Twin towns and sister cities

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Twin towns sign in Oskarshamn, Sweden

Twin towns or sister cities are a form of cooperative agreement made between towns, cities, counties, oblasts, prefectures, provinces, regions, states and even countries in geographically and politically distinct areas to promote cultural and commercial ties.[1] The modern concept of town-twinning, conceived after the Second World War in 1947,[2] was intended to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures and between former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation,[3][4] and to encourage trade and tourism.[1] In recent times, town twinning has increasingly been used to form strategic international business links between member cities.[5][6]


An example of a 'gemellaggio' (twinning) agreement between Castellabate, Italy and Blieskastel, Germany.

In the United Kingdom, the term "twin towns" is most commonly used; the term "sister cities" is generally used for agreements with towns and cities in the Americas.[1][7] In mainland Europe, the most commonly used terms are; "twin towns", "partnership towns ", "partner towns" and "friendship towns". The European Commission uses the term twinned towns and refers to the process as town twinning.[1][7] Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic use Partnerstadt (De) / Miasto Partnerskie (Pl) / Partnerské město (Cz), which translate as "Partner Town or City". France uses Ville Jumelée (Twinned Town or City), and Italy has Gemellaggio (twinning) and Comune gemellato (twinned municipality).[8] In the Netherlands, the term is Stedenband (City bond). In Greece, the word αδελφοποίηση (adelfopiisi—fraternisation) has been adopted. In Iceland, the terms vinabæir (friend towns) and vinaborgir (friend cities) are used. In the former Soviet Bloc, "twin towns" and "twin cities" are used,[9] along with города-побратимы (Ru) (sworn brother cities).[10][11]

The Americas, South Asia and Australasia generally use the term "sister cities". In China, the term is 友好城市, (yǒuhǎo chéngshì—"friendship city"). Sometimes, other government bodies enter into a twinning relationship, such as the agreement between the provinces of Hainan in China and Jeju-do in South Korea. The Douzelage is a town twinning association with one town from each of the member states of the European Union.[1][12]


Sign showing twin towns of Epping, United Kingdom
Sign showing twin towns of Pápa, Hungary
Castrop Rauxel Square, Wakefield, named after its twin town

The earliest known town twinning in Europe was between Paderborn, Germany and Le Mans, France in 836.[3][13] Starting in 1905, Keighley in West Yorkshire, England, had a twinning arrangement with French communities Suresnes and Puteaux.[14][15] The first recorded modern twinning agreement was between Keighley and Poix-du-Nord in Nord, France, in 1920 following the end of the First World War.[6][15][16][17] This was initially referred to as an adoption of the French town; formal twinning charters were not exchanged until 1986.[18]

The practice was continued after the Second World War as a way to promote mutual understanding and cross-border projects of mutual benefit.[1][3][19][20][21] For example, Coventry twinned with Stalingrad and later with Dresden as an act of peace and reconciliation, all three cities having been heavily bombed during the war.[1][17][22][23][24][25] Similarly, in 1947, Bristol Corporation (later Bristol City Council) sent five 'leading citizens' on a goodwill mission to Hanover.[6][17]

Within Europe, town twinning is supported by the European Union.[1][3][6] The support scheme was established in 1989. In 2003 an annual budget of about 12 million was allocated to about 1,300 projects. The Council of European Municipalities and Regions also works closely with the Commission (DG Education and Culture) to promote modern, high quality twinning initiatives and exchanges that involve all sections of the community. It has launched a website dedicated to town twinning.[26] As of 1995, the European Union had more than 7,000 bilateral relationships involving almost 10,000 European municipalities, primarily French (2837 twinnings) and German (2485 twinnings).[21]

