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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With a dozen sister city affiliations, Kansas City residents have the chance to learn more about other cultures, travel destinations, and to help build stronger connections globally. The City of Fountains recognizes at least 12 sister cities on four different continents.

A twin town program came into fruition under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. He partnered with civic leaders, such as Kansas City’s own Joyce Hall, to create stronger bonds with people in the U.S. and abroad. He intended these connections to lay the groundwork for world peace. The twin town program is a citizen diplomacy initiative. Sister Cities International was originally part of the National League of Cities, but it became a separate entity in 1967 after the program’s numbers grew rapidly.

Twin town cultural events include the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., which honors the capital city’s twin relationship with Tokyo. Back in 1912, the mayor of Tokyo City gifted D.C. with Japanese cherry trees.

A sister city, county, or state relationship is a broad-based, long-term partnership between two communities in two separate countries. A relationship is officially recognized after elected officials from both communities sign off on an agreement to be twin cities.

There is no limit to how many partnerships a city may accept. Volunteers help keep the connection between the sister cities alive. In addition to volunteers, sister city organizations include representatives from nonprofits, municipal governments, the private sector, and other civic groups.

Each sister city organization is independent. Each group pursues the activities and thematic areas that seem the most appropriate to helping build bridges for business, trade, education, cultural exchanges, research, or other projects.

Seville, Spain

The Spanish city was the first to establish a sister city relationship with Kansas City in 1967. Seville is the capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region. It was home to the Expo ’92 World’s Fair. Seville only invited Kansas City to represent the U.S. for that expo. Kansas City and Seville celebrated its 50th anniversary of its sisterhood in 2017.

Plaza de España, panoramic view. | Wikipedia, Seville

Seville is the fourth largest city in Spain. Thousands of years ago, it was founded as the Roman city of Hispalis. The city changed names following Muslim and Christian takeovers of the city. Seville is about 2,200 years old. People from a wide range of beliefs and creeds have migrated to the city over the past thousand years, leaving the city as one of Europe’s historical heartbeats. It has a wide range of ancient sites including Gothic cathedrals, shrines of Greek gods and goddesses, battle sites, and sculptures.  Around 2.5 million travelers stayed at a tourist accommodation in Seville in 2018. This placed it third in Spain’s tourism industry behind Madrid and Barcelona. Seville has several museums, parks, gardens, vineyards, and other trendy spots for tourists. The region has several hills, rivers, and farmlands for the nature-lover to explore.

Fun fact:  in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan departed from Seville for the first circumnavigation of Earth.

Kurashiki, Japan

The coastal city extends along Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. It has centuries-old buildings and shops located in the Bikan Historical Quarter. Kurashiki donated a Japanese Tea Room to Kansas City’s Loose Park in 2006. The Tea Room is set in a traditional Japanese garden. The green space includes a fountain, boulders, brush, and a path leading to the Tea Room. The space gives Kansas Citians a place to rest and meditate quietly.

Great Seto Bridge (Seto-Ohashi Bridge) seen from Shimotsui, Kurashiki | Wikipedia

The cities celebrated their 45th anniversary of sisterhood in 2017. The partnership began in 1972.

Modern Kurashiki was founded on April 1, 1928. It was the site of clan clashes during the Heian period (794-1185). Over the centuries, it developed as a river port. During the Edo period (1603-1868), the shogunate took control of the city. Japan’s Industrial Revolution introduced Kurashiki to a wide range of factories, including the Ohara Spinning Mill, which now operates as a tourist attraction in Ivy Square. Kurashiki is the home of Japan’s first museum of Western art, the Ohara Museum. It also includes Asian and contemporary art. The city is home to a late 7th century castle, Buddhist temples, museums, an aquarium, beaches, and plenty of folklore.

Morelia, Mexico

The city is the capital of Michoacán State. The historic downtown is a UN World Heritage site. Morelia has sponsored language and culture training for KCPD officers. Kansas City established a sisterhood with Morelia in 1973.

Eastern facade | Wikipedia, Morelia Cathedral

Morelia is located in the Guayangareo Valley. The Spanish took control of the area in the 1520s. Following the Mexican War of Independence in September 1821, the city was officially named Morelia in honor of José María Morelos. He was a Roman Catholic priest and revolutionary rebel leader who led the independence movement.

