Friday, March 18, 2011


The first Franco-Mongolian sister cities
Greetings to my readers in the Republic of Mongolia! I used to live not far from Rubrouck, a pretty village in French Flanders that has been twinned since 1994 with Bulgan, a small community in Mongolia. The pledge of friendship between the two communities came about because of an important voyage made by Guillaume de Rubrouck (1215-1295) to the Mongolian empire in 1253.
Bas-relief in brick depicting Guillaume de Rubrouck
on an exterieur wall of the village museum.

Rubrouck, an intrepid and sturdy Franciscain monk, traveled to Karakorum, Mongolia in 1253 bearing a letter of friendship from his French king, Saint-Louis.  To arrive there he travelled 16,000 kilometers by foot and horse, leaving from Constantinople and crossing the vast steppes of Central Asia to meet the successor of Gengis Khan, Mangou Khan. Bulgan was the barefoot Franciscain's first important stopping point when he arrived in western Mongolia.

Rubrouck's writings of his adventures, discoveries and observations is a significant ethnological work of the Middle Ages, preceding those of Marco Polo who travelled on the Route de la Soie in 1275.  In 1983 a pair of French historians, Claude and René Kappler published an authoritative translation of Guillaume's account, Voyage dans l'Empire Mongol (1253-1255).

The book stirred up interest in the historical event and stimulated a small group of French enthusiasts to organize in 1990 an equestrian expedition retracing the part of Rubrouck's voyage which he had followed on horseback. The  expedition which had the support of both the French and Mongolian governments, has since been repeated several times and has as well incited townspeople of  the Rubrouck village to actively preserve and honor the memory of its native son.

Since the twinning, the two communities have engaged in regular and heart-warming cultural exchanges, some of which have been filmed and can be viewed on line. In 1996 the president of the Republic of Mongolia travelled to French Flanders to inaugurate the small museum dedicated to Guillaume Rubrouck's voyage.

©2011 P.B. Lecron

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful history between the two cities.