8 Countries & States That Moved Their Capitals

Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire
Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire
Erik Cleves Kristensen, Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

Learning state and national capitals is a time-honored way of boring schoolchildren during geography lessons. While most of this exercise is just rote memorization, it can get significantly trickier if the capitals start moving around or multiplying. Sure, the American government has been calling Washington, D.C., home for over 200 years, but a number of other capitals have been known to hit the road. Moreover, some countries aren't content with a single capital and have several. Here are a few countries and states have seen some travel.

1. Cote d'Ivoire

The country formerly known as the Ivory Coast has seen a number of capitals dating back to its days as a French colony, but in 1933, Abidjan became the center of government. The arrangement made sense given that Abidjan is the nation's largest city and its major economic hub.

In 1983, though, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny decided maybe Abidjan wasn't the best choice and moved the capital to Yamoussoukro, where he spent $300 million building the world's largest church (pictured above). Why the rash move? Because he was from Yamoussoukro. (Apparently you can do that sort of thing if you're the president of Cote d'Ivoire.) Even after Houphouet-Boigny's death, the capital remained in Yamoussoukro, although the bulk of the country's economic activity still takes place in Abidjan.

2. Burma

A scene in Pyinmana, Myanmar (Burma)
A scene in Myanmar

Burmese civil servants got a bit of an unwelcome shock in November 2005. Their days of living in Rangoon, the capital city, were over. Instead, the government was moving its offices and workers to Pyinmana, almost 200 miles north of Rangoon. Some top officials only got two days' notice before they had to move their families and belongings.

What made the move all the more puzzling is that no one knew exactly why the government had ordered it. Some observers felt the move was possibly based on an astrological prediction or advice the government had received from soothsayers. Other speculation centered on avoiding a possible U.S. invasion to overthrow the ruling military junta or to calm social unrest in the country's center. Either way, the capital moved to an undeveloped plot of land outside of the logging town of Pyinmana; the government later christened the new town "Naypyidaw."

3. South Africa

There might be such a thing as going too far in an effort to separate the branches of government. South Africa has not one, not two, but three capital cities. Pretoria serves as the nation's administrative capital, while the judiciary resides in its own capital, Bloemfontein. Cape Town acts as South Africa's legislative capital.

Why is everything so spread out? The three capitals are relics of South Africa's unification in 1910. Four previously separate colonies were coming together to form the union, but they couldn't stop squabbling over which one would get the capital. To settle the argument, three of the four colonies got a capital city apiece, while the fourth colony, Natal, got cash compensation to square things.

4. Nigeria

Lagos, on the Nigerian coast, is Africa's second most populous city and was the country's capital until 1991. Lagos wasn't an ideal seat for the Nigerian government, though. It was super crowded, politically divisive, and oppressively hot and muggy. Throughout the 1980s, government officials designed and built a new capital, Abuja, 300 miles northeast of Lagos to solve these problems. Thanks to its central location, higher elevation, and sparse population density, the government moved the great bulk of its offices to Abuja in 1991, although some functions remain in Lagos.

5. Benin

Benin's situation is a bit confusing. Porto-Novo, a city that dates back to the 16th century, is Benin's official capital, and some administrative offices are located there. However, Cotonou, which is over three times larger and the country's economic hub, is the de facto capital of the nation and provides a home for a large part of the government's offices and services.

6. Jammu and Kashmir

This one's not a country, but it's certainly unique. Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of India, has two different capitals. Srinagar serves as the state's summer capital, while Jammu acts as the state's capital during the winter. This division sounds odd, but it makes sense given both the political climate and the literal climate. Srinagar is situated almost a mile above sea level, so it has fairly temperate summers but chilly winters. Jammu, on the other hand, has swelteringly hot summers but milder winters. Plus, since the state is comprised of two distinct historic regions, Jammu and Kashmir, having one capital in Jammu and one in Kashmir is a politically expedient move.

7. Bolivia

Panoramic view of La Paz city, Bolivia 
iStock.com/Olga_Gavrilova

Sucre originally became Bolivia's capital in 1839, a sensible choice that reflected the city's position as an early hotbed of revolutionary activity and a convenient waypoint for getting to the country's rich silver mines. By 1898, though, the silver had mostly dried up, and many wanted to move the capital to La Paz, which was closer to the country's valuable tin reserves. A civil war broke out over the proposed change, though, so a compromise was necessary. La Paz became the administrative capital of the country, while Sucre retained the role of constitutional and judicial capital.

8. Georgia

Several U.S. states have changed their capitals at various points, but Georgia's legislators must have run up the most frequent buggy miles. Five different cities have served as Georgia's official capital: Savannah, Augusta, Louisville, Milledgeville, and Atlanta. In the state's early days, the capital bounced around extensively; Augusta and Savannah both had three separate stints as capital. Following the Civil War, though, the capital moved to Atlanta, where it's remained since 1868.

9 Towns Around the World With Christmas-Themed Names

Marseas/iStock via Getty Images
Marseas/iStock via Getty Images

In some towns, Christmas is all year-round. From Santa Claus, Indiana, to Bethlehem, Wales, here are nine places where it's December 25 365 days a year.

