Is There a Country with No Capital?

If you’ve been doing quizzes on our site long enough, you’ve probably tried to get all the world capitals at some point. You can go nuts here, by the way. It seems kind of a given that a country has a capital or capital city and we just kind of assume everyone has one–but if you’re here it’s because you’ve realized that isn’t necessarily the case. So is there a country with no capital? Short answer: yes, by the way.

Further Reading: What Is the Least Populated Capital City?

Feel the Bern

Ask someone what the capital of Switzerland is and they’ll probably say “Bern.” Or they’ll say “I don’t know,” which is also a fair answer. It makes sense too, it’s the fifth most populated city in Switzerland, and it’s home to Switzerland’s Federal Assembly and Federal Council–giving it the title of “federal city.” That means Bern is home to Switzerland’s legislature as well as its heads of state–like Congress and the President respectively if you’re thinking about it in terms of America’s three branches of government.

You might have caught that we listed two branches of government that Bern is home to, which is, fun fact, not the same number as three. Switzerland does have a judicial branch. They have a Federal Supreme Court, a Federal Criminal Court, a Federal Patent Court, and a Federal Administrative court. None of them are in Bern. Actually, they’re split between a handful of different cities. 

This brings us to Switzerland’s Constitution. No version of Switzerland’s Constitution designates Bern as Switzerland’s capital. In fact, no version of their Constitution designates any location as the capital at all.

While it would be funny to say the Swiss just kind of forgot when they were founded in 1848, this was actually a conscious decision they made. The Swiss Confederation is made up of 26 cantons. They formed various combinations of alliances with each other, and operated as kind of individual republics that were allies through the early modern period. They sometimes went to war, because before 1848 they were more like a handful of different countries. 

At the conclusion of the Sonderbund War in 1847, where they essentially fought over whether the cantons would have a federal constitution together, the people who wanted a constitution won. 

But the Swiss didn’t agree on whether there should be a capital, and disagreed more about who would get to host it. Bern was selected as the “federal city” though, which is not the same as a capital, and that’s why Switzerland’s courts are all split up. That’s also why Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh–their federal government communicates in German, French, and Italian. 

Nauru

Near Papua New Guinea is an island nation called Nauru. It was formerly known as Pleasant Island, which isn’t important but is kind of fun. 

Nauru is the third-smallest country by area, beating out just Vatican City and Monaco; it also only beats out Vatican City and Tuvalu by population. 

Just like Switzerland, the Nauru Constitution does not designate a capital city. Nauru is divided into 14 districts that govern a number of villages.

Yaren is often listed as Nauru’s capital city though, and the UN does accept Yaren as Nauru’s “main district,” since Yaren is the seat of Nauru’s parliament. But this is, still, not a capital city, and the Nauru Constitution doesn’t designate any district a “main district” anyway. 

It’s also widely accepted that Nauru doesn’t have cities, which isn’t really the best argument as to why Nauru has no capital city, but we guess you could use it.


See if you know your world capitals here.

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