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An independent city or independent town is a city or town that does not form part of another general-purpose local government entity (such as a county).

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

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

Examples include:

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:

  • Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, has held the designation of chartered city since 1991, when it was separated from the former province of Shewa. It shares this status with one other city, Dire Dawa.
  • Berlin, the capital of Germany, was separated from its historic Province of Brandenburg in 1881, from whence it has been an independent city. In 1920, its size was expanded to its current borders.
  • Brasília, the capital of Brazil, is located in the Federal District—the same was created especially for the purpose of housing the federal capital city.
  • Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a separate bilingual (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 both Wallonia (French) and Flanders (Dutch). However, the constitution of Belgium recognizes the municipality of the City of Brussels in the region as the capital, despite the entire region being recognized as the capital.
  • Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, received the status of "Autonomous City" via a 1994 amendment to the country's constitution. Previously, Buenos Aires had been designated as 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 coterminous with the Federal District (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. The status is also equally shared by two other cities—Saint Petersburg and Sevastopol.
  • 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, where it remains as Arlington County.


In Taiwan Area 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, Tainan City, and Taoyuan City) and province-administered ones are like independent cities under this definition.

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.

On July 1, 2012, Yeongi-gun, Chungcheongnam-do absorbed parts of Cheonan, Gongju and Cheongju, and became independent from Chungcheongnam-do as Sejong Special Self-governing City under the Special Act on the Installation of Sejong City. Currently, the population of Sejong Special Self-governing City is lower than that of the aforementioned metropolitan cities, but the population is increasing with the construction of a mixed-use administrative city.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 are administratively and legally not subject to a province, and thus do not share their tax revenues with any province. In practise, most cities are often still grouped with provinces that they were partitioned from for the sake of convenience and simplicity. The national government and its agencies serve these cities through sub-offices for each region, to which the cities are indirectly subject. There are 38 such cities, with 16 being located in Metro Manila (including the City of Manila, the national capital); eight in the rest of Luzon and its surrounding islands; seven in the Visayas island group; and seven in Mindanao and its surrounding islands.

Vietnam has five municipalities that are not part of any of the Vietnam's provinces. This includes Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam; and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the most populous city of Vietnam.


In Austria, a similar concept is the statutory city.

The city of Brčko has the status of a "district", (not to be confused with Brčko District). It is independent of both Entities that constitute Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina). All other cities and municipalities are under the jurisdiction of the Entity (in Republika Srpska) or under the jurisdiction of cantons (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina). The Dayton Peace Agreement afforded the special designation as a district, while also creating the Office of the High Representative that currently oversees the district of Brčko .

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.

Historically, Croatian cities became independent by being named a "royal free city".

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 départemental) and a city council (conseil municipal). However, Paris and the départements closest to it are part of the Île-de-France région.

In Germany most of the federal states are subdivided into administrative districts called Kreise, each of which normally includes several towns or cities. However, a number of the more important cities are not part of a Kreis, but are instead themselves each equivalent in status and functions to a Kreis. Such cities are known as Kreisfreie Städte (literally, "district-free cities") – or, in the case of Baden-Württemberg, Stadtkreise ("urban districts").

There are currently 110 Kreisfreie Städte (or equivalents). Of these, the 22 largest are:

[a]: Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen are also federal states in their own right. [b]: Effectively a Kreisfreie Stadt, although the city is de jure a part of the special-status Hanover Region.

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

Cork, Dublin and Galway are governed by independent city councils.

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

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.

In the Russian Federation, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are both subjects of the federation and cities themselves. Russia also considers the Crimean city of Sevastopol to be a federal city of Russia, but this is not recognized by the majority of states who see the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation as unlawful.

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.

In Ukraine, the cities of Kiev and Sevastopol are part of the country constituent regions along with the autonomous republic of Crimea (ARK), and 24 other oblasts (see Oblasts of Ukraine).

In the UK, having city status gives the city's local government no additional inherent powers; city status depends on a grant from the monarch and merely confers on the place so designated the right to call itself a city. Many cities and large urban areas are unitary authorities, meaning they have their own local government, separate from the surrounding county. (However, a number of large urban areas have a number of unitary authorities, such as Greater Manchester, which mean they do not have a unified, citywide local government.) 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, towns and villages in Alberta are not part of rural municipalities such as counties. In New Brunswick, all county government was abolished in 1967.[1] Therefore, in theory, all cities, townships, and settlements in New Brunswick could be considered independent cities.

There are 41 independent cities in the United States. Of these, 38 are in Virginia.[2] They are called 'independent' because they are not in the territory of any county or counties. Independent cities in Virginia may, however, serve as county seats for neighboring counties.

The three independent cities outside Virginia are Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Carson City, Nevada.

New York City displays many features associated with independent cities but is, in fact, a sui generis municipality that is coextensive with five counties. Counties invariably are administrative divisions of state government. In the case of New York City, however, they are also administrative divisions of city government. As city administrative divisions, the five counties are called boroughs, retaining the label 'county' as state administrative divisions. For three out of the five boroughs, the borough and county have different names: the borough of Manhattan is the County of New York; Brooklyn is Kings County; and Staten Island is Richmond County. For the remaining two boroughs, Queens and the Bronx, the county and borough share the same name.

Another similar entity is a consolidated city-county. An independent city is not even nominally part of any county, whereas for a consolidated city and county, the county at least nominally exists. In some cases, such as Indianapolis, Indiana, the largest city in a county is consolidated with the county government while smaller communities continue to operate within the same county but separately from Indianapolis. In other cases, such as The City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii and The City and County of San Francisco, California, there is a complete consolidation of municipality and county. San Francisco, for example, has a chief executive called "Mayor", a term normally associated with city government, but the legislative body is called "Board of Supervisors", which is otherwise associated with county government in California.

Washington, D.C., meanwhile, effectively functions as an independent city, although it has special Constitutional status as the "district constituting the seat of government of the United States," and is not part of a county or a state. In 1871, the cities of Washington and Georgetown and the County of Washington were consolidated into a single local government.

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