4 Cities That Began in Surprising Ways
May 4, 2019
Jessica Scott
Jessica A. Scott has been a novelist and freelance writer for over 10 years. She loves travel and divides her time between her original hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, and Saronno, Italy.

The origins of most of the world's cities are very straightforward and traditional: A group of people came from somewhere else and decided to make that place the site where they built up their civilization. Some cities, though, have a history that is completely unconventional and surprising. Here are four cities that began in ways you would have never expected.

Auroville, India

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Known as "The City of Dawn," Auroville sounds like something from a Young Adult novel. In 1968, it was founded by Mirra "The Mother" Alfassa, who intended for it to be a real-life utopia. According to its official website, "Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities." There are no leaders here, no set of rules, just 2,000 people living in a community built around an enormous golden dome that serves as its temple. The city is still thriving more than 50 years later, so maybe utopia is something that can be achieved!

Chess City, Kalmykia, Russia

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The region of Kalmykia, Russia has interesting origins in its own right. It was founded in the 17th century by the Oirats, a tribe of Mongols, when they left their own country to avoid civil war. They settled in the south of Russia and made an alliance with the Tsar that led to them becoming almost like bodyguards for Russia. Fast forward to 1996, after these Mongols were largely cast out and "chess-mad millionaire" Kirsan Ilyumzhinov became the leader of this region and founded the bizarre-sounding Chess City, which was basically a monument to the game he loved. The city was built around a so-called "Chess Palace," which features a structure similar to that of a fortress with a glass-front giving visitors a view of the chess museum inside. Ultimately, this Chess City turned out to be a failed project, but no one can forget the brief time when chess ruled this part of Russia.

Rennes-le-Chateau, France

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The small city of Rennes-le-Chateau, France is a Catholic community that dates back to around 500-600 A.D. It only truly became a known city in the 1880s, though, when a strange preacher named Francois Berenger Sauniere moved in. Somehow, Sauniere came across an incredible amount of money (some say that he found buried treasure, others say that he "discovered some secret about the life of Christ," but these are just two of many unproven conspiracy theories) and used it to rebuild a church from the 11th century and inject a new life into the town, making it into the city it never fully was until that time. The strange part, though, was that he decorated this church with some rather odd art. The oddest is a statue of the devil grabbing onto a font of holy water that could easily scare even the least-devout Catholic. He also ordered that the words Terribilis Est Locus Iste, meaning "This Place is Terrible," be carved into the front of the church before building a lavish house for himself next door.

Noiva Do Cordeiro, Brazil

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