Sister cities or twin towns are a form of legal or social agreement between towns, cities, counties, oblasts, prefectures, provinces, regions, states, and even countries in geographically and politically distinct areas to promote cultural and commercial ties. The modern concept of town twinning, conceived after the Second World War in 1947, was intended to foster friendship and understanding among different cultures and between former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation, and to encourage trade and tourism. By the 2000s, town twinning became increasingly used to form strategic international business links among member cities.
Twin towns may refer to one of:
Town twinning, two geographically-disparate municipalities which have been paired as twin towns, partner cities or sister cities as part of a cultural. economic or paradiplomatic exchange.
Twin cities, two adjacent but distinct municipalities – often on opposite banks of the same river or opposite sides of a border.
The earliest known town twinning in Europe was between Paderborn, Germany, and Le Mans, France, in 836. Starting in 1905, Keighley in West Yorkshire, England, had a twinning arrangement with French communities Suresnes and Puteaux. 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. This was initially referred to as an adoption of the French town; formal twinning charters were not exchanged until 1986.
The practice was continued after the Second World War as a way to promote mutual understanding and cross-border projects of mutual benefit. 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. The City of Bath formed an “Alkmaar Adoption committee” in March 1945, when the Dutch city was still occupied by the German Army in the final months of the war, and children from each city took part in exchanges in 1945 and 1946. Similarly, in 1947, Bristol Corporation (later Bristol City Council) sent five ‘leading citizens’ on a goodwill mission to Hanover. Reading in 1947 was the first British town to form links with a former “enemy” city – Düsseldorf. The link still exists (Reading-Düsseldorf Association: http://www.reading-dusseldorf.org.uk/). Since 9 April 1956 Rome and Paris have been exclusively and reciprocally twinned with each other, following the motto: “Only Paris is worthy of Rome; only Rome is worthy of Paris.”
Within Europe, town twinning is supported by the European Union. 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. 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).
Public art has been used to celebrate twin town links, for instance in the form of seven mural paintings in the centre of the town of Sutton, Greater London. The five main paintings show a number of the main features of the London Borough of Sutton and its four twin towns, along with the heraldic shield of each above the other images. Each painting also features a plant as a visual representation of its town’s environmental awareness. In the case of Sutton this is in a separate smaller painting (above its main one) showing a beech tree, intended as a symbol of prosperity and from which Carshalton Beeches in the borough derives its name.
Another example of the use of public art is the wall sculpture of the partner cities of Munich, Germany.
A recent study has concluded that geographical distance has very little, if any, influence upon communities’ selections of a twin town. 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. In Italy a good example of Twinnings is Rovigo with Viernheim, Bedford and Tulcea. 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 US-German town twinning was in 1947 between Worthington, Minnesota and Crailsheim. St Petersburg in Russia holds the record for the largest number of partnership arrangements with other communities. In June 2012, the Scottish village of Dull and the US town of Boring, Oregon, agreed to twin their municipalities to promote tourism in both places, playing on their names.
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.
Town twinning has increasingly been used to form strategic international business links. For example, in the 1990s, when the Nottingham City Council in the UK considered installing a tram network, it consulted experts from its twin city of 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. In 2014, Bristol and New Orleans announced their intention to form a ‘tuning’ partnership based on a shared musical heritage and culture offer, at the initiative of Bristol Mayor George Ferguson. Annecy, France and Nerima, Tokyo have for several years shared a partnership based around their “co-existent animation industry”.
Toledo, Ohio twinned with Toledo, Spain in 1931 and was the first city in North America to engage in town twinning. Denver, Colorado twinned with Brest, France was the second twinned city in North America. Liberal, Kansas was twinned with Olney, Buckinghamshire in 1950, and the cities have run a joint Pancake Day race ever since. Littleton, CO twinned with Bega, Australia in 1961. Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan, was twinned with Seattle, Washington in 1973. Rochester, Minnesota and Knebworth, UK are both centers for primary medical research, and they twinned in 1967.
Town twinning begins for a variety of reasons. Generally, partner towns have similar demographics and 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, and a “similar attitude towards food”, whereas Chicago’s link with Warsaw, Poland began with Chicago’s historic Polish community. The twinning of Indianapolis with Monza, Italy is due to both cities’ long association with auto racing. Mexico City is also one of Chicago’s sister cities.