Kragujevac and Suresnes twinning agreement
Dull is twinned with Boring

A recent study has concluded that geographical distance has very little, if any, influence upon communities' selections of a twin town or sister city.[27] Twinned towns are often chosen because of similarities between them: thus about 15 towns in Wales are twinned with towns in Brittany, and Oxford is with Bonn, Leiden, Grenoble and other university cities.[1] Many former West German cities are twinned with former East German cities; these twinning links were established before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Famous examples are the partnerships of Hanover and Leipzig, both of which have important trade fair grounds, or between Hamburg and Dresden. The first U.S.-German town twinning was in 1947 between Worthington, Minnesota and Crailsheim.[1] St Petersburg in Russia holds the record for the largest number of partnership arrangements with other communities.[27] In June 2012, the Scottish village of Dull and the U.S. town of Boring, Oregon, agreed to twin their municipalities to promote tourism in both places, playing on their names.[28][29][30]

Recently some towns have made novelty twinning arrangements with fictional or virtual locations; Wincanton, England is partnered with Ankh-Morpork from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books,[31] while the Scottish Isle of Skye has been 'virtually twinned' with Skylands, a location in video game Skylanders: Swap Force.

Town twinning has increasingly been used to form strategic international business links; for example in the 1990s when Nottingham City Council in the UK was considering installing a tram network in the city it consulted experts from the twin city Karlsruhe, which has one of the most extensive and efficient tram networks in Germany. With assistance from Karlsruhe's specialist engineers, Nottingham completed its second tram line in 2013.[5]

North America[edit]

Isfahan street in Kuala Lumpur & Kuala Lumpur street in Isfahan

The first city in North America to establish a sister city relationship was Toledo, Ohio, which sistered with Toledo, Spain in 1931. Vancouver, British Columbia, entered into an intercontinental twinning arrangement in 1944 with Odessa, Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. This was based on aiding the allied port city during the Second World War. Liberal, Kansas was twinned with Olney, Buckinghamshire in 1950, and the cities have run a joint Pancake Day race ever since.[32][33] Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan,—also formerly part of the Soviet Union—was twinned with Seattle, Washington in 1973. Another first for town twinning occurred in 1967 when Rochester, Minnesota and Knebworth, UK; both centres for primary medical research.

Sister City relationships begin for a variety of reasons. Generally, city partnerships share similar demographics and town size; they may arise from business connections, travel, similar industries, diaspora communities, or shared history. For example, the partnership between Portland, Oregon, and Bologna, Italy, arose from shared industries in biotechnology and education, an appreciation for the arts, and a 'similar attitude towards food',[34] whereas Chicago’s link with Warsaw, Poland, began with Chicago's historic Polish community.[35]


Los Angeles City Hall with sister cities signpost.

The US sister city program formally began in 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a people-to-people, citizen diplomacy initiative. Originally a program of the National League of Cities, Sister Cities International became a separate corporation in 1967, due to the growth and popularity of the U.S. program.[36] Sister Cities International is now a non-profit citizen diplomacy network that creates and strengthens partnerships between communities in the US and other countries, through the establishment of sister cities. More than 2,000 cities, states and counties are partnered in 136 countries.[36][37] It organises cultural exchanges and provides support and funding.

Thessaloniki stele, in twin town Melbourne[38]

According to the Sister Cities International website, these exchanges include "musical performances, art exhibits, construction of peace parks or tea gardens, international cultural festivals, and teacher exchanges".[39] Sister city cultural events include the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., honouring Washington's sister city relationship with Tokyo City. Capitalising on the growing world economy, many sister city members developed business agreements with their partners. Vermont's Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream company, for example, started a factory in Karelia, Russia. The company offered the same profit-sharing scheme to its Russian employees as found in the American company. While not a primary goal, business relationships were a natural by-product of sister city exchanges.

In 1995, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to eliminate the United States Information Agency (USIA) with vocal support from the U.S. Conference of Mayors International Affairs Committee and sister city members, Sister Cities International Program. Through this program, students predominantly from the Middle East study for a year in the U.S. On a 2004 exchange, Arab students from Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, Tunisia and Yemen lived in the US for a year with host families and attended a leadership summit in Boulder, Colorado. To further the youth program's goals, Sister Cities International developed a Youth and Education Network in 2004.

