Capital cities play an important role in signalling a country’s political, cultural, and economic power. As a result, capitals are deliberately chosen to showcase elements of national pride, be it through population strength, geographic significance, or infrastructure development.
By simple definition, national capital cities are the seat of the national government within the country. This role can vary widely across different capital cities, but in general, capitals are unique from other cities because they provide a special site for the concentration, administration and representation of political power. Which of these three roles is preeminent for the capital depends on the observer. For political scientists, the capital is the seat of power and administration. For the economist, it is the location of a disproportionate share of public sector employment. (For the macro-economist, it is often where trade, industrial and monetary policy is made). For the architect, it is the lucrative site of representative buildings, monuments and parks.
This is not only the location of the central authorities, the centre for managing political processes in the country, but also the most important political institution that forms, reproduces and transforms its statehood, primarily influencing the political-territorial structure, the system of relations between "centre- regions" and the regional state policy. This understanding of the capital city raises the question of why the political and administrative structure of the state involves the allocation of a capital city, i.e. in other words, the inevitable division of the country into the centre and regions, the formation of potentially conflicting social groups: residents of the centre and residents of the periphery? And another question arising is what functions such a division performs and how it affects the nature of political processes in the state as a whole
Historically the economic centre of a state or region has often also been the seat of political power. Capital cities usually attracted people whose skill set lent itself to politics or administration like lawyers, scientists, bankers, and journalists. In Medieval Europe, in states like ancient Babylon, Athens, London, and Prague, it was not uncommon to have an itinerant, or wandering, capital. In some cases, the city in question was not only the political and economic capital but like in Constantinople and Rome, also the fulcrum of the state religion.
Some nation-states have multiple capitals while others have one city as the capital but with most government agencies located elsewhere. In Chile, for example, Santiago is the official capital, but the National Congress meets in Valparaíso. Countries like France and Nauru do not recognise official capitals although, for the former, Paris is considered the de facto capital. Some tiny countries, which function more as city-states, like Monaco and Singapore, have the country itself as the capital.
Campbell Scott defines the different types of capitals, from classic capitals (Madrid, Paris, Mexico City) to relocated capitals (Ankara from Istanbul) to constructed or planned capitals (New Delhi, Brasilia) to federal capitals (Canberra, Ottawa) to split capitals (Amsterdam and the Hague) to archipelago capitals (Tokyo on Honshu) to capitals with unique jurisdictions (Washington DC).
The residents of such city people get emotionally attached and will be distressed if they came to know the capital of state or nation is being changed to some other place. (People living in Mumbai will echo this and will remember the political agitation against even such a thought or a proposal).
But if capitals are so important, then why do countries relocate or change capital?
Most countries in the world have changed their capital city. There is one glaring example which I will mention at the end of the article. And barring that exception, even countries like America, England and European-African-Asian countries, have changed their capital. Many countries have changed it on more than one occasion.
According to Scott, capitals are often relocated due to wars, revolutions, invasions or annexations. He cites an early example from 771 BC in which China’s Zhou dynasty was forced to move capitals from Hao to Luoyang after barbarians attacked and destroyed the former.
In America for example, Washington DC was chosen as the country’s capital in 1790, following a compromise between urbanised northern states and agrarian southern slave states to share power. Similarly, in Australia, Melbourne and Sydney, the two largest cities, were both competing to become the capital, and neither was willing to cede ground. As a compromise, in 1913, Canberra, situated between Melbourne and Sydney, was designated as the new capital city of Australia.
In 1834, four years after gaining independence, Athens was made the capital of Greece with the hopes that doing so would conjure the glory of Ancient Greece.
More recently, however, capitals have been strategically relocated due to demographics. This phenomenon has been particularly true when the “vagaries of nation-building required the choice of a geographically neutral location, situated between the most significant constituent territories”. Establishing a capital in neutral territory, he states, would “help rectify demographic imbalances rooted in country’s particular geography”. The nations of the post-colonial era, have also either changed or renamed capitals to assert their independence from their colonisers.
A few examples of the change in the capital are:-
Capitals not only represent the best of the nation but sometimes symbolize the worst. Buildings, monuments and institutions in the capital city can be the target of hate, fear, and oppression, such as the Bastille in imperial Paris, the Gestapo Headquarters in Nazi Berlin, the KGB Headquarters in Soviet Moscow, and the wall in communist East Berlin. The capital can alienate the citizens, who turn their back on the capital or protest the capital. "Capitals are prizes, but they can also be the objects of distrust. When people are estranged from the capital that is its symbol. If this is the case, urban planning, wide vistas and impressive buildings are not a solution. On the contrary, they serve as symbols and rallying places for the anti-system protesters"
Well, it is Syria. And Damascus is continuously occupied capital for 10000 years now!! Isn't that amazing?