The city is rich with history dating back hundreds of years. The heart of the historic center is the Morelia Cathedral, a Catholic site made of pink stone. Tourists often explore the surrounding plazas near the church. Some of the highlights of the city include an orchid museum, a popular rose garden, a zoo with a train ride, and a history museum in a Baroque palace.

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Kansas City’s first sister city partnership with an African city was established in 1974. Freetown, Sierra Leone is the largest city in the nation with over one million residents calling it home.

A view of Freetown from the harbor | Wikipedia

The Western African nation is known for its white-sand beaches. Freetown is a major port city on the Atlantic Ocean. The city’s economy revolves around its harbor, which occupies part of the Sierra Leone River. Freetown was founded on March 11, 1792 by Lieutenant John Clarkson, by Black Britons, and with the help of the Nova Scotian Settlers. Freetown is the oldest capital to be founded by African Americans. It was founded thirty years before Monrovia, Liberia. The city stands out with its unique Creole architecture, which has hints of American and Caribbean influences.

The city has a chimpanzee sanctuary, spots for diving and exploring shipwrecks, plenty of recreational beaches, and historical museums and markers on the end of the Transatlantic slave trade.  The Cotton Tree landmark and King’s Yard Gate were both known as refuge sites for returned slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Freetown is a diverse and religiously tolerant city. It is home to a large population of Muslims and Christians. Sierra Leone is also a hot-spot for soccer. Eight of the fifteen clubs in the Sierra Leone National Premier League are from Freetown; this includes two of Sierra Leone’s largest and highest-achieving football clubs.

Tainan, Taiwan

The ancient capital of Taiwan is home to centuries-old fortresses and temples. Several companies have moved operations to the city turning it into a business hub.  One of the most popular tourist destinations is Chihkan Tower. It is an 18th-century Chinese complex with gardens, intricately carved towers, and a temple. It originally was a Dutch outpost in the mid 17th century. The sisterhood with Kansas City was established in 1978.

Jieguanting (接官亭) in Go-tiau-kang, Tainan gateway to the sea during Qing dynasty | Wikipedia

Tainan is famous for selling fireworks, particularly bottle rockets. At the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, people hope to be bombarded by those rockets, expecting it will bring them good luck for the following year. The event is held 15 days into the Chinese lunar calendar year.

Many well-known Taiwanese food dishes originated in the city. Tainan city officials claim this is because of a sugar surplus. The food there tends to be sweeter than in other parts of Taiwan. Common foods include: danzai noodles, shrimp rolls, savory rice pudding, Taiwanese meatballs, milkfish, eel noodles, and coffin bread. Coffin bread was invented in the 1940s. It includes a thick piece of toast, seafood chowder with pork, mushrooms, pea, and carrots. It got its name because it looks like a coffin.

The city has more than 1,600 registered temples, which is more than any other municipality, city, or county in Taiwan.

Xi’an, China

Previously one of the Four Ancient Capitals of China, Xi’an now reigns as the capital of Shaanxi Province in central China. The Kansas City and Xi’an sisterhood was established in 1989. The Xi’an Sister City Committee helped create the annual dragon boat racing tradition on Brush Creek.

The Great Mosque of Xi’an | Wikipedia

Xi’an is one of China’s oldest cities. It is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Since the 1990s, the city has emerged as an industrial, educational, and cultural center. It has facilities for research, national security, and space exploration. More than 12 million people live in the city making it the most populous city in Northwest China. In 2012, it was named as one of the 13 emerging mega-cities of China.

Guadalajara, Mexico

Birthplace of mariachi bands and charreada rodeos, Guadalajara is a tropical wonderland with plenty of activities for the restless wanderer. The city is the capital of the State of Jalisco and the 2nd largest city in Mexico. The historic center is dotted with colonial plazas, landmarks, and gardens.

Puerta de Hierro business district | Wikipedia

Tequila, authentic Mexican food, clubs, beaches, and fire dancers make up the night life. Catholicism is alive and well in the city with a plethora of spots setup for worshipers. The city is also a hot spot for writers, painters, actors, film directors, and musicians.

One of the main local dishes is birria: a goat or lamb meat cooked in a spicy sauce seasoned with chili peppers, ginger, cumin, black pepper, oregano, and cloves.

There are several thousand indigenous language speakers in Guadalajara. Most of them also speak Spanish.

