The word capital
derives from the Latin caput
), meaning 'head
In several English-speaking states, the terms county town
and county seat
are also used in lower
subdivisions. In some unitary states
, subnational capitals may be known as 'administrative centres'. The capital is often the largest city
of its constituent, though not always.
Historically, the major economic centre of a state or region has often become the focal point of political power, and became a capital through conquest
(The modern capital city has, however, not always existed: in medieval Western Europe, an itinerant (wandering) government
Examples are ancient Babylon
, Abbasid Baghdad
, ancient Athens
, ancient Cusco
, and Warsaw
. The capital city naturally attracts politically motivated people and those whose skills are needed for efficient administration
of national or imperial governments, such as lawyers
, political scientists
, and public policy makers
. Some of these cities are or were also religious centres
(more than one religion), Rome (the Roman Catholic Church
(more than one religion), Babylon, Moscow (the Russian Orthodox Church
), Belgrade (the Serbian Orthodox Church
), Paris, and Beijing.
The convergence of political and economic or cultural power is by no means universal. Traditional capitals may be economically eclipsed by provincial rivals, e.g. Nanking
, Quebec City
, and numerous US state capitals
. The decline
of a dynasty or culture could also mean the extinction of its capital city, as occurred at Babylon
Although many capitals are defined by constitution or legislation, many long-time capitals have no legal designation as such, including Bern
, and Wellington
. They are recognized as capitals as a matter of convention, and because all or almost all the country's central political institutions, such as government departments, supreme court, legislature, embassies, etc., are located in or near them.
in the United Kingdom
have historic county towns, which are often not the largest settlement within the county and often are no longer administrative centers, as many historical counties are now only ceremonial, and administrative boundaries are different. The number of new capitals in the world increased substantially since the Renaissance
period and especially with the founding of independent nation-states since the eighteenth century.
, there is a federal capital
, while the ten provinces
and three territories
each have capital cities. The states of such countries as Mexico
(including the famous cities of Rio de Janeiro
and São Paulo
, capitals of their respective states), and Australia
also each have capital cities. For example, the six state capitals of Australia are Adelaide
, and Sydney
. In Australia, the term "capital cities" is regularly used to refer to those six state capitals plus the federal capital Canberra
, and Darwin
, the capital of the Northern Territory
. Abu Dhabi
is the capital city of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi
and also of the United Arab Emirates
In the Federal Republic of Germany
, each of its constituent states
, plural of Land
) has its own capital city, such as Dresden
, and Munich
, as do all of the republics of the Russian Federation
. The national capitals of Germany and Russia (the Stadtstaat
and the federal city
) are also constituent states of both countries in their own right. Each of the states of Austria
and cantons of Switzerland
also have their own capital cities. Vienna
, the national capital of Austria
, is also one of the states, while Bern
is the (de facto
) capital of both Switzerland
and of the Canton of Bern
The majority of national capitals are also the largest city in their respective countries, but in some countries this is not the case.
Governing entities sometimes plan, design and build new capital cities to house the seat of government of a polity
or of a subdivision. Deliberately planned and designed capitals
- Abuja, Nigeria (1991)
- Aracaju, Sergipe, Brazil (1855)
- Ankara, Turkey (1923)
- Austin, Texas, US (1839)
- Belmopan, Belize (1970)
- Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil (1897)
- Brasília, Brazil (1960)
- Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India (1948)
- Bireuen, Aceh, Indonesia (1948)
- Canberra, Australia (1927)
- Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana, India (1966)
- Constantinople, Roman Empire (324–330)
- Frankfort, Kentucky, US (1792)
- Gaborone, Botswana (1964)
- Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India (1960)
- Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil (1933)
- Indianapolis, Indiana, US (1825)
- Islamabad, Pakistan (1960)
- Jefferson City, Missouri, US (1821)
- La Plata, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina (1882)
- Nava Raipur or Atalnagar, Chhattisgarh, India (2003)
- Naypyidaw, Burma (2005–2006)
- New Delhi, British India (1911)
- Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan (1997)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, US (1889)
- Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (1857)
- Palmas, Tocantins, Brazil (1989)
- Part of Penajam North Paser and Kutai Kartanegara, East Kalimantan, Indonesia (2019)
- Quezon City, Philippines (1948–76)
- Raleigh, North Carolina, US (1792)
- Soltaniyeh, Ilkhanate Persia (1306–1335)
- Valletta, Malta (1571)
- Washington, D.C., US (1800)
These cities satisfy one or both of the following criteria:
- A deliberately planned city that was built expressly to house the seat of government, superseding a capital city that was in an established population center. There have been various reasons for this, including overcrowding in that major metropolitan area, and the desire to place the capital city in a location with a better climate (usually a less tropical one).
