Interesting Enclaves of the World

An enclave is a political, cultural, or social entity that is completely surrounded by another, for example, the Republic of San Marino, which is an enclave of Italy.

The term is sometimes mixed up with exclave, which is a portion of a country's territory that is not connected to the main part, like Alaska. The confusion ramps up when you consider that an enclave is often also an exclave. If you want to drill down to details, check out this map-based explanation.

Lesotho is an enclave of South Africa

To simplify things, remember that the keywords in the two definitions are surrounded (enclave), and separated (exclave). Now, let's explore some of the most interesting enclaves—nations, states, territories, districts, and administrative divisions that are surrounded by another country's land or internal waters.

Enclaved Countries

First, let's look at the three UN-recognized nations that are surrounded by another country's land or internal waters.

The Republic of San Marino

San Marino is an enclave within Italy located a little over 6 miles from the Adriatic coast at Rimini. It was founded in 301 AD by Saint Marinus, who traveled there from what is now Croatia. After including a handful of adjacent communities in the region, the borders of the Republic of San Marino were finalized in 1463.

San Marino is the third smallest country in Europe and the fifth smallest country in the world, but it has always stood its ground in international affairs, remaining neutral through WWI, adopting a position that irritated both Italy and Austria-Hungary. The tiny nation was also neutral during WWII but still found itself involved in conflicts. In 1944, San Marino was occupied by German forces, but only for a brief period; the occupying troops were defeated by Allied forces in the Battle of San Marino.

The Republic of San Marino became a member of the United Nations in 1992. It's not a member of the European Union and has had economic struggles over the years. The tiny nation did not fare well in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic—San Marino had the highest death rate per capita of any country. On a brighter note, this minuscule enclave took home a bronze medal in women's trap shooting at the 2020 Summer Olympics, making it the smallest country to earn a medal.

Vatican City

Vatican City is an independent city-state and enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. It spans only 121 acres and has a population of about 825.

Vatican City became independent from Italy in 1929. It is governed as a theocracy, ruled by the pope who is the bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church. Within this historic enclave are important religious and cultural sites, like St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The city's museums contain many of the world's most famous works of art.

The Kingdom of Lesotho

Lesotho, the largest of the three enclaved countries we're covering, is surrounded entirely by South Africa. The country covers 11,583 sq mi and is home to about 2 million people.

From 1822 to 1868, Lesotho, then called Basutoland, was ruled by King Moshoeshoe, a chief of the Bakoteli lineage. That period saw the state's evolution marked by conflicts between British and Dutch colonists, influence from missionaries from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, and Boers trying to colonize parts of the state.

In 1854, the British pulled out of the region, but Moshoeshoe was still dealing with the Boers in a series of fights known as the Free State–Basotho War. The conflict with the Boers finally ended in 1867 when Queen Victoria agreed, at the request of Moshoeshoe, to make Basutoland a British protectorate.

In 1884, Lesotho became the British Crown Colony of Basutoland and remained so until 1966, when the nation declared independence from the UK. Lesotho is now a fully sovereign state and a member of the United Nations.

True, Semi, & Subnational Enclaves

In the strictest definition, distinguishing the parts of a state that are entirely enclosed in a single other state, the term "true enclave" is used. This category of enclave cannot be reached without passing through the territory of a single other state that surrounds it. Two examples, both surrounded by Switzerland, are Büsingen am Hochrhein, a true enclave of Germany, and Campione d'Italia, a true enclave of Italy. Incidentally, these two enclaves also meet the definition of exclave, as they are both a portion of a country's territory that is not connected to the main part.

Semi-enclaves are areas that don't meet the full definition because they have an unsurrounded sea border. Independent states that border only one other state, like Monaco, qualify, as do other territories, districts, and administrative divisions whose land boundary is longer than its sea coastline.

On the island of Timor, Oecusse, a semi-enclave of East Timor, is separated from the rest of the country by Indonesia. Other examples include the Spanish semi-enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco, and in Malaysia, Temburong, a Bruneian semi-enclave.

Subnational enclaves are administrative divisions of a country that are located inside or attached to another. They exist all over the world. Dadra, for example, part of Dadra and Nagar Haveli in India, is enclaved in the state of Gujarat. There are numerous examples in the United States, like the cities of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, for example, both of which are surrounded by Los Angeles. In France, the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques surrounds two enclaves of the department of Hautes-Pyrénées.

We hope you enjoyed this brief look at the world's enclaves. Seterra staff are on watch for any changes in enclave status so we can update all affected map quizzes immediately.