Welcome to ‘Twin City’
Enter most towns, cities or villages in not just the UK, but in Europe and beyond, and you will likely find a ‘Welcome to [insert place name]’ and underneath ‘Twinned with [insert twin cities]’. Perhaps it is easy ignore these twin cities and linkages, or dismiss them as nothing more than symbolic, but what is the story behind twin or sister cities and what does it mean today? For those unaware a twin or sister city partnership is where there is a ‘friendship’ and legal/social agreement between one town or city (or even a region) to another , usually in a different country. The reasons behind such a partnership may be due to similarities in town size or history, and/or to aim to create business, cultural, tourism, diplomatic, charitable and peaceful relations between cities and the wider region/nation.
Being sent to Coventry
In researching this, I was surprised to discover that twinning of towns goes back longer than I had once thought, dating back to 836 AD when Paderborn in Germany was twinned with Le Mans in France. However, the modern era of town twinning began in 1920 where after the end of the WWI, Keighley in West Yorkshire was ‘adopted’ Poix-du-Nord in North-Eastern France – the first recorded town twinning agreement. Then following the end of WWII, town twinning took on further significance in the idea of creating a more united and interconnected, thus hopefully, peaceful post-war Europe, in the same climate where a politically united Europe was coming into being through the EEC. Reading in Berkshire was the first create a link in the UK with a location within the former WWII enemy, with Dusseldorf in the then West Germany.
However, perhaps Coventry is one of the best examples of the symbolism of these ‘friendship’ networks and similarities of urban histories. Coventry has 20 sister city agreements, the most of any city in the UK, as you can explore in my above interactive map hosted by CARTO. When thinking of the cities particularly impacted by the warfare of WWII, the blitzing and destruction of Coventry, Dresden and Stalingrad (now Volgograd), are examples that come to mind. Perhaps it is then no surprise but nonetheless encouraging that Coventry has partnerships with these places. Symbolic maybe, but one cannot underestimate the importance of encouraging peace and reconciliation between cities once in once enemy nations Dresden and Coventry, and particularly during war time with Stalingrad, something which persisted through, despite the Cold War.
The above ‘heat’ map of those twinned towns in Europe in partnership with UK cities, displays a general trend towards France, Netherlands and (West) Germany in particular. This displays how, despite differences between UK and the rest of Europe, there are cultural links and similarities existing. For example, many Welsh villages,towns and cities and linked to respective ones in Brittany due to Celtic similarities to Welsh identities. Manchester, sometimes known as the ‘Venice of the North’, is linked to another city with such a moniker, Amsterdam. Smaller cities with historical centres like Bath and Oxford are linked to similar cities in the Netherlands of Alkmaar and Leiden respectively. My hometown of Swindon, with its proud railway heritage, is linked to Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, and its “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. Additionally, Swindon’s link with the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal goes beyond naming a road after it – after the devastation in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, £30,000 and 7 tonnes of aid were raised and sent from Swindon. This is just one example of the importance of sister towns also looking out for one another.
On the other hand, Swindon was briefly twinned with Walt Disney World, following winning a competition, so maybe the importance of twin towns can be over-emphasised…Sometimes the ties are merely economically motivated as well; some are more coincidental (e.g. Coventry is twinned with three other Coventry’s in USA); some are just humorous, like the Scottish village of Dull is in partnership with Boring, Oregon, USA, which in turn is twinned with Bland, Australia. Nonetheless, the European Union provides funding and encouragement for such partnerships, and despite recent political events, just exploring and creating these maps show it is another interesting, positive and curious way the world is becoming more interconnected.
A Map of Twin Cities
To explore which UK towns and cities are twinned with where, please explore the interactive map above or for a larger version click here. Use the search options in the separate catergory ‘widgets’ on the map to search for a UK town and city out of 285 examples. I’ve filtered this down to only UK towns/cities for partnerships and main urban centres in the UK, but if you want to see more UK Towns/Cities or even villages, and/or different countries, please let me know.