A capital city (or simply capital) is the municipality exercising
primary status in a country, state, province, or other administrative
region, usually as its seat of government. A capital is typically a
city that physically encompasses the government's offices and meeting
places; the status as capital is often designated by its law or
constitution. In some jurisdictions, including several countries, the
different branches of government are located in different settlements.
In some cases, a distinction is made between the official
(constitutional) capital and the seat of government, which is in
Capital cities that are also the prime economic, cultural, or
intellectual centres of a nation or an empire are sometimes referred
to as primate cities. Examples are Athens, Brussels, Buenos Aires,
Mexico City, Paris, Stockholm, Tokyo, and Warsaw.
News media will often use the name of a capital city as an alternative
name for the country it is the capital of or of the government which
is seated there, as a form of metonymy, e.g. "relations between
Washington and London" refers to "relations between the United States
and the United Kingdom.
3 Modern capitals
4 Planned capitals
5 Unusual capital city arrangements
5.1 Capitals that are not the seat of government
5.2 Disputed capitals
6 Intergovernmental organizations
7 Capital as symbol
8 Capitals in military strategy
9 See also
The word capital derives from the
Latin caput (genitive capitis),
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
Roman Forum was surrounded by many government buildings as the
capital of Ancient Rome.
Historically, the major economic centre of a state or region often
becomes the focal point of political power, and becomes a capital
through conquest or federation. (The modern capital city has,
however, not always existed: in medieval Western Europe, an itinerant
(wandering) government was common.) Examples are Ancient Babylon,
Abbasid Baghdad, Ancient Athens, Rome, Constantinople, Chang'an,
Ancient Cusco, Madrid, Paris, London, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, Vienna,
Lisbon and Berlin. 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, bankers, journalists, and public policy makers.
Some of these cities are or were also religious centres, e.g.
Constantinople (more than one religion),
Rome (the Roman Catholic
Jerusalem (more than one religion), Ancient Babylon, Moscow
(the Russian Orthodox Church), Belgrade (the Serbian Orthodox Church),
Paris, and Peking.
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 by Shanghai, Quebec
City by Montreal,
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 and Cahokia.
Although many capitals are defined by constitution or legislation,
many long-time capitals have no legal designation as such: for example
Bern, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London, Paris, and Wellington. They are
recognised 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.
Countries whose capital is not their largest city
Countries whose capital is on the coast
Countries whose capital is not on the coast
Countries without a coast
Countries that currently have multiple capital cities
Countries that have had multiple capital cities in the
Tehran, capital and largest city of Iran, with the
Alborz Mountains in
Counties in the
United Kingdom have historic county towns, which are
often not the largest settlement within the county and often are no
longer administrative centres, as many historical counties are now
only ceremonial, and administrative boundaries are different.
In Canada, there is a federal capital, while the ten provinces and
three territories all have capital cities. The states of such
countries as Mexico,
Brazil (including the famous cities of Rio de
Janeiro and São Paulo, capitals of their respective states), and
Australia all have capital cities. For example, the six state capitals
Australia are Adelaide; Brisbane; Hobart; Melbourne; Perth; and
Sydney. In Australia, the term "capital cities" is regularly used to
refer to the aforementioned state capitals plus the federal capital
Canberra and Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. Abu Dhabi
is the capital city of the
Abu Dhabi and the United Arab
In unitary states which consist of multiple constituent countries,
such as the
United Kingdom or the Kingdom of Denmark, each country
will usually have a capital city. Unlike in federations, there is
usually not a separate national capital, but rather the capital city
of one constituent country will also be the capital of the state
overall, such as London, which is the capital of
England and the
United Kingdom. Similarly, each of the autonomous communities of Spain
and regions of
Italy has a capital city, such as
Seville or Naples,
Madrid is the capital of the Community of
Madrid and the Kingdom
Spain as a whole and
Rome is the capital of
Italy and the region of
In the Federal Republic of Germany, each of its constituent states (or
Länder - plural of Land) has its own capital city, such as Dresden,
Wiesbaden, Mainz, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, and Munich, as do all of the
republics of the Russian Federation. The national capitals of Germany
and Russia: the Stadtstaat of
Berlin and the Federal
City of Moscow,
are also constituent states of both countries in their own right. Each
States of Austria
States of Austria and
Cantons of Switzerland
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 capital of both
the Canton of Bern.
Many national capitals are also the largest city in their respective
countries, but in many countries this is not the case.
L'Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C., the capital of the United
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 include:
Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
Abuja, Nigeria (1991)
Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh,
Austin, Texas, USA (1839)
Belmopan, Belize (1970)
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais,
Bukittinggi, West Sumatra,
Dhaka, Bangladesh (1971)
Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana,
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (1825)
Frankfort, Kentucky, USA (1792)
Jefferson City, Missouri, USA (1821)
Jhongsing New Village,
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA (1889)
Raleigh, North Carolina, USA (1792)
Valletta, Malta (1571)
Washington, D.C., USA (1800)
New Zealand (moved in 1865)
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
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.
Australian Parliament opened in the small town of
Canberra in 1927
as a compromise between the largest cities,
Sydney and Melbourne.
