Interesting Nicknames of Places and why they are called so
A sobriquet is a nickname or phrase given to a person or place, often affectionately, that highlights a distinct characteristic or trait. Unlike pseudonyms which are self-assumed, they are generally given by others and are familiar enough to use them in place of the real name. For example, Mohandas Gandhi is better known as Mahatma Gandhi and New York is known as the City of Skyscrapers.
In this article, we look at sobriquets of 10 places around the world and why they are called so.
List of Place Sobriquets & Reasons behind them
Land of the Midnight Sun: Norway
Norway, the beautiful Scandinavian country, is located at a high latitude with a sizeable portion of its territory lying north of the Arctic Circle. In the summer months from late May to late July, the sun never completely dips below the horizon in areas north of the Arctic Circle. Thus, the sun shines through the midnight hour in these areas and they experience almost 24 hours of sunlight. This phenomenon of midnight sun has led Norway to be called the Land of the Midnight Sun. Conversely, in the winter months from late November to late January, the sun never rises completely above the horizon and these areas experience little to no sunlight, even during daytime.
Land of Fire and Ice: Iceland
Iceland, located in the north Atlantic Ocean, is a country of great geographical extremes. Because of its latitudinally northern location, Iceland sees its fair share of ice and truly, lakes and glaciers cover about 15% of the total land. Reykjavik, its capital, has the distinction of being the world’s northernmost capital city. On the other hand, it is also a highly geologically active region with many volcanoes, experiencing volcanic eruptions twice every decade that add more lava to the landscape. Land of Fire and Ice is thus an apt description of Iceland where glaciers and volcanic springs are found next to each other.
City of Dreaming Spires: Oxford
Oxford, located in England, is most renowned for the University of Oxford, which is the world’s second-oldest surviving university. A Victorian poet named Matthew Arnold wrote a poem called “Thyrsis” in which he described Oxford as the City of Dreaming Spires in reference to the harmonious and stunning architecture of Oxford’s university buildings. The term stuck and many of Oxford’s tourist attractions do indeed belong to universities and colleges.
Cockpit of Europe: Belgium
If you presumed that this sobriquet for Belgium has something to with airplanes, you are quite mistaken. The word ‘cockpit’ in its original sense meant exactly as the name suggests- a pit for fighting cocks. It is this sense of the word that led Belgium to be called the Cockpit of Europe or Battlefield of Europe because from the 16th century to the 19th century, it served as the battleground for many wars between European powers. In fact, it has been the site of more European battles than any other country. Some examples of battles include Fontenoy, Waterloo and Fleurus.
Rainbow Nation: South Africa
1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu, coined a rather colorful term to describe the southernmost African country after South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 1994. He called South Africa the Rainbow Nation to refer to its multicultural diversity and describe post-apartheid South Africa. The term was further popularized by Nelson Mandela. South Africa’s ethnic diversity ranges from the original San inhabitants to immigrants from Sub-Sahara Africa, Europe and Asia. It has 11 recognized official languages, which is among the highest in the world.
Roof of the World: Pamir
The Pamirs are a mountain range in Central Asia at the junction of the Himalayas, Tian Shan, Karakoram, Kunlun, Hindu Kush and Hindu Raj mountain ranges. Passing through 4 countries, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and China, they are among the world’s highest mountains. The reference to Pamirs as the “Roof of the World” is presumably a translation from Persian and with its high mountain peaks that are snowcapped throughout the year, it does seem an apt description!
The Forbidden City: Lhasa (Tibet)
Lhasa (literally meaning “place of the gods”) is the capital of Tibet. Located at an altitude of about 3500 meters, it is one of the highest cities in the world. It has also been the religious center of Tibet for more than 450 years and hosts many impressive religious edifices. It was home to many religious leaders and The Potala Palace used to serve as the residence of the Dalai Lama till not so long back. Because of the religious significance of the city, it was not accessible to everyone, especially foreigners. The remoteness of the city and religious exclusivity of Lhasa led it to be called “The Forbidden City”.
Land of Poets: Chile
Chile is famous for its vast coastline, wines, Andes Mountains and for those who follow football, Alexis Sánchez. But Chile also has highly valued poetry tradition that has earned it the name “Land of Poets”. It has been home to many decorated poets, with 2 of them winning the Nobel Prize in Literature- Gabriela Mistral in 1945 and Pablo Neruda in 1971. It was also the birthplace of “poetry bombing”- when thousands of leaflets containing poetry were dropped over the iconic Palacio La Moneda following the arrest of Chilean general Augusto Pinochet in London in 2001. The concept of poetry bombing has since spread to other places such as London, Berlin and Warsaw.
Gift of the Nile: Egypt
Egypt, the land of one of the oldest civilizations of the world, owes much of its advancements and developments to its greatest gift- The Nile River. The Nile River flowing through Egypt ends in a large delta before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt sits in the fertile river valley at the edge of the Saharan Desert. Historically, the Nile River flooded every year into the valley and when the flood water receded, it left a nutrient-rich layer of silt, which allowed farming to flourish along the river banks and in a way, gave rise to a common culture. Considering that most of Egypt is covered by the Sahara Desert and sparsely populated with the majority of people living along or near the banks of the Nile where the only arable land is found, Gift of the Nile is indeed an apt name for Egypt.
The Eternal City: Rome
The capital of Italy, Rome, was founded prior to 753 B.C., making it one of the oldest continuously occupied places in the world. Its fascinating history from a tiny village to a modern city, marked by innumerable events spanning more than 2500 years is a rich tribute to its solidity and endurance. Rome was first called “The Eternal City” by the Roman poet Tibullus in 1st century B.C. and it was believed by the ancient Romans that no matter what happened to the world or how many empires came and collapsed, Rome would go on forever. Considering its journey from rising to a powerful empire, facing the wrath of plagues and famines, prospering through the period of Renaissance, fighting off numerous attempts of foreign domination and evolving into a modern city, “The Eternal City” seems an apt sobriquet for Rome.