The twinning of towns and cities around the world with one another is nothing new. From small villages to capital cities, places twin with similarly sized locations from all corners of the earth, usually with some common characteristics like a language, population size or shared history for example.
Wales is no different, and many towns, villages and cities are twinned with obscure, exotic and unexpected places around the world. Some of those connections are quite obvious and make sense, such as anywhere that has a connection with Brittany, like Caernarfon and Mumbles with the coastal towns of Landerneau and Hennebont respectively, which are just two of the dozens of twinning destinations between Wales and France. There are also strong connections with Argentina, of course, as the link between Aberystwyth and the Patagonian town of Esquel shows. All of those connections are rooted in language and cultural similarities, however, there are also some mysterious twinning connections, including locations in Mali, Georgia and Nepal, to name just a few.
With that in mind, let’s look at ten examples today of Wales’ twin towns, including some of the most surprising and interesting, and just how they came to be…
Cardiff and Nantes, France
Let's start with, perhaps, the most well known one. Wales and the French province of Brittany have cultural, linguistic and enthic connections going back over a millennium, since some Brythonic peoples of southern Britain decided to flee the south coast towards what is now Brittany in the 600s and 700s. Nantes, the largest city in the area, was once a Breton city, although it is now considered to be part of Pays de la Loire, somewhat controversially. However, it is still strongly Breton in terms of its culture and identity.
On top of that historic connection, Cardiff and Nantes are similar in size, with central populations in the 300,000s and wider populations of up to one million people. Both have been traditionally major port cities, especially in the 19th century and both feature industrial highs and subsequent lows since between that time and today.
As many in Cardiff will be aware, there is also a Boulevard de Nantes in the city, a major ring road that intersects the city centre and the Civic Centre areas. There is also a Boulevard de Cardiff running parallel with the river in the French city.
Most recently Cardiff and Nantes have been in the news together due their respective football clubs, Cardiff City and FC Nantes, over the transfer of Emiliano Sala in January 2019. The small plane carrying the footballer from France to Wales crash landed in the channel due to severe weather conditions. The two clubs have been, unfortunately, on fairly negative terms ever since due to financial reasons.
Finally on Cardiff and Nantes, their relationship began on February 24th 1964 but their connections existed long in advance of that, with Nantes Chamber of Commerce documenting trade with Cardiff in coal and timber in 1729. Today, many school, youth and sport exchanges take place annually, which is the case in many of these twinning arrangements.
Llanwrtyd Wells and Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Llanwrtyd Wells and Český Krumlov have a strong bond that goes back to World War Two. Some 120 Czech children came to the Welsh town in 1939 as part of the Kinder Transport organised by Sir Nicolas Winton.
He organised the rescue of 669, mostly Jewish, children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. In his latter years, after his heroics came to public attention, Winton even visited Llanwrtyd Wells during one of the old school reunions.
The children attended the newly created Czechoslovak Secondary School in the town on their arrival, after the Czech government, in exile, rented a large home, which had once been part of a family farm estate. Many involved lost their families during the war but in some cases parents and children were eventually reunited.
Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines was one of the children rescued who came to school in Llanwrtyd Wells. She had said that upon arrival the children sang songs in Czech and Slovak for the local townspeople, as well as Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, which unsurprisingly endeared them to the natives from there on.
Herself, and many of her comrades, have returned to the town over the years, having maintained strong memories of their time in Llanwrtyd Wells.
That in itself is a great reason to forge a official relationship, and the towns confirmed their twinning in 1993, but their differences are fairly stark otherwise. Llanwrtyd Wells is considered to be the smallest town in Britain, with only 850 people, with its days as a prominent spa town long in the past. Český Krumlov, meanwhile, is a town of 13,000 people, a World UNESCO Heritage site, famous for beer, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Czech Republic today.
St. David’s and Naas, Ireland
St. David is a popular man in Wales. He is the country’s patron saint, gave us the leek as a national vegetable and started the church and monastery that has evolved over the last 1,500 years into what is St. David’s Cathedral today, located in the city of St. David’s in Pembrokeshire.