Kansas City and Guadalajara established a sisterhood in 1991.

Hannover, Germany

Founded in medieval times on the east bank of the river Leine, Hannover started as a small fishing village. Kansas City and Hannover both have a love for jazz and host annual festivals celebrating the music style. An exchange between engineering schools has also strengthened the global partnership. The sisterhood was established in 1993.

Market Church in Hanover | Wikipedia

Volunteers with the sisterhood help promote German themed events in Kansas City. The sisterhood Facebook page lists German themed film festivals and music shows.

Hannover has the largest fairground in the world for holding trade fairs, music festivals, and expos. The IAA Commercial Vehicles show takes place every two years. It is the world’s leading trade show for transport, logistics, and mobility.

The city has a wide range of activities for night life from theater, cabaret, musicals, clubs, bars, and galleries.

Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Port Harcourt is the chief oil refining city of Nigeria.  Royal, Dutch, Shell, and Chevron all have oil firms in the city. Port Harcourt is the capital and largest city of Rivers State, Nigeria. The sisterhood with Kansas City has helped create partnerships with medical professionals and has aided in strengthening medical institutions.  Port Harcourt is the leading hub for medical services in Rivers State. Several hospitals and research facilities are located there.

A street scene in Port Harcourt | Wikipedia

The city is predominately made up of Christians. Roman Catholics make up a significant portion of the population. On the other hand, party life is active in the city. Port Harcourt is home to a wide range of public houses, lounges, dance bars, clubs, and brothels.

The two cities entered a sisterhood in 1993.

Arusha, Tanzania

The East African city is home to safari destinations and to Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro — it’s 16,100 ft. above sea level. To the west of Arusha lies the Serengeti National Park, which is home to a wide range of wildlife.

Mount Meru in the background of the city of Arusha | Wikipedia

Kansas City and Arusha established a sisterhood in 1995.

The Tanzanian city is a major international diplomatic hub. The city hosted an international court from 1994-2015 to determine cases revolving around the Rwandan genocides. Arusha is a multicultural city home to mostly Tanzanians but also Arabs, Indians, and a smaller portion of Europeans and Americans. Religion is just as diverse with places of worship for Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus.

Cuisine is also varied with local favorites and foods from aboard. Ugali is a stiff maize meal polenta; it is popular in Eastern African countries. Tanzania is known for barbecue dishes and for its roasted meat cuts of cow, lamb, and goat. Cold beer is also a staple.

Ramla, Israel

The Ramala Committee helped create the “Let the Children Play” program. It encourages Jewish and Muslim Kansas Citians to collect toys to be distributed to children of all faiths in Ramla. The two cities established a sisterhood in 1998.

Ramla | Wikipedia

Ramla is located in central Israel. 80% of the residents are Jewish and 20% are Arab Muslims or Arab Christians. Ramla has a long history dating back to the 8th century. That history is dotted with crusades, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, and now the more recent time of Israel as its own nation.

The Ayalon Cave in Ramla has eluded scientists and archaeologists. Bacteria thrives there without any light or organic food coming in from the surface. The cave’s isolation led to the evolution of a whole separate food chain, including previously unknown invertebrates. Researchers came across eyeless scorpions, but all 10 of the specimen were dead. The scorpions likely died years ago from overpumping of groundwater leading to a shrinking of the underground lake. It is the third largest limestone cave in Israel.

Yan’an, China

The Long March military retreat, undertaken by the Red Army of the Communist Party, ended near Yan’an in 1935. The city saw the birth of the Chinese Community Party — Kansas City journalist Edgar Snow was the first western journalist to give an account of the developments happening there.

The Hukou Waterfall in 2008 | Wikipedia

Snow briefly studied at the University of Missouri before  he decided to travel around the world in 1928. He intended to write about his overseas travels. He made it to Shanghai that summer, and stayed in China for thirteen years.

Shortly before the United States entered World War II, Snow toured Japanese-occupied areas of Asia and wrote his book, “Battle for Asia” in which he detailed his observations. Overtime he became concerned about growing fascism in China’s rural areas. He died before President Richard Nixon traveled to China to meet with Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Communists continue to celebrate Yan’an as the birthplace of its revolution.

The city is home to the second largest waterfall in China, Hukou Waterfall. Several burial sites of legendary figures rest in Yan’an.

Kansas City established a sisterhood with Yan’an in 2017.