Independent city

Independent city

An independent city is a city that does not form part of another general-purpose local government entity. These type of cities should not be confused with city-states (such as Singapore), which are fully sovereign cities that are not part of any other sovereign state.


Historical precursors

In the Holy Roman Empire, and to a degree in its successor states the German Confederation and the German Empire, so-called "free imperial cities" (nominative singular freie Reichsstadt, nominative plural freie Reichsstädte) held the legal status of imperial immediacy, according to which they were not subinfeudated to any vassal ruler and were instead subject to the authority of the Emperor alone. Examples included Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck, along with others that gained and/or lost the privileges of immediacy over the course of the Empire's history.

National capitals

In general

A number of countries have made their national capitals into separate entities.

Examples include:

  • Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is outside of the country's system of counties.
  • London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is administratively Greater London, which consists of the City of London and 32 London boroughs. One of the boroughs, the City of Westminster, is the seat of government as home to the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. The square-mile City of London has a unique status; it is part of Greater London for most administrative purposes, but remains a separate ceremonial county, and retains many independent governmental powers, most notably its own police force. The City of London's chief executive, the Lord Mayor of London, like all lords mayor, theoretically represents the monarch whereas the similarly titled Mayor of London (the chief executive of Greater London) does not.
  • Oslo, the capital of Norway is an independent city defined both as a municipality and a county.
  • Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is not really a city but officially one of Japan's 47 prefectures. Its official name is Tokyo Metropolis, highlighting its special designation. It consists of 49 municipalities, 23 of which are the wards that once made up the no-longer existing Tokyo City.

Federal capitals

In countries with a federal structure, the federal capital is often separate from other jurisdictions in the country, and frequently has a unique system of government.

Examples include:

  • Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, is a separate entity counted not as one of the states of the country but rather as a federal capital territory.
  • Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, is formally Bogotá, Distrito Capital (Capital District).
  • Brasília, the capital of Brazil, is located in a Federal District, which — similar to the ones for Canberra and for Washington — was created especially for the purpose of housing the Federal capital city.
  • Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a separate bi-lingual(Dutch-French) region (the Brussels-Capital Region), independent of both Flanders and Wallonia, despite being entirely surrounded by Flanders (of which it is also the regional capital) and sharing a common language with Wallonia (French).
  • Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is located in a Capital District.
  • Canberra, the capital of Australia, is located in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is located in a Capital District.
  • Mexico City, the capital of the United Mexican States (Mexico), is co-terminous with the Federal District (El Distrito Federal). The 31 states and the Federal District are collectively called "federal entities" (entidades federativas in Spanish).
  • Moscow, the capital of Russia, itself forms a Federal City, a capital territory, which is one of the 83 federal subjects of Russia.
  • New Delhi — the capital city of India — and the old city of Delhi together form the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
  • Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is not within any of the 50 states. It is located in and is co-terminous with (that is, has the same boundaries as) the District of Columbia. The two form one entity. Although the District of Columbia was originally created as a capital territory out of parts of Maryland and Virginia, the portion from Virginia was removed from the Federal District and returned to Virginia in 1846.


People's Republic of China

In mainland China under the administration of People's Republic of China, the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing are centrally-administered province-level regions, and they do not belong to any particular province. Additionally, there are several vice provincial cities that are nominally under provinces but are in reality independent of any provinces.

Within some provinces, there are some cities that are directly under provinces, bypassing an administrative level (prefectures and prefecture-level cities).

Hong Kong and Macau are two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of China which have high degree autonomy except acts of state like diplomatic relations and national defence.

Republic of China (Taiwan)

Under the administrative division system of the Republic of China, some cities are directly administered by the Executive Yuan, some are administered by provinces (the province of Taiwan is nominal), and some are subordinate to counties. The centrally-administered (Taipei City, Kaohsiung City, New Taipei City, Taichung City, and Tainan City) and province-administered ones are like independent cities under this definition.

Korea (Republic of Korea)

In addition to its nine provinces, South Korea has seven province-level "metropolitan cities." By far the largest among these in terms of population is the capital, Seoul, called a teukbyeol-si (특별시; literally, special city), which is home to more than 20% of the entire population of the country. The remaining six independent cities are called gwangyeok-si (광역시; literally, large city) whose names are: Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Incheon, Gwangju, and Ulsan.

Historically, these independent cities have been carved from the province that surrounds them. Consequently, they typically share a strong regional and cultural identity with the adjoining province(s). For instance, Gwangju, located at the center of Jeolla region, is heavily associated with the region. Seoul and Incheon are said to make up the National Capital Area along with the densely populated Gyeonggi that almost completely encompasses them.

