Split! Eight Quirky Border Towns
Because of the ever-changing nature of national boundaries, cities and towns across the globe often show traces of more than just one culture. This phenomenon is often most visible in border areas, where—due to misread maps, peculiar geography, or feudal land swaps—settlements end up developing their own particular multi-national quirks. Here are a few of the most unique border towns around the world.
Location: Belgium (Baarle-Hertog) and Netherlands (Baarle-Nassau)
On a map, the twin towns of Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog appear not unlike a checkerboard. A result of medieval serfdom treaties and land swaps, dots of Dutch land—often not much larger than a house—sit within Belgian enclaves, themselves surrounded by more of the Netherlands. Residents cross national boundaries walking across their own gardens, and because tax laws are determined by what direction your front door faces, renovations are not uncommon.
See: The town center makes the most of Baarle’s unique geography, with border markings painted on to the cobblestone streets, making a coffee break at the La Frontiere sidewalk café a truly transnational experience.
Location: Italy (borders Nova Gorica, Slovenia)
The town of Gorizia—derived from Gorica, which means ‘little mountain’ in Slovenian—has changed hands often. Today, the old town sits in Italy, although half of its main square—Piazza della Transalpina—is technically a part of the newer, Slovenia-controlled district of Nova Gorica. During the Yugoslav era, the piazza was cut in two by a wire fence. Since Slovenia entered the European Union in 2007, however, commuters cross national boundaries daily to use the Nova Gorica railway station.
See: Aside from the piazza, visit the Castagnavizza monastery in the Slovenian portion of the city, which houses a crypt containing Charles X and the last members of the French Bourbon dynasty.
3. Derby Line
Location: Vermont (borders Stanstead, Quebec)
At Derby Line, the US-Canada border cuts through residential streets and even houses. Fortunately, residents don’t have to report to border control whenever they cross from the living room to the kitchen. But on Canusa Avenue, Americans do have to check in with Canadian guards every time they pull out of the driveway—because the street they’re driving on is actually in Canada.
See: In 1901, a bi-national couple erected the Haskell Free Library and Opera House on the border itself as a symbol of international harmony, so that citizens of both countries could use its facilities. While mostly in Canada, the entrance to the library lies on the American side. A line on the floor in the reading room marks the official international boundary.
Location: Germany (borders Kreuzlingen, Switzerland)
The German city of Konstanz was originally built on the southern edge of Lake Constance. With Switzerland directly south, residents in the modern era had no choice but to expand the city northwards across the river so that, today, the old city forms an effective German enclave, bordered by the water on one side and by the Swiss town of Kreuzlingen on the other. During World War II, residents used this proximity to their advantage, keeping lights on at night to trick Allied planes that they were part of neutral Switzerland.
See: In 2007, the mayors of Konstanz and Kreuzlingen tore down the wire fence that marked the border and commissioned Konstanz artist Johannes Dörflinger to create an Art Border in its place, consisting of 22 abstract, stainless steel statues.
Location: Cyprus (United Nations Buffer Zone)
The quiet town of Pyla sits within the buffer zone between the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot portions of Cyprus. Street signs arbitrarily switch from Greek to Turkish, license plate varieties make one’s head spin, and a mosque and Greek Orthodox church function in perfect harmony. While shop owners fly their national flags with pride, they are not above spending most of the day sipping coffee in ‘enemy territory’ or listening to the songs of their most famous native, pop diva Anna Vissi.
See: Rent a quad bike and drive around the town, before exploring the nearby hillside routes to get an exceptional view of the Larnaka coast.
Location: Hungary (borders Austria)
The sleepy town of Sopron, on the Austrian border, wears its dual Hungarian-Germanic heritage on its sleeve. The old town, Belváros, is a gothic masterpiece reminiscent of Prague, with Baroque courtyards and passageways peppered among Medieval and Renaissance landmarks, a synagogue, and a Lutheran church. The town is also famous for its local variety of Kékfrankos (Blue Frankish) red wine.
See: Climb to the top of the Firewatch Tower, built on the stone foundations of an ancient Roman fortress, to get a view of the main square, home to the Holy Trinity Column and the Benedictine-era Goat Church (financed in the 13th century by a goat herder).
Location: Russia (borders Narva, Estonia)
Until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian town of Ivangorod functioned very much as a suburb of its much larger Estonian neighbor Narva, located across the river of the same name. Today, the two towns remain very much intertwined, with their municipalities currently embarking on a joint project to preserve their riverside archaeological sites.
See: The Ivangorod riverside fortress, built in 1492, sits directly across the water from the restored 13th century Narva Castle in Estonia. Walk across the Friendship Bridge that links the two or take photos from the Swedish Lion statue in Narva.
8. Campione d’Italia
Location: Italy (borders Switzerland)
On the banks of Lago di Lugano, the Italian village of Campione is surrounded on its three remaining sides by Switzerland, its odd status a result of a minor land donation to the church in the 8th century. Dotted with red-roofed lakeside villas, the town was once home to a school of freemasons that worked on cathedrals across Italy, as well as on the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Today, residents use Swiss francs and are able to travel freely through Switzerland—but need passports to see the rest of Italy.
See: The tiny settlement is, paradoxically, home to one of the largest casinos in Europe, Casinò di Campione. If averse to gambling, visit the Santa Maria dei Ghirli church, which houses a collection of beautiful 13th century frescoes.
Photo by Nekonomist/Flickr.com.