These computer-generated maps show all roads leading, inexorably, to Rome

All roads lead to... you get the idea. Image: Moovel.

The phrase “All roads lead to Rome” isn't really meant to be taken literally. The largest roads in the Roman Empire did tend to take you, eventually, to the eternal city (a function of the fact they were mostly there to move stonking great armies to and from place). But the phrase itself is actually more of a metaphor, for the way that multiple paths can take you to the same ultimate goal.

Anyway, these guys in Stuttgart decided to take it literally.

The Moovel Lab is, apparently, an “anti-disciplinary creative space” (no idea), attached to the tech firm behind the German wayfinding app Moovel. As an experiment/game/marketing stunt, they've decided to “set out on 3,375,746 journeys to check if [the proverb] was really true”.

Here's the result.

Now obviously all roads don't lead to Rome. Most of them don't go anywhere near it: Rome is quite a long way from the A127 through Basildon.

So what Moovel did is to take work out the quickest route to Rome from, near enough, every single point on the continent of Europe:

We aligned starting points in a 26,503,452 km² grid covering all of Europe. Every cell of this grid contains the starting point to one of our journeys to Rome.

Now that we have our 486,713 starting points we need to find out how we could reach Rome as our destination. For this we created an algorithm that calculates one route for every trip.

All this took the computer programme GraphHopper 20 hours, incidentally.

The more often a single street segment is used, the stronger it is drawn on the map. The maps as outcome of this project is somewhere between information visualization and data art, unveiling mobility and a very large scale.

The result is rather like an endlessly branching river system, or the pattern of veins on a leaf: wherever you start, the circulatory system will lead you, inexorably, back to the Italian capital.

There's fully interactive version here, on which you can zoom in to see the details. Here, since we're enjoying The Bridge at the moment, is Denmark:

You can even zoom into the level of individual cities. Here's London, with all roads leading to the M20 and the continent:

You can buy the resulting map as a poster:

The company has used a similar process to map the routes from La France Profonde to Paris:

Or from every corner of Germany into Berlin:

You can see more of Moovel Lab's work here.

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Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.