Did You Know ... ?

Yes, of course capital cities have extremes – although it’s usually a matter of debate. Which is prettiest, friendliest, happiest or simply the best? How long is a piece of string? Measurable extremes are a different matter, and you may be in for a few surprises. Capital cities are everywhere – after all, every country has one. Or does it?

Most Nonexistent Capital City

Pacific Island BeachLet’s get this one out of the way. There is a country that doesn’t have a capital city – Nauru, a South-Pacific island, is the world’s smallest republic, and doesn’t have any cities at all, capital or any other kind.

Nauru’s primary export is fossilised bird droppings ... these contain high levels of phosphates, and that probably sums up its entire economic situation. In 2005, Nauru had to sell the only aircraft owned by the state airline (a Boeing 737) to repay debts, and was only able to resume service the following year when it could afford to replace it.

Highest Capital City

La Paz - Capital City of BoliviaThe record books have this one as La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, a mountainous country in the heart of South America. Situated almost 12,000 feet above sea level, La Paz will literally take your breath away.

Controversially, La Paz was omitted from the answers offered in July 2000 to a contestant on the TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The question was "What capital city is located at the highest altitude above sea level?” Having given a wrong answer, the contestant resorted to his lawyers; the case was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Most Expensive Capital City

Rio de Janeiro - A Lusophone City

This honour goes to Luanda, capital of Angola, a former Portuguese colony on the west coast of southern Africa. An annual survey of most expensive cities for expatriate workers revealed that, in 2011, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Luanda was £4,343, almost double the cost of a similar property in New York or London.

Luanda is also the world’s third most populous Lusophone, or Portuguese-speaking, city, and the largest outside Brazil.

Most Incomplete Capital City

Pagoda in Myanmar - Formerly BurmaWhy would a capital city be incomplete? When it’s a new, purpose-built city that replaces a former capital that has fallen out of favour. Meet Nay Pyi Taw, capital of Myanmar (formerly Burma), which was named in March 2006, and is one of several planned capital cities around the world. Nay Pyi Taw translates literally as “Royal City of the Sun”.

Unofficially, the Burmese people believe that the country’s military rulers decided to build a new capital because a fortune teller predicted an attack on Rangoon, the former capital. Nay Pyi Taw was the result, and is today the world’s fastest-growing capital city.


Smallest Capital City

Remote Pacific IslandAdamstown, capital of the Pitcairn Islands, doesn’t claim to be a city, even though the entire population of the island live there – all 48 of them. The Pitcairns, located in the southern Pacific Ocean, are isolated in the extreme and have neither an airport nor a harbour capable of berthing passenger ships. Visitors can only reach the shore by motor launch.

The Pitcairn Islands’ claim to fame has been immortalised in film. The original settlers, who arrived on the islands in 1790, were mutinous members of the crew and families from H.M.S. Bounty, a British naval ship whose story was first popularised in the 1935 film “Mutiny on the Bounty”.

Most Divided Capital City

The Mediterranean Island Nation of CyprusThere are two strong candidates for this award. Nicosia, capital of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, is split on political lines. The southern half of the city is the capital of the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, while the northern sector was annexed in 1974 by Turkey and named as the capital of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In spite of the no-man’s-land zone between the two areas, life in Nicosia goes on very much as normal.

In geographical terms, the Hungarian capital, Budapest, has few rivals. It was originally two separate cities, Buda and Pest, that sat on opposite sides of the River Danube. United in 1873, Budapest is one of Eastern Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities and a popular holiday destination.

Most Populated Capital City

The Forbidden City - Beijing, ChinaCredit: Grace Yang, Des Moines, IA

Get ready for some heated debate on this one. It depends ....

Using data from the U.N. Demographic Yearbook, the winner is Beijing, capital of China, with a population of 11,509,595. Next in line are Moscow (Russia) with 10,536,005, Seoul (South Korea) with 10,036,377 and Tokyo (Japan) with 8,489,635, respectively. However, Tokyo reports an “urban agglomeration” that is home to 12,576,601 people, and is considered most-populated by many.

Since China, with more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, is undisputedly the most populous nation on earth, it seems fair to leave the honour of most populated capital city with Beijing. Doubtless, some will disagree!

Most and Least Remote Capital Cities

Wellington - Capital City of New ZealandCredit: Sefton Billington, ElogoThere is no disputing the holder of the dubious honour of most remote capital city. Wellington, capital of New Zealand, is nearly 1,500 miles distant from its nearest neighbouring capital (Canberra in Australia). Wellington is doubly extreme as it is also the most southerly capital city on the globe.

Conversely, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the respective capitals of western African nations the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are only five miles apart. They sit directly opposite one another across the Congo River, the border between the two countries.

Oldest Continuously Inhabited Capital City

Mosque in Damascus - Capital City of SyriaMost authorities accept that Damascus, the capital of the Middle-East state of Syria, is the oldest continuously inhabited capital city, having been an active human settlement since the 2nd millennium BC. Throughout history, Damascus has been ruled by Ramesses II, Alexander the Great, Caligula and Saladin; it was also part of the Ottoman Empire for several hundred years.

Don’t travel to Damascus in summer unless you like hot weather. The record high temperature recorded in the city during August is 45C (113F).

Coldest Capital City

The Gobi Desert in MongoliaYou will find the other extreme of temperature in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. The average annual temperature is minus 2.4C (27.7F), with a monthly low that averages minus 25C (minus 13F). In some areas of the city, the soil never thaws, and the climate is virtually subarctic.

Ulan Bator was founded in the 17th century as a nomadic Buddhist monastic centre. Between 1639 and 1778, the Buddhist monks changed the location of the city 28 times – each new site for the city was chosen by way of a religious ritual.

A Simply Capital Idea

There you have it – you probably have your own ideas for the individual winner of “Most Extreme Capital City”, so let’s have your thoughts on the subject.