Why Do Countries Change Their Capital Cities?

There are currently far over 30 countries around the globe that have changed their capital cities, and some have done this a few times in the past. Here you can read about them and about reasons for this.

So why countries change their capital cities? Here are some possible reasons:

  • Some countries change their capital cities because of security reasons, so they move the city in an area that is easier to defend in the case of war. 
  • Relocations of a capital can happen also for political reasons to keep peace among various ethnic and religious groups.
  • In some situations this is because old capital has become over-populated, dis-functional, and difficult to govern. You will see some examples below.
  • Sometimes this relocation is to keep government institutions less under influence of some other mightier centers in the country. Typical example is Brasilia. 
  • In some cases this can be simply because the ruler hates the current capital. A typical example was Diocletian who could not stand Rome. 
  • Sometimes this is with the aim to develop one particular part of the country. Abuja in Nigeria is such an example.

Which countries recently changed their capital, and what’s the story behind it? 

There are several well known recent examples of capital relocations, I already mentioned Abuja, and this is also Astana. But see these two stories:

Indonesia capital relocation

So here you have plans of moving the capital from the present city Jakarta in Java to a new city named Nusantara in East Kalimantan which is on the island of Borneo.

From what I know, the reasons are multiple. They include the fact that Jakarta is too big and traffic-clogged. It is polluted and over-crowded. Apparently, it is even sinking.

One of the reasons is also symbolic because some feel that present power in the country is too much Java-oriented. In my another text, I mentioned that this was something similar when Brasilia in Brazil was decided to be built as a new capital.

Works on the new capital have stopped because of the recent pandemic, but from what I know the plans are going on. Here you can see how the location of the new capital was decided in a contest:

 

Capital of Egypt relocation

You may have heard about the plans for building a new capital of Egypt. Currently, it is under the name the New Administrative Capital (NAC). The works have started in 2015.

From what I know, they have not yet decided about the name, they had a competition and a jury, but I have not heard about any official decision yet. There were news it could be called Egypt. If so, this will be yet another case of a country and capital with the same name.

Anyway, the city will be 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of Cairo, and in a largely undeveloped area. Remember what I mentioned about motives for new capitals? The present capital Cairo is simply too big and too disorganized, and these are some of the reasons for the new capital construction.

Examples of capital relocations in the past

Here is a number of examples through the continents. As you will see, some relocations are distant past but some are very recent.

Asia

  1. Afghanistan – relocation from Kandahar to Kabul in 1776.
  2. Bhutan moved the capital from Punakha to Thimpu in 1907.
  3. Indonesia, from Yogyakarta to Jakarta in 1949. But you have seen above, the capital will move again.
  4. Israel – from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1950.
  5. Iran, presently the capital is Tehran, but this used to be Esfahan and also Shiraz.
  6. Japan; relocation from Kyoto to Edo (Tokyo). This was based on the decision of the shogun Tokugawa, and this was a beginning of Edo era in Japan.
  7. Kazakhstan, in 1997 the capital became Astana (renamed Nur-Sultan in 2019, see the top picture above) after Almaty which is the largest city.
  8. Oman relocated the capital from Salalah to Muscat in 1970.
  9. Pakistan – relocation from the huge south city Karachi to Rawalpindi (Islamabad) in the period 1950-1960.
  10. Philippines moved the capital from Quezon City to Manila in 1976.
  11. Saudi Arabia – relocation from Diriyah to Riyadh in 1818.
  12. Thailand’s former capital was Ayutthaya, it is Bangkok now.
  13. Turkey – from Istanbul (Constantinople) to Ankara in 1923. The old capital was under occupation by British and French forces. Ankara is far in the inner country and in a far safer position, and it is also closer to the rest of the country than Istanbul that became a border city after disintegration of Ottoman Empire.
  14. Uzbekistan from Samarkand to Tashkent in 1930.
  15. Vietnam, the capital is Hanoi, it used to be Hue.

America

  1. Barbados – relocation from Jamestown to Bridgetown in 1628.
  2. Honduras from Comayagua to Tegucigalpa in 1888.
  3. Jamaica from Port Royal to Spanish Town to Kingston in 1872.
  4. Trinidad and Tobago from San Jose to Port of Spain in 1784.

Africa

  1. Botswana capital relocation from Mafeking to Gaborone in 1965.
  2. Cape Verde from Cidade Velha to Praia in 1858.
  3. Ghana from Cape Coast to Accra in 1877.
  4. Guinea Bissau from Madina do Boe to Bissau in 1974.
  5. Malawi from Zomba to Lilongwe in 1974.
  6. Nigeria changed its capital city from Lagos to Abuja in 1991. This was with the aim to expand economy towards the inner areas of the country.
  7. Togo from Aneho to Lome in 1897.

Europe

  1. Finland, relocation from Turku to Helsinki in 1812.
  2. Germany, capital used to be Berlin, then Bonn, and it is Berlin again since 1999.
  3. Greece, capital relocation from Nafplion to Athens in 1834.
  4. Italy had capitals in Turin, Florence, and Salerno, and finally in Rome.
  5. Malta, from Mdina to Valetta in 16th century.
  6. Montenegro, from Cetinje to Podgorica in 1946.
  7. Lithuania, relocation from Kaunas to Vilnius in 1939.
  8. Poland from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596.

Oceania

  1. Micronesia, from Kolonia to Palikir in 1989.
  2. New Zealand capital was moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1865. By the way, Wellington is the most southernmost capital in the world.
  3. Palau from Koror to Ngerulmud in 2006.

So you have seen a number of reasons why countries change their capital cities. This happens more often than what people may think. I gave some examples above, but you can be sure that there are many more.

But note also that sometimes countries decide to split the capital functions into two separate cities. Did you know that there is at least a dozen of countries with two capitals?

Bookmark this site and keep as a reference, it is all about national capitals. Let me know if you have questions or comments, there is a comment box below. Thank you for reading.

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