Tuesday 15 Nov, 2011

International Twin Towns

Assisi Italy

I have long been intrigued by the concept of twin towns (or sister cities as I understand they are known in the US). Not intrigued to the point that I have given it much thought, but mildly interested. Drive into any European town, no matter what the size, and you will probably see a sign with the name and flag/crest of a suitably sized friend elsewhere on the continent. Sometimes you will see a list of two or three ‘twinned’ places and no Wikipedia search of any town is complete without a list of twins at the bottom of the page.

A few things have focused this in my mind over the last day or so. In England the town of Wootton Basset has, by royal patent, been re-titled Royal Wootton Basset. This is the first time this has happened to a town in 102 years and is in recognition of the town’s role in respecting the repatriation of war dead being taken from the military airport nearby. A part of the news coverage was the unveiling of the new sign to the town, and my immediate reaction was what of the twin town – I guess they need to change their sign too. I was also told yesterday that the town near where I live (Totnes) is twinned with Narni in Italy. Why is this interesting to me? Well, Narni (the name was chosen from an atlas by CS Lewis) is where my brother has lived for the last few years. Anyway, having checked I discover that I was misled and Totnes is merely twinned with Bad Essen in Germany (surely a thrash metal band?), Santa Fe in Spain and Vire in France.


Lucerne Switzerland

Finally, I grew up in the town of Bournemouth which is twinned with Lucerne in Switzerland (where EF has their European Headquarters). I was always interested in this, I thought twin towns were mean to share features in common, Bournemouth has no mountains around it and you would have to go a long way to find a good yodel. By the same token, Lucerne is hardly renowned for its miles of sandy beach, copious bars and nightclubs or Europe’s largest artificial surf reef.

The cynic in me suggests that twin towns are merely a vehicle for local dignitaries to get a good foreign trip. I really need to see if my village has anything in common with Bora Bora before getting myself voted onto the Parish Council to lead a more detailed fact-finding mission.  Town twinning is a growing business, although similar ties between towns goes back a thousand years, it was not until after World War I that numbers began to grow – usually as towns offered support to those damaged in the conflict. In recent years the European Union has put a sizeable chunk of money into promoting twinning. Some make perfect sense; Assisi in Italy is twinned with both San Francisco and Bethlehem. Not so original or charming is the twinning of Southampton in England with Le Havre directly across the water in France, seems like an opportunity missed, maybe they should have gone for another port town, like New York. Other places are just greedy, Rome is officially twinned with some 24 places including Beijing, New York (sorry Southampton), Paris, London, Madrid and Brasilia. Basically, all the large capitals they could think of.

What about where you live? Twinned with anywhere interesting, or do you have some suggestions of your own for potential twinning?

Flickr photo via Francisco Antunes, Shaferlens 

(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)