Some examples of the second situation (compromise locations) include:
Canberra, Australia, chosen as a compromise located between Melbourne
Frankfort, Kentucky, midway between Louisville and Lexington,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, located along the boundary between the
Ontario and the
Province of Quebec – the two most
populous of the ten provinces – and midway between their respective
provincial capitals, Toronto,
Ontario and Quebec City, Quebec.
Tallahassee, Florida, chosen as the midpoint between
Pensacola and St.
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
Changes in a nation's political regime sometimes result in the
designation of a new capital. Newly-independent
Kazakhstan moved its
capital to the existing city of Astana.
Naypyidaw was founded in
Burma's interior as the former capital, Rangoon, was claimed to be too
Unusual capital city arrangements
See also: List of countries with multiple capitals
The Supreme Court, the seat of Switzerland's judiciary, is in
Lausanne, although the executive and legislature are located in Bern.
Parliament House, Singapore. As a city-state,
Singapore requires no
The Blue Palace, the official residence of Montenegro's president, is
in Cetinje, although the executive and legislature are located in
A few 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.
There is also a ghost town which is currently the de jure capital of a
territory: Plymouth in Montserrat.
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
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
Santiago is the capital even though the National Congress
Chile meets in Valparaíso.
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 recognise any capital
city in France. By law
Paris 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
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.
Hyderabad is the de jure capital of the state until
Amaravati is the de facto capital city. The state governor
and high court are located in Hyderabad.
Raipur is the administrative and legislative capital,
while the high court is located in Bilaspur.
Jammu and Kashmir:
Srinagar serves as the summer capital of the state
Jammu is the winter capital. The entire state machinery shifts
from one city to another every six months.
Thiruvananthapuram is the administrative and legislative
capital of the state, while the high court is located in Kochi.
Shimla is the primary capital city. Dharamshala, the
capital of Central Tibetan Administration, is the second winter
capital of the state.
Bhopal is the administrative and legislative capital
of the state, while the high court is located in Jabalpur.
Punjab and Haryana: Both states share
Chandigarh as their capital
city. The city itself is administered as a Union territory.
Jaipur is the administrative and legislative capital of the
state, while the high court is located in Jodhpur.
Dehradun is the administrative and legislative capital,
while the high court is located in Nainital.
Seoul remains as the capital and seat of the
government's branches, but many government agencies have moved to
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
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.
Naypyidaw was designated the national capital
in 2005, the same year it was founded, but most government offices and
embassies are still located in
Nauru: Nauru, a microstate of only 21 square kilometres
(8.1 sq mi), has no distinct capital city, but has a capital
Islamabad is a purpose-built capital city;
construction started in 1960 and was completed by 1966, replacing the
traditional capital Karachi;
Rawalpindi was used in the interim.
Portugal: The Portuguese constitution has no reference to a
Lisbon is home to the parliament, the presidency,
and the judiciary, no Portuguese official document states that Lisbon
is the national capital.
Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte
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
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
South Africa in 1910.
Bern is the Federal
functions as de facto capital. However, the Swiss Supreme Court is
located in Lausanne.
Dodoma was designated the national capital in 1996,
but most government offices and embassies are still located in Dar es
Monaco, Singapore, and the Vatican City, as
well as the territories of
Hong Kong and Macau, 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.
California: The executive and legislative branches and most
government agencies are based in
Sacramento but the
Court is headquartered in San Francisco.
Illinois: Springfield has the seats of the branches of
government and serves as the official capital. However various
Illinois government officials primarily reside in and/or are primarily
Government of Illinois#Capital city
Government of Illinois#Capital city for a
Louisiana: The executive and legislative branches and most
government agencies are based in Baton Rouge, but the Louisiana
Supreme Court is located in New Orleans.
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 are separated:
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
Yamoussoukro was designated the national capital in
1983, but most government offices and embassies are still located in
Georgia: Since 2012, the seat of government has been Kutaisi,
but the President's residence and the Supreme Court remain in Tbilisi,
the official capital.
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.)
Philippines: Presidential Decree No. 940, issued on June 24,
1976, designates the whole of National Capital
Region (NCR) as the
seat of government, with the
Manila as the capital. This
is because the region has many national government institutions aside
from Malacanang Palace and some agencies or institutions that are
located within the capital city.
Some historical examples of similar arrangements, where the recognized
capital was not the official seat of government:
Kingdom of England: The traditional capital was the
London, while Westminster, outside of the boundaries of the
London, was the seat of government. They are both today part of the
urban core of Greater London.
Kingdom of France: The traditional capital was Paris, though
from 1682-1789 the seat of government was at the Palace of Versailles,
located in a rural area southwest of Paris.
Israel and Palestinian Authority: Both Israel and the
Palestinian Authority claim
Jerusalem as capital.
as Israel's capital, with the presidential residence, government
offices, supreme court and parliament (Knesset) located there, while
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
Israel in Tel Aviv, while diplomatic missions to the Palestinians
are in various places such as Ramallah, Gaza City,
Cairo and Damascus.
