in 1846, Timothy Davis, actually named the town after Emir Abd al-Qādir, a military leader fighting to free his country from French colonialism. The name was anglicized but after the twinning over a century later, links remain strong to this day.

And finally, the town of Swindon in England, not necessarily somewhere you’d associate with magic and wonder (although roundabouts are a big thing), found a roundabout connection when it unofficially twinned with Walt Disney World in Florida in 2017.

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