- A town that was chosen as a compromise among two or more cities (or other political divisions), none of which was willing to concede to the other(s) the privilege of being the capital city. Usually, the new capital is geographically located roughly equidistant between the competing population centres.
Some examples of the second situation (compromise locations) are:
- Canberra, Australia, chosen as a compromise located between Melbourne and Sydney.
- Washington, D.C., United States, founded as a compromise between more urbanized Northern states and agrarian Southern "slave states" to share national power. The Compromise of 1790, resulted in the passage of the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River on land ceded from Maryland and Virginia.
- Frankfort, Kentucky, midway between Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky.
- Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, located along the boundary between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec – the two most populous of the ten provinces.
- Tallahassee, Florida, chosen as the midpoint between Pensacola and St. Augustine, Florida – then the two largest cities in Florida.
- Wellington became the capital city of New Zealand in 1865. It lies at the southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand, the smaller of New Zealand's two main islands (which subsequently became the more populous island) immediately across Cook Strait from the South Island. The previous capital, Auckland, lies much further north in the North Island; the move followed a long argument for a more central location for parliament.
- Managua, Nicaragua, chosen to appease rivals in León and Granada, which also were associated with the liberal and conservative political factions respectively
- Jefferson City, Missouri was selected as the state capital in 1821, the year after Missouri was admitted to the Union, due to its central location within the state. It is almost halfway between Missouri's two largest cities, Kansas City in the west and St. Louis in the east, although Kansas City was not incorporated until 1850.
Changes in a nation's political regime sometimes result in the designation of a new capital. Akmola
(from 1998 Astana and from March 2019 Nur-Sultan) became the capital of Kazakhstan
in 1997, following the collapse of the Soviet Union
in 1991. Naypyidaw
was founded in Burma
's interior as the former capital, Rangoon
, was claimed to be overcrowded.
Unusual capital city arrangements
A few nation-states have multiple capitals, and there are also several states that have no capital. Some have a city as the capital but with most government agencies elsewhere.
- Azores (Portugal): since the establishment of local autonomy in 1976, the Azores has three designated regional capital cities: Ponta Delgada at São Miguel Island (seat of the Autonomous Government); Horta at Faial Island (seat of the Legislative Assembly); and Angra do Heroísmo at Terceira Island (seat of the judiciary and the historical capital of the Azores, in addition to being the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Angra).
- Belize: Belmopan was designated the national capital in 1971, but most government offices and embassies are still located in Belize City.
- Canary Islands (Spain): Until 1927 the capital of the Province of Canarias was Santa Cruz de Tenerife. When the Canary Islands became an autonomous community in 1982, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria were both given capital status. There is currently a balance of institutions between the two capitals; the Canary Islands is the only autonomous community in Spain which has two capitals.
- Chile: Santiago is the capital even though the National Congress of Chile meets in Valparaíso.
- Czech Republic: Prague is the sole constitutional capital. Brno is home to all three of the country's highest courts, making it the de facto capital of the Czech judicial branch.
- Estonia: the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Education and Research are located in Tartu.
- Finland: During the summer, the President resides at the Kultaranta in Naantali; presidential sessions of the government are held there as well.
- France: The French constitution does not recognize any capital city in France. By lawParis is the seat of both houses of Parliament (the National Assembly and the Senate), but their joint congresses are held at the Palace of Versailles. In case of emergency, the seat of the constitutional powers can be transferred to another town, in order for the Houses of Parliament to sit in the same location as the President and Cabinet.
- Germany: The official capital Berlin is home to the parliament and the highest bodies of the executive branch (consisting of the ceremonial presidency and effective chancellery). Various ministries are located in the former West German capital of Bonn, which now has the title "Federal City". The Federal Constitutional Court has its seat in Karlsruhe which, as a consequence, is sometimes called Germany's "judicial capital"; none of Germany's highest judicial organs are located in Berlin. Various German government agencies are located in other parts of Germany.
- South Korea: Seoul remains as the capital and seat of the government's branches, but many government agencies have moved to Sejong City.
- Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur is the constitutional capital, home of the King, and seat of Parliament, but the federal administrative centre and judiciary have been moved 30 kilometres (19 mi) south to Putrajaya.
- Montenegro: The official capital Podgorica is home to the parliament and the executive, but the seat of the presidency is in the former royal capital of Cetinje.
- Myanmar (Burma): Naypyidaw was designated the national capital in 2005, the same year it was founded, but most government offices and embassies are still located in Yangon (Rangoon).
- Nauru: Nauru, a microstate of only 21 square kilometres (8.1 sq mi), has no distinct capital city, but has a capital district instead.
