hidden europe 22

City credentials

by Nicky Gardner


Is Tromsø really the Paris of the North? Or does the title more properly belong to St Petersburg? And the Rome of the North: Is that Cologne, Prague or the Glasgow suburb of Springburn?

It is said, in Tromsø at least, that nineteenthcentury travellers arriving in the north Norwegian city were so in awe of Tromsø's cosmopolitan demeanour that they dubbed the place the Paris of the North. Tromsø is undoubtedly an interesting city, but the parallel with Paris is not immediately obvious. Perhaps we have somehow missed the mountains and fjords around Paris that invite the comparison between the French capital and Tromsø. The lack of any obvious similarity has however not deterred the producers of modern tourist brochures from persistently alluding to Tromsø as the Paris of the North.

Tromsø's claim to the title is naturally contested. Spending a summer afternoon combing our extensive collection of tourist brochures, we have noticed that Riga styles itself similarly. As does St Petersburg (when it is not claiming to be the Venice of the North).

The use of geographical metaphor to express the character of a place is nothing new. When an early nineteenth-century French traveller dubbed Edinburgh the Athens of the North, Blackwood's Magazine, based in the Scottish city, bubbled over with enthusiasm.

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