8 Countries & States That Moved Their Capitals

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Learning state and national capitals is a time-honored way of boring schoolchildren during geography lessons. While most of this exercise is just rote memorization, it can get significantly trickier if the capitals start moving around or multiplying. Sure, the American government has been calling Washington, D.C., home for over 200 years, but a number of other capitals have been known to hit the road. Moreover, some countries aren't content with a single capital and have several. Here are a few countries and states have seen some travel.

1. Cote d'Ivoire

The country formerly known as the Ivory Coast has seen a number of capitals dating back to its days as a French colony, but in 1933, Abidjan became the center of government. The arrangement made sense given that Abidjan is the nation's largest city and its major economic hub.

In 1983, though, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny decided maybe Abidjan wasn't the best choice and moved the capital to Yamoussoukro, where he spent $300 million building the world's largest church (pictured). Why the rash move? Because he was from Yamoussoukro. (Apparently you can do that sort of thing if you're the president of Cote d'Ivoire.) Even after Houphouet-Boigny's death, the capital remained in Yamoussoukro, although the bulk of the country's economic activity still takes place in Abidjan.

2. Burma

burma.jpgBurmese civil servants got a bit of an unwelcome shock in November 2005. Their days of living in Rangoon, the capital city, were over. Instead, the government was moving its offices and workers to Pyinmana, almost 200 miles north of Rangoon. Some top officials only got two days' notice before they had to move their families and belongings.

What made the move all the more puzzling is that no one knew exactly why the government had ordered it. Some observers felt the move was possibly based on an astrological prediction or advice the government had received from soothsayers. Other speculation centered on avoiding a possible U.S. invasion to overthrow the ruling military junta or to calm social unrest in the country's center. Either way, the capital moved to an undeveloped plot of land outside of the logging town of Pyinmana; the government later christened the new town "Naypyidaw."

3. South Africa

capetown.jpgThere might be such a thing as going too far in an effort to separate the branches of government. South Africa has not one, not two, but three capital cities. Pretoria serves as the nation's administrative capital, while the judiciary resides in its own capital, Bloemfontein. Cape Town acts as South Africa's legislative capital (pictured).

Why is everything so spread out? The three capitals are relics of South Africa's unification in 1910. Four previously separate colonies were coming together to form the union, but they couldn't stop squabbling over which one would get the capital. To settle the argument, three of the four colonies got a capital city apiece, while the fourth colony, Natal, got cash compensation to square things.

4. Nigeria

Lagos, on the Nigerian coast, is Africa's second most populous city and was the country's capital until 1991. Lagos wasn't an ideal seat for the Nigerian government, though. It was super crowded, politically divisive, and oppressively hot and muggy. Throughout the 1980s, government officials designed and built a new capital, Abuja, 300 miles northeast of Lagos to solve these problems. Thanks to its central location, higher elevation, and sparse population density, the government moved the great bulk of its offices to Abuja in 1991, although some functions remain in Lagos.

5. Benin

Benin's situation is a bit confusing. Porto-Novo, a city that dates back to the 16th century, is Benin's official capital, and some administrative offices are located there. However, Cotonou, which is over three times larger and the country's economic hub, is the de facto capital of the nation and provides a home for a large part of the government's offices and services.

6. Jammu and Kashmir

This one's not a country, but it's certainly unique. Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of India, has two different capitals. Srinagar serves as the state's summer capital, while Jammu acts as the state's capital during the winter. This division sounds odd, but it makes sense given both the political climate the literal climate. Srinagar is situated almost a mile above sea level, so it has fairly temperate summers but chilly winters. Jammu, on the other hand, has swelteringly hot summers but milder winters. Plus, since the state is comprised of two distinct historic regions, Jammu and Kashmir, having one capital in Jammu and one in Kashmir is a politically expedient move.

7. Bolivia

Sucre originally became Bolivia's capital in 1839, a sensible choice that reflected the city's position as an early hotbed of revolutionary activity and a convenient waypoint for getting to the country's rich silver mines. By 1898, though, the silver had mostly dried up, and many wanted to move the capital to La Paz, which was closer to the country's valuable tin reserves. A civil war broke out over the proposed change, though, so a compromise was necessary. La Paz became the administrative capital of the country, while Sucre retained the role of constitutional and judicial capital.

8. Georgia

atlanta.jpg
Several U.S. states have changed their capitals at various points, but Georgia's legislators must have run up the most frequent buggy miles. Five different cities have served as Georgia's official capital: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville, and Atlanta. In the state's early days, the capital bounced around extensively; Augusta and Savannah both had three separate stints as capital. Following the Civil War, though, the capital moved to Atlanta, where it's remained since 1868.

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April 16, 2009 - 10:20am
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