St. David’s is also the smallest city in not just Wales but the entire UK, as home to only around 1,800 people. It long held official city status only for it to be taken away for much of the twentieth century, until Queen Elizabeth II reinstated it in 1994 as part of her 40th anniversary celebrations.
Naas, the second-biggest town in the county of Kildare, in Ireland, is a major commuter town to Dublin and has a population of 21,000 people. It is also landlocked, so the parallels with St. David’s don’t appear obvious. However, the parish Church of Ireland church in Naas is named St. David’s! Following the Norman conquest of Ireland from 1169, the Cambro-Norman barons who settled in the area that is now called Naas built a church and dedicated it to Saint David. The barony of Naas had been granted to Maurice Fitzgerald who had direct family connections with the area of St. David’s monastery and cathedral. Even up until about 1800 it was the custom in Naas to wear a leek on March 1st in honour of the Welshman, and a Welsh flag still flutters from atop Naas town hall on St. David’s Day today.
The two places have been linked since respective ceremonies in Naas in 1992 and St. David’s in 1993.
Nefyn and Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Many will be familiar by now of the long-standing links between Wales and Argentina. In 1865, 153 people left Wales and travelled to South America on the Mimosa in order to start a new life in Argentina, where they could preserve their Welsh traditions and culture for generations to come. Y Wladfa (The Colony) had a shaky start but has been a success, and now there are up to 5,000 Welsh speakers in the Patagonian province of Chubut. A handful of Welsh towns have twinning arrangements with towns in Chubut, where these settlers established their communities.
Those connections include Cardigan with Trevelin, Caernarfon with Trelew, the aforementioned link of Aberystwyth and Esquel, and most interestingly of all, potentially, is the small town of Nefyn in north-west Wales with the largest town in Chubut, Puerto Madryn.
Nefyn is a town of 2,600 people, on the Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynedd. The town is known for its lovely, sandy beach and gets a lot of day visitors on a sunny day, but is otherwise a quiet, occasionally rainy, town. How then, is it twinned with one of the main towns of central Argentina, which also has a population of almost 100,000 people?
They are not as distant as they may seem, apart from the 8,000 miles in between them. Puerto Madryn is also known for its long, sandy beach, and we have already established its Welsh connections, featuring Welsh descendants, speakers, tea rooms and Welsh cakes. Most significantly, about three miles to the south-west of Nefyn is Madryn Castle, home of Sir Love Jones-Parry, who was one of the founders of the settlement of Puerto Madryn on July 28th 1865. The area was subsequently named after his family estate back on the homeland.
The Argentinian city has a major street named Avenida Gales (Wales Avenue), which runs from the seafront through the centre of town.
Mumbles and Havre de Grace, USA
This is one of the most recent twinning formations in the country, between the Swansea coastal village of Mumbles and the Maryland coastal town of Havre de Grace (pronounced Haver de Grace). It is one of only three Welsh towns officially twinned with a location in the United States of America (Brecon with Saline being one and Newport, Pembrokeshire, with Annapolis being the other), which particularly comes as a surprise considering the long line of connections between the two countries, and the numerous Welsh place names that exist in the US today, especially in Pennsylvania.
Mumbles and Havre de Grace officially began their relationship in the autumn of 2019 in Wales. The mayor of the American town, as well as up to 20 other members of the twinning association, came to Wales in order to formalise the connection, in a ceremony that took place in the Guildhall in Swansea. The week of the visit included an orchestral performance at All Saints Church in Mumbles for the visitors, a guided tour of the village, as well as of the Bay Campus of Swansea University and St. Fagans National Museum of History. There were receptions at Castellamare and at Mumbles Pier also, for example.
Situated at the mouth of the Susquehanna River and the head of Chesapeake Bay, Havre de Grace shares various landmarks with Mumbles. They’re both situated on a famous bay and have a historic lighthouse, are of a similar size and population, have a former oyster and crab harvesting industry, and an annual oyster festival. The most obvious difference is that Mumbles is hilly whereas Havre de Grace is quite the opposite. Both are also quite popular with tourists and day-visitors.
