A capital city or capital is the
municipality holding primary status in a
department, or other
subnational entity, usually as its seat of the 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, different branches of government are 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.
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.
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. "Political nomadism" was practiced in
ancient Near East to increase ties between the ruler and the subjects.
Although many capitals are defined by constitution or legislation, many long-time capitals have no legal designation as such, including
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.
Many modern capital cities are located in the centre of countries so they are more accessible to its population and have better protection from possible invasions. (See also
§ Capitals in military strategy) The location may also be based on a compromise among two or more cities or other political divisions, historical reasons, or enough land was needed to deliberately build a new
planned city for the capital. The majority of national capitals are also the largest city in their respective countries, but this is not the case in some countries.
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. The number of new capitals in the world increased substantially since the
Renaissance period, especially with the founding of independent nation-states since the eighteenth century.
These cities satisfy one or both of the following criteria:
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.
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, along the boundary between the two former colonies that formed the core of pre-
Confederation Canada—primarily English-speaking
Upper Canada and primarily French-speaking
Lower Canada. Today, this border separates the two most populous of Canada's ten modern provinces,
Managua, Nicaragua, chosen to appease rivals in
Granada, which also were associated with the liberal and conservative political factions respectively
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.
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
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.
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 heart of old Victoria, now known as
Central, serves as the seat of government offices today. Vatican City, however, is the
religious centre of the
Roman Catholic Church and houses the offices and departments of
Holy See which serves as the government of both the city-state and worldwide Catholic Church.
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 district instead.
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
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 Metro Manila as the seat of government, with the
City of Manila as the country's capital. Some national government institutions and agencies are located within the Manila capital city, while others are scattered on other parts of the metropolitan area. The presidential palace (
Malacañang Palace, serving as the seat of the
President of the Philippines) and the
Supreme Court are located within the capital city while the two houses of Congress are located outside the capital Manila but within the metropolis of the same name.
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 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
Washington became capital cities. Sometimes, the location of a new capital city was chosen to terminate actual or potential squabbling between various entities, such as in the cases of Brasília, 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.
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.
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.
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
Wu fell when their respective capitals of
Jianye fell. The
Ming dynasty relocated its capital from
Beijing, where they could more effectively control the generals and troops guarding the borders from
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
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
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.
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.
Capital Cities: International Perspectives – Les capitales: Perspectives internationales, ed. John Taylor, Jean G. Lengellé and Caroline Andrew. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1993,
^Berlin – Washington, 1800–2000: Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities, ed.
Andreas Daum and Christof Mauch. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006,
ISBN978-0-521-84117-7, pp. 4–7.
^McLintock, Alexander Hare; John Victor Tuwhakahewa Baker, M. A.; Taonga, New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Manatu.
"GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION OF POPULATION". An encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, 1966. Archived from
the original on 31 October 2016.
^Boxall, Sheryl (2008). DeRouen, Karl; Bellamy, Paul (eds.). International Security and the United States: An Encyclopedia, Volume 2. Westport, Connecticut, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 728.