National Capitals Closest Together

On September 19, 2009 · 8 Comments

Which two national capitals are located closest together? This is another one of those tricky trivia questions designed to fool people into overlooking the obvious. Doubtless they probably think about places where countries pack tightly together, maybe Western Europe maybe Central America, perhaps forgetting about all the tiny micro-nations because those tend to fade into the woodwork, and of course that’s the key to solving many of these little puzzles.

I’ve seen enough of these that I’ve conditioned myself to guess reflexively that either Vatican City or Alaska will be involved in the answer somehow depending on context. My standard, unthinking answer to this question would be to focus on Vatican City since Alaska isn’t a nation (yet). Regular readers of the Twelve Mile Circle may take similar approaches because we’ve all been immersed in geo-trivia for ages. But we’re a special bunch. We’re all 180 degrees out-of-synch with the rest of the world and we take pride in our geo-geekiness.

Indeed, the two national capitals closest together are Rome, Italy and Vatican City. Rome completely envelopes Vatican City. It’s hard to get any closer than that. Sure, some may quibble that Vatican City is really a sovereign city-state that doesn’t have a defined "capital" per se. It’s hard to argue against that from a purely technical perspective, however focusing on hairsplitting takes all the joy out of these silly questions. The answer for 99.95% of the population is that Rome and Vatican City are the two national capitals closest together.

OK, I’m done for the day. Everyone can go home now.

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Nothing is ever that simple on this blog.

Honestly, I’m not interested in the Rome-Vatican City answer. Another answer is much more interesting and much less obvious. So throw that answer out the window and let’s ask the question again: Other than Rome and Vatican City, what two national capitals are located closest together?

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Answer: Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. To mitigate the name confusion it might be useful to recall that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the nation called Zaire until recently. Others distinguish between the nations by referring to them as Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville. The two national capitals sit on opposite sides of the Congo River within clear site of each other. The physical distance between the two is the width of the river, but back to splitting hairs, they probably share a common border somewhere in the middle of that river and thus could probably be considered contiguous. It’s as good an answer as Rome-Vatican City in my book.

What surprised me, and I admit that this is a blindspot due to my western- and euro-centric upbringing, is the sheer enormity of this greater metropolitan area. This is the home to nine million people, and absolute megalopolis of epic size and yet the answer didn’t come leaping off the screen at me. That’s on the order of Chicago for the sake of comparison. I’ve got to become smarter on the geography of this area.

I also came up with some "also-rans" as I poured through the maps in search of answers. Doubtless you came up with some too. I dropped a few of them into the Google Maps great circle distance calculator:

  • Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia (54 kilometers/34 miles/31,928 smoots)
  • Jerusalem, Israel and Amman, Jordan (74km/46mi/43,438sm) – I do realize that listing Jerusalem as a capital city may be controversial in some quarters, and I’m not trying to make a geopolitical statement here. Just drawing some lines on a map.
  • Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia (78km/47mi/46,001sm) – across water.
  • Damascus, Syria and Beirut, Lebanon (86km/53mi/50,547sm)
  • Castries, Saint Lucia and Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (91 km/56 mi/53,286 sm) – between islands.
  • Seoul, South Korea and Pyongyang, North Korea (195km/121mi/114,834sm) – this one is really scary.

I’m frequently impressed, quite pleasantly as a matter of fact, with the vast collective knowledge of the regular readers here, so please feel free to add to the list or make corrections.

I notice one other interesting point as I was pondering this question and preparing this article. I put together this nice little map showing the capital cities mentioned in the Middle East: Damascus; Beirut, Amman and Jerusalem.

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Notice anything unusual?

No roads display for Israel. The entire country has been reduced to a big empty splotch devoid of any road network or identifying feature whatsoever. Given the political situation I could understand if this were the case for all Google Map images of Israel but it applies only to map images embedded on external websites. Thus, the information is readily available on Google but blocked elsewhere. Truly odd.

On September 19, 2009 · 8 Comments

8 Responses to “National Capitals Closest Together”

  1. Craig says:

    As long as you’re not making political statements…. 🙂

    I have to wonder if Jerusalem, capital of Israel, and Jerusalem, capital of the state of Palestine, wouldn’t also count. Even if you just consider Ramallah, the administrative capital of the state of Palestine, it’s awfully close to Jerusalem too.

    I note that there are a lot of other capitals that are closer than the Korean capitals:

    Conakry and Freetown – 72 miles
    Lome and Porto Novo – (about) 80 miles
    Zagreb and Ljubljana – 84 miles
    Doha and Manama – 91 miles
    Amsterdam and Brussels – 98 miles
    Tiranë and Skopje – 105 miles
    Tbilisi and Yerevan – 109 miles
    Dakar and Banjul – 112 miles
    Bissau and Banjul – 120 miles

  2. James D says:

    And another also ran (which has to be my favorite for some bizarre non-reason):

    Vaduz, Liechtenstein, to Berne, Switzerland: 99 miles

    And a “doesn’t count any more” also ran:

    Luxembourg, Luxembourg, to Bonn, West Germany: 88 miles

    I’m now trying to think of which two U.S. State capitals are nearest each other. The ones I’ve found so far are:

    Providence-Boston: 40 miles
    Dover-Annapolis: 53 miles
    Boston-Concord: 63 miles
    Providence-Hartford: 65 miles

    So can anyone beat that?

  3. Phil says:

    Nice article – was thinking about a similar topic, which capitals can be seen from another.. Think that list will be pretty low, but this has some food for thought. One thing though, what does Alaska have to do with this question? I’m a bit confused!

  4. Philip Newton says:

    Israeli roads are now visible even on the embedded map 🙂

  5. Ardi says:

    Again, no politics but Nicosia is the capital and seat of government of both, the (internationally recognize) Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (which is recognized only by the Republic of Turkey). Two capitals are separated by the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus. Latter is just few hundred meters in its narrowest points in Nicosia.

  6. JB says:

    Bloemfontein, South Africa and Maseru, Lesotho
    92 miles.

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