A federal capital is a political entity, often a municipality or capital city, that serves as the seat of the federal government. A federal capital is typically a city that physically encompasses the offices and meeting places of its respective government, where its location and relationship to subnational states are fixed by law or federal constitution. Federal capitals may or may not be considered states in themselves, and either exercise significant political autonomy from the federation or are directly ruled by the national government located within their premises, as federal districts.

Federal capitals are often new creations. That is, they are not established in one of the existing state capitals (but they may well be a pre-existing city). They have not grown organically as capitals tend to do in unitary states. This is because the creation of a federation is a new political entity and it is usually necessary not to favour any one of the constituent state capitals by making it the federation capital. This is also the motivation behind the creation of federal capital territories as districts governed apart from the constituent state governments.[1] It is especially important that the choice of federal capital be neutral in multi-ethnic states such as Nigeria.[2]

Examples of well-known federal capitals include Washington, D.C., which is not part of any U.S. state but borders Maryland and Virginia; Berlin, which is a state of Germany in its own right and forms an enclave within the much larger state of Brandenburg; and the Australian Capital Territory, a territory of Australia which includes the capital city of Australia, Canberra.

Canada is the only federation in the world not to accord a special administrative subdivision to its capital.[citation needed] Rather, Ottawa is merely another municipality in the Province of Ontario. The Canadian government does designate the Ottawa area as the National Capital Region, although this term merely represents the jurisdictional area of the government agency that administers federally owned lands and buildings, and is not an actual political unit. The City of Ottawa is governed as any other city in Ontario would be.

List of federal capitals


Former and historical


  1. ^ Ramesh Dutta Dikshit, Political Geography: The Spatiality of Politics, p. 88, Tata McGraw-Hill Education, 1999 ISBN 0074635786.
  2. ^ Emmanuel O. Ojo, Mechanisms of National Integration in a Multi-ethnic Federal State: The Nigerian Experiment, p. 109, John Archers, 2009 ISBN 9783526510.

Further reading