- Pakistan: Islamabad is a modern purpose-built capital city. Its construction started in 1960 and was completed in 1966. The capital was first shifted temporarily from Karachi to Rawalpindi in 1960, and then to Islamabad when essential development work was completed. It was built as a forward capital for strategic and economic reasons.
- Philippines: Presidential Decree No. 940, issued on 24 June 1976, designates the whole of National Capital Region (NCR) or the metropolitan area of Manila as the seat of government, with the City of Manila as the capital. National government institutions are scattered within the metropolis instead of being concentrated within the capital city. The presidential palace (Malacanang Palace) and the Supreme Court are located within the capital city but the two houses of Congress are located in separate suburbs.
- Portugal: The Portuguese constitution has no reference to a capital. Although Lisbon is home to the Parliament, the President's and the Prime Minister's official residences, all the Government's departments, all the embassies and the highest courts, no Portuguese official document states that Lisbon is the national capital.
- Sri Lanka: Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is designated the administrative capital and the location of the parliament, while the former capital, Colombo, is now designated as the "commercial capital". However, many government offices are still located in Colombo. Both cities are in the Colombo District.
- South Africa: The administrative capital is Pretoria, the legislative capital is Cape Town, and the judicial capital is Bloemfontein. This is the outcome of the compromise that created the Union of South Africa in 1910.
- Switzerland: Bern is the Federal City of Switzerland and functions as de facto capital. However, the Swiss Supreme Court is located in Lausanne which is also the Olympic Capital.
- Tanzania: Dodoma was designated the national capital in 1996, but most government offices and embassies are still located in Dar es Salaam.
- United States:
- Monaco, Singapore, and the Vatican City are city-states, and thus do not contain any distinct capital city as a whole. However, in Singapore's case, the main judiciary and legislative offices are located in the Downtown Core. Similarly, while Victoria was the capital of colonial Hong Kong, the district of Central serves as the seat of government offices today.
Capitals that are not the seat of government
There are several countries where, for various reasons, the official capital and de facto seat of government
- Benin: Porto-Novo is the official capital, but Cotonou is the seat of government.
- Bolivia: Sucre is the constitutional capital, and the supreme tribunal of justice is located in Sucre, making it the judicial capital. The Palacio Quemado, the national congress and national electoral court are located in La Paz, making it the seat of government.
- Ivory Coast: Yamoussoukro was designated the national capital in 1983, but most government offices and embassies are still located in Abidjan.
- Netherlands: Amsterdam is the constitutional national capital even though the Dutch government, the parliament, the supreme court, the Council of State, and the work palace of the King are all located in The Hague, as are all the embassies. (For more details see: Capital of the Netherlands.)
Some historical examples of similar arrangements, where the recognized capital was not the official seat of government:
: Both the Government of Israel
and the Palestinian Authority
as their capital. Jerusalem serves as Israel's capital, with the presidential residence, government offices, supreme court and parliament (Knesset
) located there, while the Palestinian Authority has no de facto
or de jure
control over any of Jerusalem. Many countries, with the notable exception of the United States, which recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,
take the position that the final status of Jerusalem
is unsettled pending future negotiations
. Most countries maintain their diplomatic missions to Israel
in Tel Aviv
, while diplomatic missions to Palestine
are in various places such as Ramallah
, Gaza City
Capital as symbol
With the rise of the modern nation-state
, the capital city has become a symbol
for the state
and its government
, and imbued with political meaning. Unlike medieval
capitals, which were declared wherever a monarch
held his or her court, the selection, relocation, founding, or capture of a modern capital city is a highly symbolic event. For example:
- The ruined and almost uninhabited Athens was made capital of newly independent Greece in 1834, four years after the country gained its independence, with the romantic notion of reviving the glory of Ancient Greece. Similarly, following the Cold War and German reunification, Berlin is now once again the capital of Germany. Other restored capital cities include Moscow after the October Revolution.
- A symbolic relocation of a capital city to a geographically or demographically peripheral location may be for either economic or strategic reasons (sometimes known as a forward capital or spearhead capital). Peter the Great moved his government from Moscow to Saint Petersburg to give the Russian Empire a European orientation. The economically significant city of Nafplion became the first capital of Greece, when Athens was an unimportant village. The Ming emperors moved their capital to Beijing from the more central Nanjing to help supervise the border with the Mongols. During the 1857 rebellion, Indian rebels considered Delhi their capital, and Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed emperor, but the ruling British had their capital in Calcutta. In 1877, the British formally held a 'Durbar' in Delhi, proclaiming Queen Victoria as 'Empress of India'. Delhi finally became the colonial capital after the Coronation Durbar of King-Emperor George V in 1911, continuing as independent India's capital from 1947. Other examples include Abuja, Astana, Brasília, Helsinki, Islamabad, Naypyidaw and Yamoussoukro.
