The rise of the inland national capital


Dodoma, Tanzania – Source:

Below is my list of those 12 nations that have moved their capital to an inland location since 1900. The most common reason identified for these moves taking place was to:

  • Centrally locate the government geographically (Brazil, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Tanzania)

Other rationale cited and/or speculated include:

  • Milder climate (Pakistan)
  • Natural disaster (Belize – hurricane)
  • Naval vulnerability (Myanmar and Pakistan)
  • Political motivation/change (Albania, Russia, and Turkey)
  • Political compromise (Australia)
  • Population dispersal from densely populated locations (Myanmar and Nigeria)
  • Whim of the leader(s) (Ivory Coast and Myanmar)
Naypyidaw, Myanmar - Source:

Naypyidaw, Myanmar – Source:

As can be seen from the list above, in some instances  there were multiple reasons for the change.

Nation              Previous Capital                Current Capital (year designated) 

Albania                Durres                                        Tirana (1920)

Australia              Melbourne                                Canberra (1927)

Belize                    Belize City                                 Belmopan (1970)

Brazil                    Rio de Janeiro                          Brasilia (1960)

India                     Kolkata                                       New Delhi (1911)

Ivory Coast          Abidjan                                      Yamoussoukro (1983)

Myanmar             Yangon                                       Naypyidaw (2005)

Nigeria                  Lagos                                         Abuja (1976)

Pakistan               Karachi                                 Rawalpindi (1959) and then Islamabad (1967)

Russia                   St. Petersburg                            Moscow (1918)

Tanzania              Dar es Salaam                            Dodoma (1996)

Turkey                  Constantinople (Istanbul)       Ankara (1923)

Despite some initial disdain about moving the seat of government to some of these once remote locations, a number of these capital cities have grown into major metropolitan areas themselves. Ankara, Brasilia, Islamabad, Moscow, New Delhi (part of Delhi), have all grown to inhabit millions of residents. Abuja is close to reaching a million residents, as well. It remains to be seen if the newest member of this exclusive club, Naypyidaw, will rise to become as large of a city as hoped for by the government of Myanmar.

Adjura, Nigeria - Source:

Adjura, Nigeria – Source:

Another issue that has arisen with some of these planned capitals is the spread-out nature of their design promotes sprawl and an auto-centric land use pattern that is pedestrian unfriendly. In the past, such criticisms have been directed towards Brasilia and Canberra.

Whether time will heal these land use issues remains to be seen, but one can point to the National Mall in Washington, DC as a similar example from 200+ years ago that must have seemed enormously oversized at the time, but today is a critical focal point of the city. Granted, it is still a loooooong walk from one end to the other, but the National Mall does provide critical public open space and a vibrant third place for residents and visitors alike, within the heart of the city.

One overlooked role of a capital city is as a symbol of national pride. Often, the national capital is not just the center of government and politics, but it can be the focal point for the performing and visual arts, culture, history, business, religion, military, science, and a myriad of other competing and complimentary roles. When taking these factors into consideration, a campus-like design certainly facilitates the siting of important sites, monuments, and venues. That being said, a capital city does not need to be spread out all over the place to inspire pride.  From this planner’s perspective, creating a truly successful urban form for a capital city should always consist of a consistent and harmonious blend of functional, sustainable, and inspirational.



This entry was posted in Africa, architecture, Asia, branding, cities, civics, civility, commerce, Communications, diversity, economic development, Europe, geography, government, history, Housing, humanity, inclusiveness, India, infrastructure, land use, Maps, military, North America, Oceania, placemaking, planning, skylines, South America, spatial design, sprawl, tourism, transportation, Travel, urban planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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