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From Accordions to Zippers, a Map of 90 of the World’s Most Surprising Capitals

Map by MGMT design and Steven Melendez

London, Washington, Paris, Rome. The world’s capital cities are renowned, learned by rote, and visited by millions. But what about those other less well known capital cities, not the capitals of countries but of products and games and states of mind? What about the other capitals of the world?

Some of these have gained their title because of the sheer volume of what they manufacture. Others have simply had the designation thrust upon them by canny city councils seeking to attract tourists. But whether created by hard graft, hubris or chutzpah these Other Capitals can lay claim to lie at the center of realms that are as populous—zippers! pickpockets! brothels!—or insignificant – black dirt! testicles! accordions!—as real geographical countries.

A quick caveat: the idea of labeling a town or city “The World Capital of…..” is very much a trope found in the United States. Partly this is due to the expansionist mercantile philosophy that served the U.S. so well throughout the 20th century. To declare oneself the capital of a product is to claim sovereignty over that product across the world, a kind of manifest destiny of things. Others might argue it is also due to a myopic indifference to the rest of the world (c.f. baseball’s “World Series”). Whatever the case, the U.S. cannot help but be heavily represented in the following map.

However viewers will notice that many of America’s Other Capitals are wavering or have even been toppled from their once steadfast position. With manufacturing jobs being outsourced across the globe a new wave of Other Capitals is being born in the Far East and beyond. As with real capitals, no kingdom lasts forever.

For more stories about the world’s alternative capitals, check out our article series.