A twin towns program was instituted in the United States in 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a citizen diplomacy initiative. Sister Cities International (SCI) was originally a program of the National League of Cities, but it became a separate corporation in 1967 due to the growth and popularity of the program.
Twin town cultural events include the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. honoring Washington’s twin relationship with Tokyo City. Many twinned towns developed business agreements with their partners. For example, Vermont’s Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream company opened a factory in the Republic of Karelia in Russia and offered the same profit-sharing plan to its Russian employees.
Town twinning is supported in Japan by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations, a joint agency of local governments established by the Japanese government in 1988 (similar to Sister Cities International, its counterpart in the US). More recently, Tokyo has begun to actively promote ‘city diplomacy’ with other global cities at the initiative of its governor Yoichi Masuzoe.
There are thousands of “twinned town”, “partner city” or “sister city” pairs. Many amount to little more than an official municipal proclamation, a plaque at the town hall, a flag raising or a “Welcome to X, twinned with Y and Z” sign at the city limits. Occasionally the city will send a small group on a trip or junket as part of an economic or cultural exchange; often, the task of maintaining the relationship will be passed to a small, non-profit local group.
Most of these efforts have limited or no impact for the average visitor to the city; at best a small student group may be sent abroad occasionally on a cultural exchange, at worst the twin link is proclaimed, posted and promptly forgotten.
Exceptionally, visitors may encounter public artwork or monuments referencing a town twinning; in a few instances, the public is invited to an annual local event with a theme referencing the foreign city or nation.
A sister cities bridge, often a footbridge across a small stream with space to fly national flags of international siblings, commemorates twinning relationships to cities including Kansas City (Missouri), Rochester (New York) and Rockville (Maryland).
Artwork or public sculpture sometimes recognises a twinned municipality. Baltimore (Maryland) proudly displays a Stone Lantern on a pedestal at the Inner Harbour, a gift from its Japanese sibling Kawasaki. Rome displays a column in honour of its exclusive twinning to Paris. Seattle displays a bell on its 1962 World’s Fair site (Seattle Centre) to represent its twinning with Kobe.
A local park, such as Kobe Terrace or Tashkent Park in Seattle, may be named for a twinned sibling. Displays of international flags or directional signage with the distance to each twin are also common.
A group of street names may reflect sibling relationships, such as Cebu City’s Sister Cities Drive plus individual roads for each sibling: Kaohsiung Street (for Kaohsiung, Taiwan), Salinas Drive (for Salinas, California) and Belgium Street (for Kortrijk, Belgium).
Boring & Dull Day. Boring, Oregon. Aug. 9, annual celebration of sibling relationship with Dull, Scotland.
Bastille Day Block Party, Larchmont, NY. July 14, annual celebration of sibling relationship between La Rochelle, France and New Rochelle, New York.
A local group in Toledo (Ohio) hosts a one-day international festival at the University of Toledo in mid-April in honour of the city’s long-standing partnership with namesake Toledo (Spain).
Romeo (Michigan) and Juliette (Georgia) USA are not twins (if anything, their respective families are feuding) but this star-crossed pair issue matching seasonal picture postmarks, as a Shakespearean literary reference on which just the town’s name and postcode differ. Valentine’s greetings may be stamped, bundled into a larger envelope and sent to the postmaster of either town for re-mailing.
Often, two towns will grow on opposite sites of a common geographic boundary; the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul reside on opposite banks of the Mississippi River.
Occasionally, a political boundary on an arbitrary line of latitude or longitude or along a waterway will inadvertently slice through the heart of an existing community, such as the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary through the unified municipality of Lloydminster. A unified Lloydminster-style city across a provincial boundary is exceptional; most often, a boundary forces creation of two separate, adjacent, geographically contiguous towns or villages. Beebe Plain cannot be a single unified village if, instead of being primarily in Quebec, surveyors’ error placed half the unincorporated village in Vermont – in another country. Baarle is divided between Belgium and the Netherlands because of medieval agreements, land-swaps and sales, with the border even running through houses, but is still politically two entities.
In many cases, a pair of twin cities are tightly integrated economically despite maintaining separate, individual identities. This can be the case even across national borders, such as Baarle above or Tornio and Haparanda in Finland and Sweden. The Nordic passport union has since the 1950s allowed nationals to freely pass the border and work (or live) on the foreign side, and the towns have made full use of this.
