Capital city

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Capital city
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{{short description|Primary governing city of a top-level (country) or first-level subdivision (country, state, province, etc) political entity}}{{redirect|Capital cities|other uses|Capital City (disambiguation)}}{{multiple image|width=250|direction=vertical|image1=WashingtonDCMallAerialNavyPhoto_crop.jpg|alt1=An aerial photo of a North America city|caption1=Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States|image2=Palace of Westminster from the dome on Methodist Central Hall.jpg|alt2=A panorama of an European city|caption2=London, the capital of England and the United Kingdom|image3=Taipei_Skyline_2016.jpg|caption3=Taipei, the capital of Taiwan|image4=Bukchon-seoul-tower.jpg|caption4=Seoul, the capital of South Korea|image5=Planalto Central.jpg|alt5=A panorama of a South American city|caption5=Brasília, the capital of Brazil}}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 another place.Capital cities that also serve as the prime economic, population, cultural, or intellectual centres of a nation or an empire are sometimes referred to as primate cities. Examples are Athens, Bangkok, Brussels, Copenhagen, Cairo, London, Mexico City, Paris, Seoul and Tokyo.News media often use the name of a capital city as an alternative name for the country of which it is the capital or of the government that is seated there, as a form of metonymy. For example, "relations between Washington and London" refer to "relations between the United States and the United Kingdom".


The word capital derives from the Latin caput (genitive capitis), 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.


File:Tavares.Forum.Romanum.redux.jpg|thumb|left|The Roman Forum was surrounded by many government buildings as the capital of Ancient RomeAncient RomeHistorically, 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.WEB,weblink What does a Capital City Mean?, 5 December 2012, 9 June 2017, live,weblink" title="">weblink 31 May 2017, dmy-all, (The modern capital city has, however, not always existed: in medieval Western Europe, an itinerant (wandering) government was common.)WEB,weblink Where Next: The Reasons Why (Some) Countries Move Their Capitals, 9 June 2017, live,weblink 10 October 2017, dmy-all, 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,BOOK,weblink Capital Cities in the Aftermath of Empires: Planning in Central and Southeastern Europe, Emily Gunzburger, Makas, Tanja Damljanovic, Conley, 4 December 2009, Routledge, 9 June 2017, Google Books, live,weblink 10 October 2017, dmy-all, 9781135167257, e.g. Constantinople (more than one religion), Rome (the Roman Catholic Church), 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 BabylonBOOK,weblink Babylon: Legend, History and the Ancient City, Michael, Seymour, 29 August 2014, I.B.Tauris, 9 June 2017, Google Books, live,weblink 10 October 2017, dmy-all, 9780857736079, 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.

Modern capitals

File:Capital not largest city.svg|thumb|upright=1.35|Countries whose capital is not their largest city ]]File:Capitales con y sin mar.PNG|thumb|upright=1.35|{{legend|#1E90FF|Countries whose capital is on the coast}}{{legend|#B22222|Countries whose capital is not on the coast}}{{legend|#8B0000|Countries without a coast}}]]File:Countries with multiple capitals map.PNG|thumb|upright=1.35|{{legend|#FF0000|Countries that currently have multiple capital cities}}{{legend|#D78991|Countries that have had multiple capital cities in the past}}]]File:Aerial View of Tehran 26.11.2008 04-35-03.JPG|thumb|Tehran, capital and largest city of Iran, and the capital of the Persian empires in the last two centuries]]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 of 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 Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates overall.In unitary states which consist of multiple constituent nations, such as the United Kingdom or the Kingdom of Denmark, each will usually have its own capital city. Unlike in federations, there is usually not a separate national capital, but rather the capital city of one constituent nation 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, while Madrid is the capital of the Community of Madrid and the Kingdom of Spain as a whole and Rome is the capital of Italy and the region of Lazio.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 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 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.

Planned capitals

File:L'Enfant plan.jpg|thumb|The L'Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C., the capital of the United StatesUnited StatesGoverning 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: These cities satisfy one or both of the following criteria:
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
File:Parliamenthouse2.jpg|thumb|The Australian Parliament opened in the small town of Canberra in 1927 as a compromise between the largest cities, Sydney and MelbourneMelbourneSome examples of the second situation (compromise locations) include: "The South Island was the more densely populated from 1860 until 1900, largely because of the discovery of gold in the sixties, the relatively easy availability of land, and the South Island's freedom from Maori troubles. After 1900, when the populations of the two islands were roughly equal, the North Island went ahead rapidly." {{webarchive|url= |date=31 October 2016 }} ) 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.ENCYCLOPEDIA, Levine, Stephen, Capital city - A new capital,weblink (Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand), 4 May 2015, 13 July 2012, live,weblink" title="">weblink 5 May 2015, dmy-all,
  • 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. Newly-independent Kazakhstan moved its capital to the existing city of Astana after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Naypyidaw was founded in Burma's interior as the former capital, Rangoon, was claimed to be too overcrowded.NEWS, Veronica, Pedrosa, Burma's 'seat of the kings',weblink Al Jazeera, 20 November 2006, 21 November 2006, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 23 November 2006, dmy,

Unusual capital city arrangements

{{See also|List of countries with multiple capitals}}File:Bundesgericht-VD.jpg|thumb|The Supreme Court, the seat of Switzerland's judiciary, is in Lausanne, although the executive and legislature are located in BernBernFile:Parliament House Singapore.jpg|thumb|Parliament House, Singapore. As a city-state, SingaporeSingaporeFile:Цетиње, Црна Гора.jpg|thumb|The Blue Palace, the official residence of Montenegro's president, is in Cetinje, although the executive and legislature are located in PodgoricaPodgoricaA 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.There is also a ghost town which is currently the de jure capital of a territory: Plymouth in Montserrat.

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: Some historical examples of similar arrangements, where the recognized capital was not the official seat of government:

Disputed capitals

Intergovernmental organizations

File:UN Members Flags2.JPG|thumb|United Nations Headquarters, New York CityNew York City

Capital as symbol

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. 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.WEB,weblink September 18, 1834: Athens Becomes the Capital of Greece {{!,|last=Chrysopoulos|first=Philip|language=en-US|access-date=2018-12-21}} Similarly, following the Cold War and German reunification, Berlin is now once again the capital of Germany.WEB,weblink History of Berlin - Past and present of Berlin,, 2018-12-21, 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 western orientation.WEB,weblink History of St. Petersburg, Russia: Peter the Great (short biography),, 2019-01-07, The economically significant city of Nafplion became the first capital of Greece, when Athens was an unimportant village.JOURNAL, Mikellides, Byron, 2001-06-01, The Creation of Modern Athens, Planning the Myth, URBAN DESIGN International, en, 6, 2, 119, 10.1057/palgrave.udi.9000029, 1468-4519, 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, 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 {{convert|100|mi}} south of Washington, D.C.WEB,weblink Washington: Capital of the Union - Essential Civil War Curriculum,, 2019-01-07,

Capitals in military strategy

{{unreferenced section|date=February 2012}}File:Fall-of-constantinople-22.jpg|thumb|left|Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was the final part of the empire to fall to the Ottoman TurksOttoman TurksThe 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 capitals of Chengdu and Jianye fell. The Ming dynasty relocated its capital from Nanjing to Beijing, where they could more effectively control the generals and troops guarding the borders from Mongols and Manchus. 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 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.

See also

{{commons category|Capitals}}


{{reflist|30em}}{{Terms for types of administrative territorial entities}}{{Use dmy dates|date=April 2012}}{{Authority control}}

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