Cities That Are Also Sovereign States

Singapore's City-Scape. Image credit: MOLPIX/Shutterstock
Singapore's City-Scape. Image credit: MOLPIX/Shutterstock
  • Monaco, Singapore and Vatican City are the only three sovereign states that exist today.
  • Also known as city-states, sovereign states operate independently, housing a whole country in just one city.
  • Rome and Athens are examples of city-states that left a large mark in history, laying the groundwork for the formation of future countries.

When you think of the idea of a country, you most likely conceive of states or provinces that are home to villages, towns, and cities. These all bond together to form one nation, under one flag and currency. In most cases, this is how a country really is formed. Sometimes, however, it is much smaller in its construction. 

A city-state, or a sovereign state, is essentially an entire country that is held within the confines of just one city. Looking back in history, Rome and Athens are examples of city-states that left their mark. These were places where a city held sovereignty over surrounding adjoining territories and functioned as the center of political, cultural, and economic life for the entire area. 

Various sovereign states have come and gone throughout history, and are thought to have originated when early tribal systems broke apart and established themselves as city-states in Greece around 1,000 to 800 BCE.  

Needless to say, the world has changed a lot through time. While we no longer watch gladiators dual to their death in the Colosseum, most of us also no longer live in city-states. There are only three sovereign states that exist today: Monaco, Singapore, and Vatican City. 


Monaco sits right next to France on the Mediterranean Sea, and while it is tiny in comparison to its neighbor, it operates independently. There are no border formalities to go through when passing from France to Monaco but if and when you do, know that you are entering into a new country. 

Monaco has the distinction of being the second smallest country in the entire world and occupies an area only about three times the size of the National Mall in Washington DC. It is just under 2 miles long (3.18 km) and 0.68 miles wide (1.1 km). The country is not officially part of the European Union, it has only one municipality and it uses the same official language as France: French. 

Monte Carlo, Monaco. Image credit: S-F/Shutterstock


Singapore is the only island city-state in the world and is home to some of the richest people in the world. 

This city-state has a varied history. It was ruled by the British (1826-1942, 1945-1963) at certain points, and has also been under the rule of Japan and Malaysia. The country became a sovereign state in 1965 when it pulled away from Malaysia amidst political and ethnic tensions. It is now an independent republic and part of the United Nations with an economy based largely on manufacturing electronics, biochemical science solutions, and other chemicals, as well as transport engineering and logistics. Singapore also has a thriving financial services industry, which forms the second largest part of its economy.  

Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City. Image credit: Banauke/Shutterstock

Vatican City

Vatican City is an enclave located in Rome along the banks of the Tiber River that operates as a sovereign state. This well-known location holds the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and is the smallest city-state in the world. The pope lives within Vatican City’s 121 acres of land, sitting atop its system of absolute monarchy, as well as the Roman Curia.

The Vatican subsists on its museum admission fees, souvenir sales, and contributions made to the Catholic church by its ½ billion followers. This tiny city-state which dates back to the 4th century AD has its own post office, radio, newspaper, telephone system, and security run since the 1500s by the Swiss Guard.   


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