Linguistic reasons[edit]

Relationships between communities can also arise because of shared names; they may be named after one community, (as in the case of Córdoba), they may share names (Santiago de Compostela) or their names may have a common etymology. These similarities usually arise from sharing the same or related language, or from having been a colony or previously conquered.

Political purposes[edit]

Twinning towns and cities is sometimes done for political purposes. The Hungarian city Gyöngyös was twinned with the Azerbaijani city of Shusha in 2013, signing the twinning agreement with representatives from the Azerbaijani government; Hungary recognises Shusha as part of Azerbaijan, even though since the end of the Karabakh War it has been controlled by the military forces of Armenia and the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (de jure part of Azerbaijan).[40]

Protesting against Russia's anti-gay laws[edit]

In 2013, cities around the world reconsidered their twinning relationships with cities in Russia due to increasing violations of LGBT rights there in recent years, and Russia's anti-homosexuality laws.[41][42][43] Milan and Venice, formerly twinned with Saint Petersburg, suspended their links due to St Petersburg's conservative ban on "promotion of homosexuality to minors".[44] Milan suspended the relationship with Saint Petersburg on 23 November 2012,[45] and Venice followed suit on 28 January 2013.[46] The City of Los Angeles debated whether to suspend the sister city status with St. Petersburg in 2013.[47] Carl Katter is also campaigning for Melbourne, Victoria, to cut its ties with that city as well.[48]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Clarke, N. "Town Twinning in Britain since 1945: A Summary of findings". School of Geography, University of Southampton, final author version post peer reviewing (2011). Archived from the original on 2009-06-12. Retrieved 2013-07-29. 
  2. ^ 50 years of town twinning, German stamp from 1997
  3. ^ a b c d "The Origins of Town Twinning". Inverness: The City of Inverness Town Twinning Committee. 8 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  4. ^ "What is town twinning?". L’Association des Communes Jumelées du Limousin. Retrieved 2013-09-05. 
  5. ^ a b Brown, Tom (31 July 2013). "Twin towns: Do we still need them?". BBC East Midlands Today (BBC News). Retrieved 2013-08-07. 
  6. ^ a b c d Handley, Susan. "Take your partners - The local authority handbook on international partnerships". In Judith Barton. 2006 (10 ed.) (Local Government International Bureau). Retrieved 2013-08-13. 
  7. ^ a b "Action 1 - Measure 1: Town Twinning". The Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Retrieved 2013-08-26. 
  8. ^ Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze (BNCF) Thesaurus (Italian)
  9. ^ "Mogilev: Twin Towns - Twin Cities". Mogilev city executive committee. Retrieved 2013-10-19. 
  10. ^ "Tbilisi, Vilnius become brother cities". Trend News Agency. Retrieved 2009-10-12. 
  11. ^ Self-Pierson, Rob (30 April 2012). "Is there a point to twin towns?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  12. ^ " Home". Retrieved 2009-10-21. 
  13. ^ Lelièvre, Jean; Balavoine, Maurice (1994). Le Mans-Paderborn, 836-1994: dans l'Europe, une amitié séculaire, un sillage de lumière (in French). Le Mans: M. Balavoine. pp. 1–42. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  14. ^ Frank Crane (2008). War and World Government. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-559-44381-7. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  15. ^ a b "France Magazine - Twin Towns". Retrieved 2009-11-06. 
  16. ^ Handley, Susan (2006). Take your partners: The local authority handbook on international partnerships. London: Local Government International Bureau. p. 4. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  17. ^ a b c "Town twinning in the UK and Germany". East Street Arts. Retrieved 2013-07-29. 
  18. ^ "Keighley celebrates twin town jubilee". Telegraph & Argus. Newsquest Media Group. 2002. Retrieved 2009-01-05. 
  19. ^ " - Twinning". Retrieved 2009-10-10. 
