There's no place on Earth where East and West, cardinal directions, don't meet.

But, over the centuries, East and West — particularly the East in the minds of people in the West — have become terms loaded with cultural freight. For a long time in the European imagination, the divide between these spheres centered on where Christendom ended and the lands of Islam began. The history of colonialism both reinforced and reconfigured these divides.

The map below is WorldViews' attempt at mapping places in the world that have at some point been considered "where East and West meet" or "crossroads between East and West." The length of the list says less about the places in question and more about the flimsiness of East and West as cultural constructs.


Turkey: The storied city of Istanbul, where visitors and residents routinely take ferries back and forth from the city's European and Asian sides, has long been hailed as the crossroads of East and West.

Britain: The Greenwich Meridian, which runs through an observatory in London's environs, is technically where East meets West. It was settled upon as the "prime meridian" at an international conference in Washington in 1884.

Spain: Ruled for centuries by Arab Muslim sultans, the Iberian Peninsula was once a genuine cultural crossroads between European Christendom and lands further to the east. That changed after the Reconquista and brutal Spanish Inquisition in the late 15th century, but traces of this past can still be found in Spanish architecture, cuisine and language.

Tunisia: A central point in the Mediterranean, Tunisia's rich ancient history feeds into its complicated present — as one of the Arab world's most "Westernized" societies, at the "crossroads of the Islamic and European worlds."

Italy: In the early 12th century, the large Mediterranean island of Sicily (now part of Italy) was an astonishing place. Its rulers were ostensibly Norman — that is, French of Scandinavian origin. But many of their subjects were Muslim Arabs or Greeks. The resulting kingdom was one of the most curiously tolerant and cosmopolitan in Europe's medieval history, known for its sophisticated, polyglot culture. When the pope called for the Second Crusade in 1147, Sicily's king, Roger II, fluent in Arabic, opted against the mission.

Cyprus: The Mediterranean island close to the shores of Israel and Lebanon may now be split into  Greek and Turkish halves, but historians have long considered it one of the "crossroads" of the world's ancient civilizations.

Georgia: The countries of the Caucasus are all perched between Europe and Asia. For centuries under Ottoman rule, the West viewed them as "Oriental" places. Academics even say Georgia has a "crossroads consciousness."

Armenia: It's a similar case in Armenia, which has one of the world's oldest Christian populations but speaks a language and uses a script unintelligible to most in the West. Web sites devoted to tourism and the Armenian diaspora all point to Armenia being the place where East meets West.

Azerbaijan: NPR ran a story describing this small, oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea as a geopolitical battleground between Russia, Turkey, Iran and the West —calling it a "den of spites" where "east meets west." An article in The Washington Post explored how Azerbaijan wavered "between East and West" in the year it won the Eurovision song contest.

Kazakhstan: Both the vast Central Asian nation's old capital, Almaty, and new one, Astana, have been touted as places where East meets West.

Bosnia: With its overlapping histories of Ottoman and Austrian rule, the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, gets widely described in travel books as a "crossroads" between East and West.

Bulgaria: The Bulgarian capital, Sofia, takes its name from its patron, who, in the words of one travel writer, is "a dark princess that somehow embodies the city’s East-meets-West, old-meets-new allure."

Hungary: An Italian poet once waxed lyrical about Budapest's "mellow Oriental anxiety." A 19th-century American diplomat remarked: "A strange, a wonderful city is Budapest — truly a town where East meets West."

Russia: The city of St. Petersburg, Russia's former imperial capital, has long been celebrated for its distinctive, decadent European architecture and character. In his acclaimed 1913 book "Petersburg," the Russian novelist Andrei Bely sees the city's place, straddling "Asiatic" and European identities, in a gloomier light. "The West stinks of decay, and the East does not stink only because it has decayed long ago," Bely writes.

Ukraine: The upheavals of the past year have seen Ukraine "torn between East and West," as one BBC story puts it. In the eyes of some commentators, the country has become the staging ground for a new "clash of civilizations," gripped both by the liberal dreams of the European Union and the maws of Muscovite neo-imperialism.

Israel: For centuries, Europeans drew maps with Jerusalem — that holy city — at the center of the universe.

Syria: The ancient cities of Damascus and Aleppo were major stops on the Silk Road — so important that they were in the British imagination by the 16th century. In Shakespeare's "Macbeth," one of the witches speaks of a sailor’s wife — "Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger."

Jordan: The ancient Greco-Roman ruins at Jerash, tucked in the Jordanian desert, have been listed on UNESCO's tenative list for future World Heritage Sites as an "ancient meeting place of east and west."

U.A.E.: Here's a 1996 video produced by the U.S. Navy for sailors taking to shore in the Persian Gulf country, offering advice for how to conduct oneself when on a port visit in Dubai, a "city of merchants" that's a "timeless blend" of "east and west."

Iran: In the 19th century, Iran was viewed by British imperial strategists as "a strong link" between East and West, key to securing larger colonial interests in both the Middle East and India.

Iraq: There was an age when Baghdad was the seat of a vast empire and the center of the scientific universe — where both "eastern" and "western" traditions of inquiry and learning came together, laying the roots for the fields of astronomy, algebra, chemistry and so much more that now shapes the world.

Lebanon: The elegant coastal city of Beirut, Lebanon's capital, has long been celebrated as the "Paris of the Middle East," famed for its cafes and vibrant cultural life.

Afghanistan: The country may seem a remote place now, but for much of human history, Afghanistan was the proverbial crossroads between East and West, a place where the Silk Road threaded China to lands far beyond and left behind a hybrid culture.

Hong Kong: The former British colony (and now Chinese territory) prides itself on its unique identity as a Chinese city built on Anglo-Saxon principles (though not, of course, labor).

Singapore: The city-state began life in similar fashion to Hong Kong, as an entrepot for opportunistic British traders. "Singapore is where east meets west, a cosmopolitan melting pot with a unique identity," declares the government's own propaganda.

South Africa: The city of Durban, on South Africa's eastern coast, is one of the largest "Indian" cities in the world outside South Asia. The more than century-old population from the Indian subcontinent melded with Durban's local Zulu communities and European settlers, making the city, as one scholar put it, "an embryonic town where east meets west in Africa."

Australia: What was once a staunchly British-descendant settler nation is coming to grips with its geopolitical orientation as an Asian nation, beholden to Asian markets.

The Philippines: For more than 200 years, the Philippines was a colony of a colony, administered by Spanish officials out of what's now Mexico. A Philippine political commentator once quipped to WorldViews that his country was the "westernmost part of Latin America." The country's more recent history of American rule also led to the existence of a small grass-roots movement championing the Philippines' right to be the United States' 51st state.