One interesting relic of the newer independent cities is that, in some cases, the government administrative buildings (docheong) of the provinces they were once a part of are still located within city boundaries, meaning that these provinces have capitals that are not within their borders.

In 2006, the ruling party floated a proposal to completely eliminate all current province and independent-city borders. This plan would divide the entire republic into fifty or sixty city- or county-level administrations, similar to the system in Japan. The plan was intended to help reduce regional discrimination and animosity by eliminating provincial identity.


Many major cities in the Philippines are independent cities, classified as either "highly urbanized" or "independent component" cities. These cities do not share their tax revenues with any province, and are administratively and legally not part of any province, although many still group them as components of the provinces to which they previously belonged for convenience and reduced complexity. There are 38 of them, with 16 being located in Metro Manila, 8 in the rest of the Luzon island group, 7 in the Visayas and 7 in Mindanao.



In Austria, a similar concept is the Statutarstadt.


The capital city of Sofia has the status of oblast (region).


The capital city of Zagreb has the status equal to županija (county), whereas all other cities and municipalities are under a county jurisdiction.


See also: Administrative divisions of France.

The city of Paris is both a département and a commune; it is the only French city with this status. The Council of Paris (Conseil de Paris) exercises functions similar to those of a departmental council (conseil général) and a city council (conseil municipal). However, Paris and the départements closest to it are part of the Île-de-France région.


See also: List of German urban districts.

In Germany, different states have either the Stadtkreis ("Urban County") or Kreisfreie Stadt (literally, "County-Free City").

Examples of German independent cities are:

Additionally, the German City-states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg function as federal states. The City-state of Bremen is comprised solely of the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven (which was originally founded as an ocean port for the city of Bremen).


See also: List of towns in Hungary

In Hungary, 23 of the cities are "cities with county rights". These cities have equal rights with the 19 counties of Hungary.


In Norway, Oslo is both a municipality (kommune) and a county (fylke) within itself.


See also: Powiat.

In Poland, many of the biggest cities comprise their own city counties (formally "cities with county rights"). They are suitably marked on the list of counties in Poland.

Russian Federation

In the Russian Federation, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are both subjects of the federation and cities themselves.


See also: Plazas de soberanía.

In Spain, there exist two so-called autonomous cities, Ceuta and Melilla, which are located on the North African coast surrounded by Morocco and have been under Spanish jurisdiction since the 15th century. Spain is a highly decentralized state organized in autonomous communities. These two cities hold their special status because they are not large enough to be considered regions on their own. Nonetheless, they function as autonomous communities with a high degree of self-administration and law-making powers.

United Kingdom

Some cities in the United Kingdom are a unitary authority, and could be considered to be independent cities. In the UK, however, "city" has no inherent status; city status depends on a grant from the monarch and merely confers on the place so-designated the right to call itself a city. The standard for such a right was once thought to depend on whether the entity has a cathedral. As is now made clear by the Department for Constitutional Affairs,[1] there are no formal criteria such as this for the city to apply for, and be granted city status in the UK. There are 66 cities in the UK - 50 in England, five in Wales, six in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland.

County borough referred to a borough or a city independent of county council control in England and Wales from 1889 to 1974 with the term continuing in use in Northern Ireland. Wales re-introduced the term in 1994 for use with certain unitary authorities.

North America


In the Canadian province of Ontario, the same type of city is referred to as a single-tier municipality (there are also separated municipalities). In Quebec, they are often called separated cities, as they are not Regional County Municipalities. Cities and towns in Alberta are not part of rural municipalities such as counties. In New Brunswick, all county government was abolished in 1967[2]. Therefore, in theory, all cities, townships, and settlements in New Brunswick could be considered independent cities.

United States

There are 42 independent cities in the United States, with 39 of these in Virginia. The three others are Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Carson City, Nevada.

While resembling an independent city, New York City is a unique case, with the city divided into five boroughs, each of which is territorially conterminous with a county of New York State.

Another type of locality is known as a consolidated city–county. In a consolidated city-county, as in an independent city, there is one single local government. But in a consolidated city-county, the city and the county are the same entity, whereas an "independent city" is part of no county at all.

Washington, D.C., conterminous with the District of Columbia, which is not a part of any state, cannot be considered "independent" because it is under Congressional oversight as the U.S. national capital.



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