United Nations Headquarters, New York
European Union (see details):
Brussels is generally considered as the
seat of the European Union, alongside
Strasbourg where the European
Parliament has its official seat and votes because it hosts the
major institutions of the EU. The judiciary and some of the
executive's work are located in Luxembourg and other bodies and
agencies in other cities. Although the main seats are fixed in the
EU's treaties which form its legal basis, they do not use the term
"capital" for any city.
Europol: The Hague
United Nations: New York
City is the main meeting place of the highest
bodies of the UN, but significant parts of its structure exist in
other cities, notably Vienna, Geneva,
Nairobi and The Hague.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization:
Food and Agriculture Organization: Rome
Addis Ababa and Midrand
Andean Parliament: Bogotá
Arab League: Cairo
Asian Development Bank: Manila
Association of Caribbean States: Port of Spain
Association of Southeast Asian Nations: Jakarta
Caribbean Community: Georgetown
Caribbean Development Bank: Bridgetown
Commonwealth of Nations: London
European Food Safety Authority: Parma
European Organization for Nuclear Research: Meyrin, a suburb of Geneva
Helsinki Commission: Helsinki
International Court of Justice: The Hague
International Organization for Standardization: Geneva
North Atlantic Treaty Organization: Brussels
Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States: Castries
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Paris
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation: Jeddah
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe: Vienna
Organization of American States: Washington, D.C.
Organization of Ibero-American States: Madrid
Regional Security System (Caribbean):
Bridgetown and Saint Johns
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation: Kathmandu
Union of South American Nations:
Cochabamba and Quito
World Bank: Washington, D.C.
World Tourism Organization: Madrid
Capital as symbol
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With the rise of modern empires and the 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 an emotional event.
The ruined and almost uninhabited
Athens was made capital of newly
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
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
Peter the Great
Peter the Great moved his government from
Moscow to Saint
Petersburg to give the Russian
Empire a western orientation. The
economically significant city of
Nafplion became the first capital of
Athens was an unimportant village. The Ming emperors
moved their capital to
Peking from the more central
Nanking 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,
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, Turkey; Bern,
Switzerland; Canberra, Australia; Madrid; Ottawa; Washington, D.C.;
New Zealand 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, and Wellington.
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
During the American Civil War, tremendous resources were expended to
defend Washington, D.C., which actually 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.
Capitals in military strategy
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Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was the final
part of the empire to fall to the
Ottoman Turks due to its strong
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 and Wu fell when their respective
Chengdu and Jianye fell. The
Ming dynasty relocated its
Nanjing to Beijing, where they could more effectively
control the generals and troops guarding the borders from
Manchus. The Ming was destroyed when the
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
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 capital, Constantinople, 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. In their military strategies,
traditional enemies of
France such as
Prussia (in the Franco-Prussian
War of 1871) focused on the capture of Paris.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Capitals.
List of capital cities by altitude
List of national capitals and largest cities by country
List of capitals outside the territories they serve
List of former national capitals
List of national capitals in alphabetical order
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Designations for types of administrative territorial entities
Common English terms1
Local government area
Combined statistical area
Metropolitan statistical area
Micropolitan statistical area
Free imperial city
Royal free city
Indian government district
Regional county municipality
Mountain resort municipality
Special administrative region
Federal capital territory
Organized incorporated territory
Autonomous territorial unit
Local administrative unit
Exclusive economic zone
Free economic zone
Special economic zone
Other English terms
Non-English or loanwords
Kunta / kommun
Arabic terms for country subdivisions
Muhafazah (محافظة governorate)
Wilayah (ولاية province)
Mintaqah (منطقة region)
Mudiriyah (مديرية directorate)
Imarah (إمارة emirate)
Baladiyah (بلدية municipality)
Shabiyah (شعبية "popularate")
Second / third-level
Mintaqah (منطقة region)
Qadaa (قضاء district)
Nahiyah (ناحية subdistrict)
Markaz (مركز district)
Mutamadiyah (معتمدية "delegation")
Daerah/Daïra (دائرة circle)
Liwa (لواء banner / sanjak)
City / township-level
Amanah (أمانة municipality)
Baladiyah (بلدية municipality)
Ḥai (حي neighborhood / quarter)
Sheyakhah (شياخة "neighborhood subdivision")
English translations given are those most commonly used.
French terms for country subdivisions
Greek terms for country subdivisions
apokentromenes dioikiseis / geniki dioikisis§ / diamerisma§ /
nomos§ / periphereiaki enotita
demos / eparchia§ / koinotita§
§ signifies a defunct institution
Portuguese terms for country subdivisions
Historical subdivisions in italics.
Slavic terms for country subdivisions
krajina / pokrajina
oblast / oblast' / oblasti / oblys / obwód / voblast'
opština / općina / občina / obshtina
powiat / povit
selsoviet / silrada
voivodeship / vojvodina
guberniya / gubernia
starostwo / starostva
Spanish terms for country subdivisions
Historical subdivisions in italics.
Turkish terms for country subdivisions
ağalık (feudal district)
reya (Romanian principalities)
voyvodalık (Romanian provinces)
1 Used by ten or more countries or having derived terms. Historical
derivations in italics.
See also: Census division, Electoral district, Political division, and
List of administrative divisions by country