  20. ^ "Twin Towns". Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  21. ^ a b Furmankiewicz, Marek (2004-03-21). "Town-twinning as a factor generating international flows of goods and people.". Institute of Geography and Regional Development, University of Wrocław, Poland. Archived from the original on 2013-07-29. Retrieved 2013-07-29. 
  22. ^ "Сталинградская скатерть соединила города". Volgograd.Ru (in Russian). 7 May 2008. Archived from the original on 2013-07-25. Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  23. ^ Griffin, Mary (2011-08-02). "Coventry's twin towns". Coventry Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  24. ^ "Coventry—Twin towns and cities". Coventry City Council. Archived from the original on 2013-04-14. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 
  25. ^ "Disney seeks UK twin". Retrieved 2009-10-30. 
  26. ^ "Twinnings". Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  27. ^ a b Kaltenbrunner, Andreas; Aragon, Pablo; Laniado, David; Volkovich, Yana (16 February 2013). "Not all paths lead to Rome: Analysing the network of sister cities". Barcelona Media Foundation. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  28. ^ LeVeille, David. "A Tale of Dull and Boring Sister Cities". The Retrieved 2013-07-15. 
  29. ^ BBC News - Boring in Oregon votes to pair with Dull in Perthshire
  30. ^ Gambino, Lauren. "Dull and Boring? Sounds exciting". KVAL. Retrieved February 22, 2013. 
  31. ^ unknown (6 December 2002). "Pratchett city twins with real town". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  32. ^ "Liberal wins 60th Int'l Pancake race". United Press International (UPI). Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  33. ^ Olney Pancake Race 2007 Video
  34. ^ "Mission". Portland Bologna Sister City Association. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  35. ^ Leroux, Charles (July 31, 2001). "Chicago has assembled a sorority of sister cities". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  36. ^ a b Sister Cities International Fact Sheet
  37. ^ Sister Cities International Mission
  38. ^ "Greek twinnings". Central Union of Municipalities & Communities of Greece. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  39. ^ "Cultural Exchange". Sister Cities International. Retrieved 16 July 2012. 
  40. ^ A Joint Declaration was signed on fraternization of Gyöngyös city at the foot of the Mátra, the highest mountain range in Hungary, with the occupied Shusha town of Azerbaijan.
  41. ^ Bajko, Matthew S. (15 August 2013). "Political Notebook: Cities asked to suspend ties with Russian counterparts". The Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 2013-08-27. 
  42. ^ Kordunsky, Anna (14 August 2013). "Russia Not Only Country With Anti-Gay Laws". National Geographic. Retrieved 2013-08-27. 
  43. ^ "Санкт-Петербург стал четвертым российским регионом, запретившим гей-пропаганду" (in Russian). Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  44. ^ "Milan severs twin city ties with St Petersburg over 'homosexual propaganda' ban". The Telegraph. 2012-11-29. Retrieved 2012-11-30. 
  45. ^ "Associazione radicale Certi Diritti - Gemellaggio tra Milano e San Pietroburgo: Consiglio comunale approva mozione che ne chiede la sospensione" [Radical Association Certain Rights - Twinning between Milan and St. Petersburg City Council approves motion that calls for its suspension]. Associazione Radicale Certi Diritti (in Italian) ( 2012-11-23. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  46. ^ "Associazione radicale Certi Diritti - Venezia approva mozione per la sospensione degli effetti del gemellaggio con San Pietroburgo" [Radical Association Certain Rights - Venice approves motion for the suspension of the effects of the twinning with St. Petersburg]. Associazione Radicale Certi Diritti (in Italian) ( Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  47. ^ Hernandez, Greg (2013-02-16). "Los Angeles urged to cut Sister City ties with St. Petersburg due to anti-gay laws there". Gay Star News. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  48. ^ Pinfold, Corinne. "Australia: Brother of anti-gay party leader urges Melbourne to cut ties with St Petersburg over homophobic law". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  49. ^ "Sister Cities International (SCI)". Retrieved 2013-04-21. 

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