1. Santa Claus, Indiana

A statue of Santa Claus stands above a ‘Welcome to Santa Claus, Indiana’ sign.
TENGRRL, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

There are actually several places in the U.S. named after St. Nick, but only one of them is famous for the Santa Claus postmark. That’s Santa Claus, Indiana, a city of just under 2500 people located in the southwest portion of the state. When settlers created the town in the mid-1800s, they were going to name it Santa Fe—but since another Indiana town already had that name, when the residents gathered one Christmas Eve to decide upon its permanent moniker, they went with the seasonally appropriate Santa Claus. Now, the city calls itself “America’s Christmas Hometown” and boasts Yuletide attractions like the Santa Claus Museum and Village, a hotel called Santa’s Lodge, the Santa Claus Christmas Store, and Santa’s Candy Castle, which claims the title of the first themed attraction in the U.S. Not to mention all the letters to Santa its post office receives each December.

2. Barra De Navidad, Mexico

A view from offshore of a beach in Barra de Navidad, Mexico.
stockcam/iStock via Getty Images

Barra de Navidad, Jalisco, a beach town on Mexico’s Pacific coast, is located along a sandbar—hence its name, which means Christmas Sandbar. The mellow town of about 5000 people was once a hub for Spanish ships. It was originally named Puerto de Navidad because the first Spanish explorers who landed there in the 1500s arrived on Christmas Day. The name was changed to Barra de Navidad once the town on the sandbar was built. Now, it's a fishing village and popular tourist destination whose picturesque beaches make it a perfect late-December getaway for those trying to flee cold weather.

3. Christmas, Michigan

A sign reads ‘Welcome to Christmas, Michigan.’
ehrlif/iStock via Getty Images

Christmas, Michigan, home to just 400 residents, was named for the holiday gift factory once located there. The town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is now a popular recreation area for snowmobile aficionados, and it takes full advantage of its Christmas legacy. With roadside Santa statues and its Santa-themed stores and signs, Christmas will never let you forget which holiday it’s named after.

4. Natal, Brazil

A view across the skyline of Natal, Brazil
nicolasdecorte/iStock via Getty Images

Natal, which means "Christmas" in Portuguese, is a state capital on the easternmost tip of Brazil, and serves as South America’s closest point to Africa. Built just outside a 16th-century Portuguese fort called the Fortress of the Three Wise Men (also called the Three Kings Fortress), the city was founded on December 25, 1599. It has since become a popular beach destination for Brazilian tourists.

5. North Pole, Oklahoma

An evelope that reads 'North Pole' sticks out from a red mailbox.
crysrob/iStock via Getty Images

Of all the places to name after the North Pole, you wouldn’t necessarily pick a tiny town in southeastern Oklahoma. Residents of the rural region aren’t sure how an Oklahoma town got an Arctic name. According to NewsOK, the late owner of the local North Pole Grocery thought it might have to do with the area being colder than other parts of the county, while other residents speculate that it could have been named for its out-of-the-way location, which might seem as far away as the North Pole for travelers.

6. Sint-Niklaas, Belgium

Neogothic Tower of Cityhall in St-Niklaas Belgium
krisdisk/iStock via Getty Images

The East Flanders city of Sint-Niklaas gets its name from the church founded there in the early 13th century, not the jolly bearer of Christmas presents, but the town definitely knows how to appreciate Santa Claus—or rather, his predecessor, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). There’s a statue of the holiday figure posted outside the city hall year-round, and between November 12 and December 6 (Saint Nicholas’s Day), the city’s fine arts museum turns into the Huis van de Sint, or the “House of the Saint,” where kids can tour Sinterklaas’s house and meet the big guy himself. Sinterklaas comes to visit the children of Sint-Niklaas on the weekend prior to December 6, and local elementary schools get a three-day weekend so that kids can play with their new toys afterward.

7. Noel, Missouri

A vintage postcard shows a highway leading into the town of Noel, Missouri.
OZARK POSTCARD PUBLISHERS, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The town of Noel wasn’t named after Christmas—the designation originally referred to local sawmill owners C.W. and W.J. Noel—but it has certainly embraced the association. In the 1930s, Noel’s post office began offering a Christmas postmark service, stamping cards and letters sent through the town with a Christmas-themed postmark that says “The Christmas City in the Ozark Vacation Land.” Each year, the post office receives thousands of pieces of mail from people all around the world asking for these stamps, and the local postmaster has to employ a team of volunteers to process them all in time for the holiday.

8. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

This Pennsylvania town owes the origin of its name to Christmas Eve. In 1741, a group of Moravians—a Protestant denomination founded in the 1400s—settled near the banks of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh River. These settlers had a patron, the German count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, and when he visited on Christmas Eve, 1741, he proclaimed that the town would be named Bethlehem. In 1937, Bethlehem’s chamber of commerce decided to make the most of the name, declaring it America’s Christmas City. It’s now known for its extensive annual Christmas market.

9. Bethlehem, Wales

A sign welcomes visitors to Bethlehem, Wales in both English and Welsh.

JOHN FINCH, Geograph // CC BY-SA 2.0

Pennsylvania isn’t the only place to lay claim to the Bethlehem name. Its Welsh compatriot, though, owes even more to the Christmas spirit. Bethlehem, Wales is a tiny village that boasted just 150 people in 2012. It’s so small, in fact, that in the 1980s, its only post office got shut down by budget cuts. But the high demand for the Bethlehem postmark forced it to reopen in 2002. Though it’s typically only open a few hours a week, in order to cope with the high volume of mail people send in during the Christmas season the post office has longer hours during the holidays.

Can You Name the Capital City?

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER