Shifting capitals

As a kid, I would spend hours studying my geographic encyclopedias. I memorised all the data I could find, like the size of each country, its population and its capital city and used this to challenge my friends at school to a game of “Name The Capital”. There was one guy at school, Raymond, whom I could never beat though – he literally knew each and every capital city in the world! It’s this early interest in geography that sparked my passion for travel so when I was approached with this guest post by Andy Jarosz (one of my favourite travel writers), I jumped for it. I hope you enjoy these little facts as much as I do!

Capital cities are seen in much of the world as a sign of permanence, of historic grandeur and visible power and strength. Yet for many nations of the world capital cities have moved with surprising regularity and for a host of different reasons. Here are just five of the most common reasons to relocate a capital city.

To be neutral


Brasilia (image courtesy of Ariél Lopez)

Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia (1960)
The idea to relocate the Brazilian capital began in the early 19th century although it took over 100 years for the decision to be put into action. With all state functions and major influencers living in the south east of the country it was felt that a more centrally located capital would better serve the needs of the whole population of this giant nation.

Canberra (1927)
Years of argument could not solve the dispute between Melbourne and Sydney. The authorities in both cities felt that they should be the Australian capital and never would cede to the other. Finally the compromise was agreed to create a new capital, roughly halfway between the two cities.



Abuja (1991)
After years of bitter ethnic and religious troubles, it was decided to move the capital from the southern shore to the centre of Nigeria. By having a city that was accessible to both the Christian south and Muslim north it was hoped that the government would better represent the whole nation. On top of this, Lagos had grown so quickly and so chaotically that this plan hoped to stop the mass migration of people to the city.

To be more ‘Western’


The Hermitage in St. Petersburg (image courtesy of Alistair Knock)

Moscow to St Petersburg (1712)
Moscow has been the Russian capital for around 500 of the last 700 years and remains so today. Between 1712 and 1918 however the capital moved west to the Baltic Sea port of St Petersburg on the orders of Peter the Great. The reason? To be closer to the major centres of world trade and influence, which at the time were almost exclusively in Europe.

To preserve unity

Auckland to Wellington (1865)
While the North Island had all the politicians, the South Island had the gold. The folks in Auckland were getting nervous that the South Islanders would declare themselves a distinct and separate colony within the British Empire. The decision was quickly made to relocate the government functions to a more central location. Wellington was chosen for its natural harbour.

For self-defence

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon (image courtesy of Arian Zegers)

Yangon to Naypyidaw (2005)
When the Burmese government announced that they were moving the capital away from Yangon, they were effectively relocating to an empty field. The new capital was constructed hastily after their arrival and is still not complete. Officially the reason given for the move was the overcrowding of the old capital. However many believe that the regime is very fearful of foreign attacks and by moving inland they have created something of a modern fortress city.

Risk management

Tehran to somewhere to be decided (sometime soon?)
Tehran is a disaster waiting to happen. The city sits on over 100 seismic fault lines and as far as a catastrophic earthquake is concerned it’s a question of when rather than if. The site of Tehran itself was something of an accident and talk of relocation has long preceded the current unrest. However, with all the current uncertainty for the regime, perhaps relocation away from the masses of Tehran will become even more attractive?

About this week’s guest writer
Written by Andy Jarosz for Travel Insurance Cover. Andy is based St Albans in the UK, and writes professionally for a number of companies. He can be found at the 501 Places website which was recently listed in the top 10 most influential travel blogs.

Note: this post was brought to you in partnership with Travel Insurance Cover.

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9 Responses to “Shifting capitals”

  1. Shaun 20/05/2014 3:21 pm

    Interesting read! I was a map nerd as well growing up. I would flip through the pages and daydream about visiting the different areas.

    Thanks for sharing


  2. Jessie on a Journey 13/03/2012 5:15 am

    What a unique idea for a post. I’m going to Brazil on Monday and had no idea Rio used to be the capital!

  3. Andrew 29/02/2012 11:43 am

    Great little trivia post. What about Berlin and Bonn? The capital moved to Bonn during the split and got trucked back up to Berlin for honor reasons. As a symbol of unification to push the capital back.

  4. velvet 29/02/2012 10:02 am

    I’m sticking with Port Stanley! Haha!

  5. Keith Kellett 29/02/2012 7:49 am

    For nerdy, it’s hard to beat the guy who told me that, technically, the capital of the Falkland Islands is NOT Port Stanley but …. London!!

    (But, surely, since the Governor lives in Stanley …. ???)

  6. velvet 28/02/2012 9:36 pm

    Haha! Nerdies unite! 😉

  7. Lane 28/02/2012 4:19 pm

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only nerd in school. :o)

  8. velvet 28/02/2012 3:14 pm

    Thanks Deej. Then there are countries which have a capital city but a different seat of government, like the Netherlands (Amsterdam & The Hague). Fun facts! 🙂


  9. D.J. - The World of Deej 28/02/2012 1:01 pm

    Great post…I remember learning in history class about a few of these, and the fact that Bolivia has two capitals….

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