There was intended to be a reciprocal journey made to Maryland this autumn by a Mumbles delegation, but that has had to be postponed, just this week, due to the ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions unfortunately.
Hay-on-Wye and Timbuktu, Mali
The tale of how Hay-on-Wye came to twin with Timbuktu of all places is a little different to many of the other stories here, as it occurred through a competition held in Mali.
In 2007, Hay had the privilege of being twinned with Timbuktu in Mali over such opposition as Glastonbury and York. They may not seem like obvious partners, but there may be more to the connection that meets the eye. The two towns share a love of books – Hay being famous for its abundance of bookshops, of course. Meanwhile, Timbuktu is renowned for its ancient medieval manuscripts, being an ancient site of Islamic scholarship, as well as being the oldest home of the written word in Africa.
Both are also notoriously difficult to get to by public transport.
Since officially twinning 13 years ago, Timbuktu has been attacked by Islamist rebels and many people have had to flee to refugee camps. As a result, charities have been established in Hay in order to help their sister in Mali. Hay2Timbuktu has funded the education of girls in schools, provided health clinics and training of midwives, while funds have also been raised for a motorbike ambulance and to build toilet blocks in schools. Also, the Two Towns One World project was funded by the Welsh Government and the European Union, and managed by Hay Town Council. The project aimed to raise awareness and understanding among people in Hay and all over Powys of global development issues.
Llandrindod Wells and Bad Rappenau, Germany
A lot of Welsh towns are also twinned with locations in Germany. France may be well out on its own as the most popular country to try and twin with for Welsh places, for Germany is definitely second. Even the two biggest cities have strong German connections; Cardiff with Stuttgart and Swansea with Mannheim. Cardiff, much like with Nantes, even has a street named after the German city, Stuttgarter Strasse, while Swansea Marina has a Mannheim Quay, which features a cylindrical sculpture to acknowledge their relationship.
Despite all of that, the most interesting pairing may be Llandrindod Wells (already cemented as one of Wales’s most fun and interesting place names) and Bad Rappenau. As we have discovered so far, many of these twinnings are based on linguistic and cultural similarities above everything else, but in this instance it is because they are both spa towns historically.
Bad Rappenau is in the province of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany, and is a town of 20,000 people. After discovering a brine 175m below the surface 200 years ago, there were big efforts to use the brine as a remedy. A brine bath eventually opened in 1845, which by the twentieth century treated bone, joint and gland sufferings.
Llandrindod Wells has a similar history, although without quite as many lords and nobles coming and going. Currently, the Welsh town only has a quarter of the population of their sister in Germany, but it also developed as a spa town in the eighteenth century, due to the 'healing qualities' of the local spring waters.
The two towns have been twinned since 2001 and visits by delegations have taken place between the towns.
Brecon and Dhampus, Nepal
In 2019, the market town of Brecon became the first town in the UK to be officially twinned with a Nepalese village.
Nepalese Gurkha soldiers have been based in Brecon for the past 45 years and about 80 Nepalese families have made their home in the town since. The Gurkhas are a group of Nepalese warriors who have served the crown for more than 200 years, who traditionally have a reputation for fearless military prowess. Their service was officially transferred from the Indian Army to the British Army in 1947. Brecon is home to the Infantry Battle School and Gurkha Wing Mandalay, and an annual Gurkha Parade is even held every June.
A delegation of 23 people travelled to Dhampus in February last year, including town councillors. While in Nepal, the group visited four primary schools, two secondary schools and two orphanages. They funded sports kits for the schools and brought party bags with gifts for the children at the orphanages such as small toys. The group also took compact water filtration systems called Life Straws which will give a family clean drinking water for four years.
The town council also gave gifts to Dhampus including a plaque with the Brecon Town Council crest, town council scarves and ties, and two framed photos of Pen y Fan.
Powys county councillor David Meredith proposed the idea of twinning Brecon and Dhampus. He said: “..a number of Nepalese people living in Brecon are from Dhampus and it seemed the sensible place to link with.
“It’s absolutely amazing because when you’re up in Dhampus it’s like climbing Pen y Fan and looking down over Brecon and surrounding communities. It’s like for like. They are very similar.
