food / travel

When City Names Are A Passport To History

What's in a city name?
What's in a city name?
Graciela de Kuna

BUENOS AIRES — Places speak through their names, and the stories of their foundational origins constitute an intangible heritage as significant as any famous building or monument.

Toponymy is the study of place names and their origins, the relationship, in other words, between a place and its name. And names often give us information on a site's remotest past. We're not talking here about major urban centers that, like Lutetia/Paris and Londinium/London, obviously began as Roman settlements. This is about later cities, places that developed after the disorders that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the late fifth century, when people took refuge in the countryside and abandoned efforts to build settlements that could have grown into cities.

The collapse of the empire nearly provoked the end of city life for a good part of the Middle Ages, even if the situation began to improve from the 11th and 12th centuries as settlements emerged around political, economic or religious entities such as the castles of feudal lords and monarchs, abbeys and monasteries, or at trading crossroads and staging posts. In all these cases fortified walls were an indication of endemic insecurity and of how life was determined by being inside or outside those walls.

In this period the difference between the settlements emerging respectively to house the "middle" or trading classes, the future bourgeoisie, and those tied to fortresses (castrum in Latin) would start to reflect in their names. Thus the appearance of suffixes or prefixes like "burg", "chester" or "borough" in Central Europe and England, as in Manchester, Chesterfield, Rochester, Newborough, Strasbourg, Freiburg or Hamburg. Or in Italy "borgo", in towns like Borghetto, Borgo dell Anime, Borgo di Vilanova.

Strasbourg — Photo: Nicolas Vollmer

Examples in Spain include Burgos, Castrillón, Castro Urdiales. In France, we see them in places like Cherbourg, Montebourg or Castres. The components of these place names are also at the root of so many surnames, like Castro, Borges, Burgess, Borghi, Borghese, Oldenburg, Borgia (Borja in Spanish), Bohórquez or Bourgeois among others.

And in Argentina? Toponymy has worked differently on this continent, as most New World names arrived with the colonizers and thus date back no later than about 500 years. Where pre-Columbian names persist, we have information about a site's indigenous past or the native name given to a natural feature. In the Buenos Aires province for example, we have the district of Quilmes south of downtown Buenos Aires, named after the Quilmes or Kilme tribe of the Diaguita Nation that inhabited large parts of the Southern Cone.

This particular name bears witness to the group's resistance, over the course of 130 years, to the Spanish conquerors. When the tribe's "pucará" (fortress) was found, between present-day Tucumán and Salta, in northwestern Argentina, the Spanish took the vindictive step of force-marching the fort's defenders across the country toward Buenos Aires. The action was meant to serve as a warning and lesson to other would-be resisters. By the time they stopped, in what came to be known as Quilmes, the few surviving captives had walked some 1,300 kilometers. Many of those died soon after, in part because of the muggy climate that so differs from to their desert homeland.

And to think that most people know the word Quilmes for an entirely different reason: as the name of Argentina's top selling beer.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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