Twin cities are not mere suburbs; the latter are plentiful and largely non-notable. These are pairs of independent free-standing communities of at least roughly comparable stature which each have their own separate, extensive and long-established identity and history.
Parana, Entre Ríos and Santa Fe, Santa Fe Province are the capitals of their respective provinces and are separated by the Parana River (which is the Santa Fe-Entre Ríos border).
Juazeiro, Bahia and Petrolina, Pernambuco are separated by Rio Sao Francisco which is also the state line between Bahia and Pernambuco.
Olinda and Recife, Pernambuco
Vitória and Vila Velha, Espírito Santo
Kitchener-Waterloo (Ontario) — a pair of southwestern Ontario cities
Ottawa-Gatineau — a pair on the Ontario-Québec border, famous as the tulip capital of Canada
Mainz and Wiesbaden, capitals of the German states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, separated by the river Rhine; two Mainz neighborhoods were ceded to Wiesbaden as a result of redrawn borders following WWII
Mannheim and Ludwigshafen in Germany, separated by the river Rhine.
United States of America
American twin cities that share the same name are not listed here; see the Cross-border town naming section, below.
Minneapolis-St. Paul — a pair of Minnesota cities, the most commonly known Twin Cities
Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal in Illinois
Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas as the core of the greater Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex
Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin are separated by the St Louis Bay and the Minnesota-Wisconsin border that runs through the St Louis Bay.
Lewiston–Auburn on opposite sides of a river in Maine.
The Quad Cities comprise multiple municipalities on both sides of the Iowa-Illinois border
Portland-Vancouver in the greater “Portland Metropolitan Area” are separated by the Columbia River (which is the Oregon-Washington state border).
St Petersburg, Tampa, Bradenton and Sarasota, Florida makes up a quad city metroplex that surround Tampa Bay and is sometimes referred to as “Tampa Bay Area”
San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose make up a greater tri-city metroplex known as the “San Francisco Bay Area” as they surround the San Francisco Bay and are connected to each other by a series of roads, railways, tunnels and bridges.
Seattle and Tacoma, Washington are 35 miles apart but share an airport known as “SeaTac”; the local airport’s community name is short for “Seattle-Tacoma”.
Tri-Cities, Washington comprise of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick located on the convergence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Columbia River Plateau region of Washington state.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Colorado City-Hildale on opposite sides of the Arizona-Utah border.
Ocean City-Fenwick Island in the Delmarva Peninsula, on opposite sides of the Maryland-Delaware border.
Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and Vienna, the capital of Austria, are often referred to as Twin Cities despite their centres being 60 km (37 mi) from each other. Nevertheless, they are the closest located national capitals in Europe (if one does not count the Vatican that is within Rome) and form a joint economic region. Two other national capitals not far from each other are Helsinki and Tallinn, separated by the 70 km (43 mi) wide Gulf of Finland.
Brazzaville and Kinshasa on the opposite banks of the Congo river are other places where you can be in one national capital and see another.
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil; and Puerto Iguazú, Argentina are on opposite sides of Rio Iguazú and Rio Parana from each other. The convergence of Rio Iguazú and Rio Parana also serves as the border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Rio Iguazú and Iguaçu_Falls divides Brazil from Argentina while Rio Parana divides Brazil from Paraguay.
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark is separated from Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, by the Öresund strait but are connected to each other by a continuous tunnel & bridge with a combined length of 11.5 km made for rail and road traffic. Further north (45 km on the Danish side and 64 km along the Swedish side) along the Öresund lies Elsinore, Denmark and Helsingborg, Sweden which are only connected to each other by ferry.
Dammam, the largest city in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and Manama the capital and largest city of Bahrain can be like ‘twin cities’ despite their centres being 73 km (45 mi) from each other. Bahrain Island is connected to Saudi Arabia by a 25 km (16 mi) long causeway which allows for continuous travel (except customs & immigration formalities between the two countries).
Dandong, China and Sinuiju, North Korea are on opposite banks of the Yalu River which defines the Chinese-North Korean border. The border continues upstream along the Yalu River to the Paektu Mountains and downstream to the east coast along the Tumen River where there are other lesser known towns directly across the river and border from each other.
Detroit and Windsor — a pair on the Ontario-Michigan border, synonymous with the North American auto manufacturing industry
Esztergom, Hungary and Štúrovo (Párkány), Slovakia are connected to the each other by the Mária Valéria Bridge spanning over the Danube.