“Dhampus only has a population of 3,000 so it is much smaller but nevertheless it has similarities with Brecon”. Brecon has a population of just over 8,000.
The connections between Wales and Nepal don’t stop there of course, as both have two of the most unique national flags in the world, and Nepal’s tallest peak, Mount Everest, is named after a Welshman.
Newport and Kutaisi, Georgia
In the 1980s, Newport Borough Council was interested in twinning with a town or city in the old Soviet Union. So an application was forwarded to Moscow where, it seems, it was placed in a Kremlin file and forgotten about for a few years.
That was until the idea arose in the Georgian town of Kalaisi, in the late 1980s, while still part of the Soviet Union, that they would like to be linked with a city in the UK. As a result, a delegation travelled from Kutaisi to Moscow in order to find a potential civic partner in Britain. There were several British towns looking to twin with a Soviet city at the time, however, so why Newport?
Firstly, Newport had the bonus of being in Wales. The Georgians saw parallels between themselves and Wales over their respective positions in the Soviet Union and the UK, from a political and socio-economic perspective. Additionally, the two cities are fairly similar in size and population, as are the two countries. Both Georgia and Wales are also mountainous with their own distinctive languages and cultures, and both are strongholds of rugby too. The biggest difference would probably be their respective geographic locations within their countries, as Kutaisi is centrally located in Georgia (but does have a major river), while Newport is of course, a lot closer to the south coast of Wales.
The relationship was officially formed in 1989 after a Newport delegation visited the Caucasus, and the Georgian city even has a Newport Street in their city centre. In 2010, to celebrate the link in Newport, a section of the River Usk riverside, from the old bridge to the pedestrian bridge, was named the Kutaisi Walk, where there is a plaque inscribed in English, Welsh and Georgian, commemorating the twinning.
Swansea and Wuhan, China
To finish, let’s focus on perhaps the most intriguing twinning at this particular moment in time, between Wales’ second city and the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been, of course, the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wuhan is also a city of 11 million people today, having grown exponentially across the last fifty years. Swansea, by comparison, has grown slowly but steadily in the same time, and now has roughly 240,000 people, so the similarities don’t seem obvious on most levels really. However, there is an interesting reason for their recent, formally established connection.
Links between the two began in 1855, when Swansea's Griffith John founded what is now called the Wuhan Union Hospital. He had set sail for China as a missionary in order to spread the gospel through good works. The hospital he founded in 1866, as Hankow Renji Hospital, is now one of China's biggest, treating 3.5 million patients annually. It became one of the designated hospitals to treat patients from the COVID-19 pandemic in the city.
For the past eight years now, the Wuhan Union Hospital has been collaborating with Swansea University's Medical School, and the agreement between Swansea and Wuhan was signed in 2016 when a Chinese delegation visited Swansea's Guildhall. There are regularly students from Wuhan visiting Swansea to study annually as well in recent years.
Speaking to the BBC in 2016, Councillor Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea council's cabinet member for enterprise, development and regeneration at the time, said: "The agreement we've signed with Wuhan will have benefits for both cities because it will enable us to learn from one another in areas ranging from transport and health to education and tourism.
"Wuhan is the engine of central China's economy, so we look forward to hearing their ideas and sharing examples of best practice with them to improve Swansea as a city in future."
Without Griffith John this connection will never have been possible. He was a fluent Chinese speaker, translated the Bible from English to Chinese, and travelled extensively throughout the country between 1855 and 1912. In 2012, a bust of Griffith John by sculptor Xiang Jinguo was placed in Swansea Museum, which was a gift from the hospital in Wuhan, on the 100th anniversary of his death. In September 2013, a blue plaque was unveiled in memory of John outside Ebenezer Chapel, in Swansea, where he worshipped as a boy and where his funeral also took place.
Swansea Museum has also held an exhibition about Griffith John previously.
There you have it, that is just ten examples of Wales’ sister cities and twin towns around the world. There are many, many more to choose from, but these are just ten of the most interesting or noteworthy today. If you have any interesting examples, please don’t hesitate to comment below. Thanks for reading.
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