12 of the World’s Most Fascinating International Borders
Not all international borders are uncomplicated, straight lines dividing one country from another. In reality, a political map shows what a mess these boundaries—often invisible, but occasionally obvious—can be.
You’ll find countries surrounded on all sides by other countries, and countries scattered in pieces throughout other countries.
There are borders expressed as painted lines that divide villages—the line between Belgium and the Netherlands even goes right through homes and cafés—and those that rise up 29,029 feet above sea level.
Scroll down to see some of the most interesting international borders you might encounter around the world.
Where the past and future meet
Two and a half miles separate the islands of Little Diomede and Big Diomede. The latter is Russian, and entirely uninhabited, while the former belongs to the United States and has approximately 150 very hardy residents. The space between the two Diomedes doubles as an unusual international border and the International Date Line. According to Mental Floss, locals on Little Diomede can spend their Fridays expectantly watching the weekend wash over Big Diomede.
An Italian enclave that’s mostly Swiss
At first glance, you might think you’re in Switzerland: Campione d’Italia has a Swiss dialing code, Swiss emergency responders, and uses the Swiss Franc. But this is an Italian enclave, surrounded by Switzerland and the Lugano Prealps.
The world’s largest enclave
A kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho is considered the largest enclave on Earth. It spans 11,720-square-miles and has a population of approximately two million.
A possible quadripoint
Reportedly, only one place on earth exists where four countries meet at a single point. This so-called quadripoint (which many argue is only two tripoints) can be found at the intersection of Zmbia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
A wildlife reserve
Between North Korea and South Korea is a buffer, known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone. More than half a century after its creation in 1953, this 2.5 mile-wide and 155-mile-long stretch has become something of a nature reserve. Both countries have cooperated to protect the rare wildlife that his flourished in this undeveloped corridor. NBC News reported that endangered cranes and even rare Siberian tigers have emerged here, in addition to roe deer, gorals, and wild boar.
The world’s smallest republic
If you’re visiting the world’s oldest, smallest republic, you’ll find it entirely engulfed in Italy. The Republic of San Marino is an enclave, as is Vatican City. After crossing the quirky border, you can score one of the world’s coolest passport stamps.
A very confusing village
More like a patchwork quilt than a village, the territory of Baarle is shared by Belgium and the Netherlands, with seven Dutch exclaves inside some 22 Belgian exclaves (Baarle-Hertog) scattered across Dutch territory (Baarle-Nassau). Here, the border is quite literal, with white crosses and country indicators running through cafes and homes with seeming abandon. A building’s nationality is determined by the location of the front door. As NPR hilariously pointed out, you can cross five international borders here in just 60 seconds—without breaking a sweat.
Land owned by no one
While most countries clash over land claims, there’s one 800-square-mile piece of land in Africa that is owned by no one. Bir Tawil is wedged between Egypt and Sudan, and neither country want to claim the small, lawless, uninhabited bit of desert. To do so would be to officially renounce ownership of the fertile Hala’ib Triangle. Each country’s maps depict the border differently.
The world’s tallest international border
To trace the international border separating Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region—a part of China—you’ll have to climb the world’s tallest mountain. This border splits Mount Everest at its summit: more than 29,000 feet above sea level.
An extinct, third-order enclave
Until August 2015, the Indian enclave of Dahala Khagrabi was surrounded by a Bangladeshi enclave, which was surrounded by an Indian enclave inside Bangladesh. As interesting as these cartographic oddities are, they can be a nightmare for those living inside of them. After all, you may need to enter a foreign country just to visit the market. A land swap in 2015, reported by the Washington Post, ended the world’s only third-order enclave by allowing citizens to accept new citizenship or keep their original citizenship and relocate.
This disused railway
The Venbahn, a former German railway line, ended up in Belgium after the Treaty of Versailles. At the same time, six German exclaves were created, as well as one Belgian enclave inside a three-way intersection of German roads.
A misplaced lighthouse
Suspended between Finland and Sweden, at the point where the Baltic Sea gives way to the Gulf of Bothnia, is a peculiar island. Märket Island (Swedish for “border marker”) was meant to be split clean down the middle. But a Finnish lighthouse, erected on the Swedish side of Märket (when Finland was controlled by Russia) violated the border. To correct the mistake, the border across Market now zigs and zags wildly.