Portions of the US-Mexico Border runs along the Rio Grande, also Texas’ southern border, which separates El Paso from Ciudad Juarez; Laredo from Nuevo Laredo; McAllen and Reynosa ; Brownsville from Matamoros and a series of other towns directly across the river and border from each other.
Hong Kong and Shenzhen as well as Macau and Zhuhai.
Laufenburg (Germany) is divided from Laufenburg (Switzerland) by the Rhine; Rheinfelden is also Swiss-German.
Narva (Estonia) and Ivangorod (Russia), were for most of their history one single city. There’s a fort on both sides of the Narva river that forms the border between the countries.
Rivera, Uruguay and Santana do Livramento, Brazil, as well as several lesser-known towns on the border between the two countries. In a lot of these towns the border is nothing more than a grassy divide between two parallel streets with one side in one country and the opposite in the other.
San Diego and Tijuana on the west end of the Mexican–US border
St Louis, France and Basel, Switzerland.
Tabatinga and Leticia exist as a contiguous settlement on the same side of the Amazon River but are separated by the Brazilian and Colombian border. The islands in the Amazon River and the opposite side are in Peru. The Peruvian part of the settlement is on Santa Rosa Island, on the river, next to the Tabatinga/Leticia settlement.
Singapore and Johor Bahru (Malaysia)
A portion of the Mekong River separates Vientiane the capital of Laos from the northern Thai City of Nong Khai.
Cross-border town naming
In some locations, a pair of towns on opposite sides of the same boundary will have the same or similar names:
United States of America
Bluefield, West Virginia and Bluefield, Virginia
Chicago, Illinois and East Chicago, Indiana
Kansas City (Missouri) and Kansas City (Kansas)
St. Louis, Missouri and East St. Louis, Illinois
Texarkana, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas
Chuy, Uruguay and Chuí, Brazil are split by a grassy median between Av Brasil (Uruguay side) and Av Uruguay (Brazilian side) in the middle of town
Cieszyn, Poland and Český Těšín, Czech Republic
Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil; and Puerto Iguazú, Argentina are on opposite banks of Rio Iguazú which flows into Iguaçu_Falls.
Gorizia, Italy and Nova Gorica, Slovenia
Herzogenrath, Germany and Kerkrade, Netherlands
Laredo (Texas USA) and Nuevo Laredo (Tamaulipas Mexico) are divided by the Rio Grande
Niagara Falls is split by the falls and a river as Niagara Falls (Ontario) and Niagara Falls (New York)
Nogales is split between Arizona (USA) and Sonora (Mexico) right down International Street
Sault Sainte Marie (Ontario) and Sault Sainte Marie (Michigan)
Ulm (Baden-Württemberg) and Neu-Ulm (Bavaria), Germany
Valga, Estonia and Valka, Latvia
Often, a village, town or city existed before the border lines were drawn. On a friendly border this may be harmless; Lloydminster functions as one unified city long after the Northwest Territories was split to form individual provinces including Saskatchewan and Alberta. Conversely, an unfriendly border or occupation zone (or even the front line of an active conflict) can forcibly split a community in two, creating a divided city. It is not uncommon for different sectors of the same city to be under the control of different factions if military conflict is active and ongoing.
Berlin was divided into American, French, British and Russian occupation sectors at the end of World War II in Europe, dividing the city on Cold War NATO-Warsaw Pact boundaries until its 1990 reunification. It functioned as two separate cities. Tiny Mödlareuth, on the then inner-German border between Thuringia and Franconia, was also split in two by a wall.
Jerusalem was once partitioned as the front line of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but is now re-unified.
Sometimes an existing border is redrawn (often following a war) right through an existing town. If both communities are viable, sometimes one or both “halves” will be renamed:
Görlitz, Germany and Zgorzelec, Poland were separated through the Oder-Neiße line, which is now an open Schengen border
Frankfurt an der Oder and Słubice were likewise separated by the Oder-Neiße line, now an open Schengen border
Rafah has neighborhoods in Egypt as well as the Gaza Strip; the border is closed to regular travel most of the time
In other cases, a change in borders after a war has doomed one or both sides of a divided city. See Ghost towns#War and forced relocation.
Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus, which at the same time is the border between Europe and Asia. This makes Istanbul the only major city in the world to be located on two continents.