Countries have different way of ordering their own provinces and capital cities, and how they choose to do so may sometimes say a lot about what sort of politics they have. Where countries’ capital cities are concerned, there is usually something akin to one of the following four set-ups:
- The Argentine model: the country’s capital city serves as its own unique administrative district and is surrounded on all sides by a single province that it influences to a large degree.
- The American model: the capital city serves as its own unique administrative district but is not surrounded by a single province (or state, etc.), but rather by two or more provinces.
- The Saudi model: the capital city is not its own unique administrative district, but is part of an important province that is named after itself.
- The Canadian model: the capital city is sometimes annoyingly full of bureaucrats, but is otherwise more or less a normal place. It is not its own administrative district.
The Argentine Model
Examples of the Argentine model include, of course, Buenos Aires, which is surrounded by the province of Buenos Aires (Argentina’s recent presidential election, in fact, was between the mayor of Buenos Aires and the governor of Buenos Aires province); Berlin, which is surrounded by Brandenburg (see map below); Moscow, which is surrounded by the Moscow oblast; the Australian Capital Area, which is surrounded by New South Wales (see map below), Vienna, which is surrounded by Lower Austria; Brussels, which is surrounded by Brabant (though Brussels does not directly border Walloon Brabant, which is several km to the south of Brussels); Prague, which is surrounded by the Central Bohemian Region; and Addis Ababba, which is surrounded by Oromia.
Beijing probably also belongs in this category: it is surrounded mostly by the province of Hebei but in two spots also by the city of Tianjin, which like Beijing is one of China’s four “direct-controlled municipalities” (the other two are Shanghai and Chongqing). Tianjin was temporarily made part of Hebei province in the 1960s, and in recent years there has been much talk of increasing integration and cooperation between Beijing, Hebei, and Tianjin in order to form a sort of capital city macro-region, which is often referred to by the acronym Jingjinji.
Seoul in South Korea has a similar set-up to Beijing. It is surrounded almost entirely by the province of Gyeonggi, but also touches the coastal city-province of Incheon, in the same way that Beijing does the city-province of Tianjin:
Note by the way that South Korea has a number of city-provinces. Of these, only Gwangju, in the southwest, conforms fully to the “Argentine model”.
Paris too may be included in this list; Paris is not itself a province, but it is surrounded on all sides by Ile de France, one of France’s 13 regions. (Prior to the beginning of this year Ile de France was one of France’s 22 regions, but these have since been reordered and reduced).
The American Model
Capitals which are their own unique administrative districts but lack their own single encircling province include Washington D.C. (which is surrounded by both Virginia and Maryland), Tokyo, London, Delhi; Mexico City, Bangkok, Tehran; Hanoi, Abuja (though Nigeria’s largest city by far, Lagos, which was the capital until 1991, is an example of the Argentine model), Baghdad (which is surrounded by four other provinces), Manila, Jakarta, Madrid, Islamabad, Brasilia (though just barely …and the capital of Brazil prior to 1960 was Rio de Janeiro), Kinshasa, and Bogota (though in a relatively weird way; see map below, Bogota is the sliver between the departments of Cundinamarca – which Bogota is also the capital of – and Meta).
One feature that a number of these have in common is that, while the capital city’s administrative district often borders two other provinces, it is usually surrounded much more by the less populous of the two other provinces. Notable examples of this include Washington D.C., which is surrounded much more by Maryland (population 5.9 million) than by Virginia (population 8.3 million); Delhi, which is surrounded much more by Haryana (25 million) than by Uttar Pradesh (205 million); and Brasilia, which is surrounded much more by Goias (6.5 million) than by Minas Gerais 21 million.
Capitals which do not fit this pattern, however, are Mexico City, where the federal capital district is surrounded much more by the state of Mexico (population 16 million) than by the state of Morelos (population 1.9 million); and Islamabad, which is surrounded much more by Punjab (population 91 million) than by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (population 27 million).
A number of non-capital cities, meanwhile, such as Hamburg, which is the most populous city in Germany apart from Berlin, fit into this category as well.
The Saudi Model
A capital city which is not its own unique province, but rather is part of an important province named after itself. Examples may include Riyadh, Stockholm, Dhaka, Santiago, and Ankara. Bern also could probably be on this list, but Bern is only the de facto capital of Switzerland; Switzerland has no de jure capital city.
The Canadian Model
Examples of countries in which the capital city is not its own unique independent unit may include Ottawa, Amsterdam, Rome, and Warsaw.
According to Wikipedia “two national capitals in federal countries are neither federal units [like provinces, states, etc.], special capital districts, nor capitals of federal units: Ottawa, the capital of Canada [because Toronto is the capital of Ontario, the province in which Ottawa is located], and Palikir, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia“. Ottawa is situated entirely within the province of Ontario, but also directly borders French-speaking Quebec.
Please let me know if I’ve made a mistake on any of these; administrative divisions can be a bit complicated – and I can be a bit lazy.