Capitals on Edge

On October 9, 2012 · 10 Comments

An interesting query came onto the site the other day. I hadn’t really thought about it previously so I decided to give it some thought and figure it. The essence of the question centered on the number of national capitals abutting international borders. It’s a situation where one hopes the nation has good relations with its neighbors since having a capital city on the border would make it particularly vulnerable to attack. A foe would only have to reach across the boundary.



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The list is quite manageable. The situation doesn’t happen very often and the phenomenon seems to be inversely proportional with the relative size of the nation, as one might imagine. I didn’t bother to catalog all of the micro-nations for that very reason. Is anyone truly surprised that the City of San Marino in the nation of San Marino abuts Italy? Exactly. Maybe I’ll take a look and see if any capitals of micro-nations do not touch the border. That might be interesting too.

Speaking of Italy, I didn’t bother looking at Rome either which includes an international border as it surrounds Vatican City, and vice versa. Neither did I wish to wade into the international controversy that is Jerusalem.

So now that I’ve conveniently discounted a preponderance of examples, what remains?

I knew two capital cities immediately, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. They face each other on opposing sides of the Congo River, as featured previously on 12MC in National Capitals Closest Together.



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My favorite would have to be Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava was the only instance where I uncovered a capital city abutting international borders with TWO other countries, Austria and Hungary. They both border on Bratislava and one can spot an easily accessible tripoint and various other border markers (map). Google Maps doesn’t show city boundaries when imbedded within an article (above) so open it up in a separate page and notice how the Bratislava situation reveals itself.



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The Democratic Republic of the Congo also scores well. Not only does it feature the Kinshasa-Brazzaville situation, it also borders on Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. Bujumbura, Burundi is an added bonus, not quite bordering DRC however it’s a very close call. I’m going to estimate the outskirts of Bujumbura are probably about 10 kilometres from the border (6.2 miles (map). This is rather impressive for DRC, with its capital city on the border and two (almost three) other capital cities bordering upon it in return.

Others I found included Asunción, Paraguay (with Argentina), Lome, Togo (with Ghana), Maseru, Lesotho (with South Africa), N’Djamena, Chad (with Cameroon) and Vientiane, Laos (with Thailand).

The United States during the American Civil War (1861-1865) was in a similar situation by the reckoning of those who recognized the breakaway Confederate States of America. Washington, DC bordered on Virginia, which seceded from the United States in 1861. U.S. forces quickly grabbed a buffer strip of land on the Virginia side of the Potomac River and constructed a ring of forts around the city for that very reason.

There might be other examples. I used city maps generated by default on Google Maps. We’ve seen before that Google isn’t infallible. Some of the capital city boundaries were very close near-misses, with several coming as close as a few kilometres. I wouldn’t be surprised if definitive sources could be discovered to prove Google wrong in at least some of those cases.


Completely Unrelated



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I enjoy 12MC reader email. Longtime, loyal reader Thias from France forwarded an article to me from a French news radio website: "Il n’ y a qu’un seul panneau “Stop” dans les rues de Paris." Alternately, feel free to read the tortured English version run through translation software: There is a single sign “Stop” on the streets of Paris.

Unbelievably, there are basically no stop signs in the entire city of Paris save for this one. As Thias notes, isn’t isn’t really on a street. It’s placed at the exit of a construction business (map) on the far outskirts of the city. Thus, the real answer is there are probably ZERO genuine stops signs in all of Paris unless someone in the 12MC audience can prove it wrong. Amazing!

Thanks Thias.

On October 9, 2012 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Capitals on Edge”

  1. John of Sydney says:

    Copenhagen (Denmark) is on the shore of a strait (Oresund) across from Sweden. At its narrowest it is only 4 km. The Oresund bridge connects Malmo (Sweden) with Copenhagen. The Copenhagen suburban railways run across the bridge so Malmo is virtually a suburb of Copenhagen.
    The area in two countries is considered to be one region.

  2. John of Sydney says:

    It took me a while to realise that every country I have been in uses the english word “STOP” on stop signs and not the local language word. My French-English dictionary tells me that the French for stop is “halte” but that is not used.
    Now that is really strange!

    • I can think of one exception, the province of Québec in Canada. It uses the familiar octagonal red sign, however it replaces "STOP" with "ARRÊT" (which Google translates to a variety of meanings such as stop, arrest, cessation, etc.). I think this probably has something do with the Québécois asserting a distinct cultural identity versus the English-speaking portion of Canada. Perhaps a member of the Canadian community of 12MC readers can clarify that assumption.

      I went into a random spot on Street View and found an example for you. I’m not sure if other places use local language variations on STOP. It’s an interesting question…



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      • Brent says:

        Indeed, they”re ARRÊT because STOP was not considered French enough. There are also bilingual signs outside of Quebec that say both words in areas with significant French speaking populations. And yes, both inside and outside Quebec people are well aware that STOP is fine with France, and a source of amusement for some of us Anglophones.

        (infrequent Canadian commenter here chiming in as requested.)

    • Wikipedia has an example with a stop sign in Inuktitut in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada (saying ????? “nuqqarit”): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IqaluitStop.jpg . But it’s bilingual with English STOP so I’m not sure whether it counts for your purpose.

  3. Peter says:

    While it may not be close to another nation’s capital, people in Seoul are well aware that they are within artillery range of North Korea.

  4. Ariel Dybner says:

    I’ve found that Quebec uses many direct English-French translations, instead of the word used in France. The best example I can think of was after Pulp Fiction came out, my friends and I wanted to order a Royale with Cheese, as the Samuel Jackson character did in the movie. Journeying to Paris was out of the question, so we drove from southern Vermont to Montreal. Sadly, the menu displayed “Quater-Livre Avec Frommage”, a more direct translation of Quater Pounder with Cheese.

  5. Fritz Keppler says:

    Interestingly, in Kahnawake, Mohawk territory within Québec, French on the stop signs is nowhere to be seen. When I was there, I saw only English, but a picture in this article indicates that the local language is also used, with the primary position in English.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kahnawake,_Quebec

  6. Jbapo says:

    I recalled seeing the familiar “Stop” signs with the Spanish “Alto” in Mexico. I found one on Street View in the Tecate, BC area. Just dropping into Street View and finding a stop sign was harder than I thought. I usually got either all stop lights or no controlled intersections at all.

    https://maps.google.com/?ll=32.56885,-116.639003&spn=0.005452,0.009645&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=32.568869,-116.63889&panoid=IbI4jBATjbfjdnBLAV_6eA&cbp=12,309.24,,1,5.71

  7. It’s also interesting how Bratislava got the bits on the south of the Danube; if I remember correctly, that was where some of the farmland lay that supported the city was, so when the boundaries were drawn up and Hungary claimed that land, part of it was nevertheless given to Slovakia.

    German Wikipedia has an article on it: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bratislavaer_Br%C3%BCckenkopf (also in Czech, Hungarian, and Polish—no English, unfortunately).

    Ah, it seems that while Petržalka was (Czecho-)Slovak for longer, (Czecho-)Slovakia wanted five additional towns for strategic reasons, similar to the Washington, D.C., case. (In the end, they got three of them and the other two were assigned to Hungary.)

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