From ancient cities to fortified historic hubs, many of our favorite European capitals weren't always the political epicenters they are today.
Capital cities are important hubs that serve as a central place for government, courts, and trade. Rulers rise to power and can quickly fall for various reasons, due to invasions and wars, a change in trade and needs, or even plagues and illness. Many current capital cities throughout Europe are not the original capitals and some have changed their epicenters multiple times. In fact, capitals are often newer than we may realize based on historical events happening at the time.
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Bonn to Berlin, Germany
Berlin was once the capital of Prussia and when it became what we now call Germany, Berlin remained its capital. That is until World War II when the country was split into West Germany and East Germany and Berlin was divided by the Berlin Wall into East and West Berlin. During this time, the city of Bonn became the capital and remained until 1990 before reverting back to Berlin. However, Bonn was given status as a second capital.
Edirne to Ankara, Turkey
Edirne was an important city and capital during the Ottoman Empire and preceded the capital of Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire fell in 1922 and shortly after the Republic of Turkey was created in 1923, Ankara was made the capital city.
Coimbra to Lisbon, Portugal
Coimbra is often referred to as Portugal’s medieval capital. Although it only served as the capital for a little over a hundred years, from the 10th to 11th century, Coimbra has remained an important epicenter for this country. Lisbon became the capital in 1256, thanks to King Alfonso, who moved the court to this city for its strategic location along the Tagus river.
Kraków to Warsaw, Poland
Kraków is a big and important city in Poland and was one of the many capitals this country has had. The first capital city is considered to be Gniezno. In 1038 Kraków became the capital and remained the epicenter for over 500 years, until 1596, when King Sigismund III Vasa decided to cede the new capital to Warsaw. Several cities would be the capital of Poland before Warsaw was renamed the capital again in 1945, after World War II.
Toledo to Madrid, Spain
Spain as a country is relatively new, around 500 years old, and capitals have moved from various cities depending on the needs of the rulers of the time. Toledo had two stints as the capital, once in 1567 when King Atanagildo chose it as the center of the Kingdom of Spain and then again from 1519 until 1561 when King Phillip II made the decision to permanently move the court to Madrid.
Tournai to Paris, France
An important town during Roman times, Tournai is considered one of the first capitals of France. Because border lines have changed many times throughout the centuries, Tournai is now a city in Belgium. The historic city remained the capital until the mid 400s and by 987 A.D., Paris became the country’s capital. But there have been many shifts and back and forths of capital cities in France, including Tours, Versailles, Vichy, Bordeaux, and others before Paris was reestablished in 1944 as the capital.
Trondheim to Oslo, Norway
The city of Trondheim may seem like a strange location for a former capital, given how far north the city is, but it was a strategic center for the North Atlantic Trade. Referred to as the Viking capital of Norway, it was founded by King Olaf I Tryggvason in 997 A.D. at the end of the Viking Age and remained the capital until 1217. The capital would change locations a couple of times before Oslo would become its epicenter.
Turin to Rome, Italy
Turin may seem like a curious location for a capital city considering its northern location, but the country of Italy as we know it is relatively new. Turin was declared the capital city in 1861 by Vittorio Emanuele II, the new king of the newly unified Italy, but within a few years, it was moved to Florence. Shortly after, in 1871, Rome became the epicenter and permanent capital of Italy.
Winchester to London, England
Winchester was named the capital in 871 A.D. by Alfred the Great, crowned King of Wessex, after winning the Battle of Ashdown against the Danish Vikings. Winchester was a prosperous hub for several centuries but slowly began to lose its power and prominence, prompting the move to London.
Varazdin to Zagreb, Croatia
Varazdin became the capital of Croatia in 1756. Queen Maria Theresa created the first Croatian government and Royal Council in this city. When a major city fire erupted in 1776, officials were forced to move the capital to a new location and Zagreb was nominated and officially named.