- The selection or founding of a "neutral" capital city, one unencumbered by regional or political identities, was meant to represent the unity of a new state when Ankara, Bern, Canberra, Madrid, Ottawa and Washington became capital cities. Sometimes, the location of a new capital city was chosen to terminate squabbling or possible squabbling between various entities, such as in the cases of Canberra, Ottawa, Washington, Wellington and Managua.
- The British-built town of New Delhi represented a simultaneous break and continuity with the past, the location of Delhi being where many imperial capitals were built (Indraprastha, Dhillika, and Shahjahanabad) but the actual capital being the new British-built town designed by Edwin Lutyens. Wellington, on the southwestern tip of the North Island of New Zealand, replaced the much more northerly city of Auckland to place the national capital close to the South Island and hence to placate its residents, many of whom had sympathies with separatism.
- During the American Civil War, tremendous resources were expended to defend Washington, D.C., which bordered on the Confederate States of America (with the Commonwealth of Virginia), from Confederate attack even though the relatively small federal government could easily have been moved elsewhere. Likewise, great resources were expended by the Confederacy in defending the Confederate capital from attack by the Union, in its exposed location of Richmond, Virginia, barely 100 miles (160 km) south of Washington, D.C.
Capitals in military strategy
The capital city is usually but not always a primary target in a war, as capturing it usually guarantees capture of much of the enemy government, victory for the attacking forces, or at the very least demoralization for the defeated forces.
In ancient China
, where governments were massive centralized bureaucracies with little flexibility on the provincial level, a dynasty
could easily be toppled with the fall of its capital. In the Three Kingdoms
period, both Shu
fell when their respective capitals of Chengdu
fell. The Ming dynasty
relocated its capital from Nanjing
, where they could more effectively control the generals and troops guarding the borders from Mongols
. The Ming was destroyed when Li Zicheng
took their seat of power, and this pattern repeats itself in Chinese history, until the fall of the traditional Confucian
monarchy in the 20th century. After the Qing dynasty
's collapse, decentralization of authority and improved transportation and communication technologies allowed both the Chinese Nationalists
and Chinese Communists
to rapidly relocate capitals and keep their leadership structures intact during the great crisis of Japanese invasion
National capitals were arguably less important as military objectives in other parts of the world, including the West, because of socioeconomic trends toward localized authority, a strategic modus operandi especially popular after the development of feudalism
and reaffirmed by the development of democratic and capitalistic philosophies. In 1204, after the Latin Crusaders
captured the Byzantine
, Byzantine forces were able to regroup in several provinces; provincial noblemen managed to reconquer the capital after 60 years and preserve the empire for another 200 years after that. The British
forces sacked various American
capitals repeatedly during the Revolutionary War
and War of 1812
, but American forces could still carry on fighting from the countryside, where they enjoyed support from local governments and the traditionally independent civilian frontiersmen. Exceptions to these generalizations include highly centralized states such as France
, whose centralized bureaucracies could effectively coordinate far-flung resources, giving the state a powerful advantage over less coherent rivals, but risking utter ruin if the capital were taken.
- Andreas Daum, "Capitals in Modern History: Inventing Urban Spaces for the Nation", in Berlin – Washington, 1800–2000: Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities, ed. Andreas Daum and Christof Mauch. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 3–28.
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- ^ Makas, Emily Gunzburger; Conley, Tanja Damljanovic (4 December 2009). Capital Cities in the Aftermath of Empires: Planning in Central and Southeastern Europe. Routledge. ISBN 9781135167257. Archived from the original on 10 October 2017.
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- ^ Berlin – Washington, 1800–2000: Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities, ed. Andreas Daum and Christof Mauch. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN ISBN 978-0-521-84117-7, pp. 4–7.
- ^ Crew, Harvey W.; Webb, William Bensing; Wooldridge, John (1892). Centennial History of the City of Washington, D.C. Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House. p. 124.
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- ^ Real Decreto de 30 de noviembre de 1833 en wikisource
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- ^ Ordonnance n° 58–1100 du 17 novembre 1958 relative au fonctionnement des assemblées parlementaires Archived 30 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine article 1
- ^ "Presidential Decree No. 940 : Philippine Laws, Statutes and Codes". Chan Robles Virtual Law Library. 24 June 1976. Archived from the original on 6 September 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- ^ "Lisboa não tem documento que a oficialize como capital de Portugal", Comunidades Lusófonas (in Portuguese), 13 April 2015, retrieved 5 November 2016
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