Lower Canada

Lower Canada

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Province of Lower Canada
Province du Bas-Canada  (French)
Flag of Lower Canada
Civil ensign (1801 onward)
Évolution territoriale du Bas-Canada.gif
Status British colony
Capital Quebec City
Common languages FrenchEnglish
Government Château Clique oligarchy
under a
Constitutional monarchy
• 1791–1820
George III
• 1820–1830
George IV
• 1830–1837
William IV
• 1837–1841
Lieutenant-Governor and Executive Council of Lower Canada
Legislature Parliament of Lower Canada
Legislative Council
Legislative Assembly
Historical era British Era
26 December 1791
10 February 1841
1839[1] 534,185 km2 (206,250 sq mi)
• 1839[1]
c. 700,000
Currency Canadian pound

Preceded by

Succeeded by
Province of Quebec (1763–1791)
Province of Canada
Colony of Newfoundland
Today part of

The Province of Lower Canada (Frenchprovince du Bas-Canada) was a British colony on the lower Saint Lawrence River and the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (1791–1841). It covered the southern portion of the current Province of Quebec and the Labrador region of the current Province of Newfoundland and Labrador (until the Labrador region was transferred to Newfoundland in 1809).[2]

Lower Canada consisted of part of the former colony of Canada of New France, conquered by Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War ending in 1763 (also called the French and Indian War in the United States). Other parts of New France conquered by Britain became the Colonies of Nova ScotiaNew Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

The Province of Lower Canada was created by the Constitutional Act 1791 from the partition of the British colony of the Province of Quebec (1763–1791)[3] into the Province of Lower Canada and the Province of Upper Canada. The prefix “lower” in its name refers to its geographic position farther downriver from the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River than its contemporary Upper Canada, present-day southern Ontario.

Lower Canada was abolished in 1841 when it and adjacent Upper Canada were united into the Province of Canada.[4]


Like Upper Canada, there was significant political unrest. Twenty-two years after the invasion by the Americans in the War of 1812, a rebellion now challenged the British rule of the predominantly French population. After the Patriote Rebellion in the Rebellions of 1837–1838[5] were crushed by the British Army and Loyal volunteers, the 1791 Constitution was suspended on 27 March 1838 and a special council was appointed to administer the colony. An abortive attempt by revolutionary Robert Nelson to declare a Republic of Lower Canada was quickly thwarted.

The provinces of Lower Canada and Upper Canada were combined as the United Province of Canada in 1841, when the Act of Union 1840 came into force. Their separate legislatures were combined into a single parliament with equal representation for both constituent parts, even though Lower Canada had a greater population.[6]


Constitution of Lower Canada in 1791

The Province of Lower Canada inherited the mixed set of French and English institutions that existed in the Province of Quebec during the 1763–1791 period and which continued to exist later in Canada-East (1841–1867) and ultimately in the current Province of Quebec (since 1867).


Lower Canada was populated mainly by Canadiens, an ethnic group who trace their ancestry to French colonists who settled in Canada from the 17th century onward.

Population of Lower Canada, 1806 to 1841
Year Census estimate[9]
1806 250,000
1814 335,000
1822 427,465
1825 479,288
1827 473,475
1831 553,134
1841 650,000


Current route marker seen along the Chemin

Travelling around Lower Canada was mainly by water along the St. Lawrence River. On land the only long-distance route was the Chemin du Roy or King’s Highway, built in the 1730s by New France.[10] The King’s Highway was, in addition to the mail route, the primary means of long-distance passenger travel until steamboats (1815) and railways (1850s) began to challenge the royal road.[10] The royal road’s importance waned after the 1850s and would not re-emerge as a key means of transportation until the modern highway system of Quebec was created in the 20th century.

See also[edit]





Commonwealth of Australia

Anthem: Advance Australia Fair[N 1]

A map of the eastern hemisphere centred on Australia, using an orthographic projection.
Commonwealth of Australia, including the Australian territorial claim in the Antarctic
Capital Canberra
35°18′29″S 149°07′28″E
Largest city Sydney
National language English[N 2]
Government Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy
• Monarch
Elizabeth II
David Hurley
Scott Morrison
Michael McCormack
Josh Frydenberg
Susan Kiefel
Legislature Parliament
House of Representatives
from the United Kingdom
1 January 1901
9 October 1942 (with effect
from 3 September 1939)
3 March 1986
• Total
7,692,024 km2 (2,969,907 sq mi) (6th)
• Water (%)
• 2020 estimate
25,706,500 (51st)
• 2016 census
• Density
3.3/km2 (8.5/sq mi) (192nd)
GDP (PPP) 2020 estimate
• Total
Increase $1.423 trillion (19th)
• Per capita
Increase $54,799  (17th)
GDP (nominal) 2020 estimate
• Total
Decrease $1.375 trillion (13th)
• Per capita
Decrease $52,952 (10th)
Gini (2018) 34.0
medium · 22nd
HDI (2018) Increase 0.938
very high · 6th
Currency Australian dollar (AUD)
Time zone UTC+8; +9.5; +10 (Various[N 4])
• Summer (DST)
UTC+8; +9.5; +10;
+10.5; +11
 (Various[N 4])
Date format dd/mm/yyyy
Mains electricity 230 V–50 Hz
Driving side left
Calling code +61
ISO 3166 code AU
Internet TLD .au

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world’s sixth-largest country by total area. The population of 26 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia’s capital is Canberra, though its largest city is Sydney. The country’s other major metropolitan areas are MelbourneBrisbanePerth, and Adelaide.

Indigenous Australians inhabited the continent for about 65,000 years prior to the first arrival of Dutch explorers in the early 17th century, who named it New Holland. In 1770, Australia’s eastern half was claimed by Great Britain and initially settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788, a date which became Australia’s national day. The population grew steadily in subsequent decades, and by the time of an 1850s gold rush, most of the continent had been explored and an additional five self-governing crown colonies established. On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Australia has since maintained a stable liberal democratic political system that functions as a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy, comprising six states and ten territories.

Australia is the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent, with the least fertile soils. It has a landmass of 7,617,930 square kilometres (2,941,300 sq mi). A megadiverse country, its size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with deserts in the centre, tropical rainforests in the north-east, and mountain ranges in the south-east. Australia generates its income from various sources including mining-related exportstelecommunicationsbankingmanufacturing, and international education.

Australia is a highly developed country, with the world’s 14th-largest economy. It has a high-income economy, with the world’s tenth-highest per capita income. It is a regional power and has the world’s 13th-highest military expenditure. Immigrants account for 30% of the population, the highest proportion in any country with a population over 10 million. Having the third-highest human development index and the eighth-highest ranked democracy globally, the country ranks highly in quality of life, health, education, economic freedomcivil liberties, and political rights, with all its major cities faring well in global comparative livability surveys. Australia is a member of the United NationsG20Commonwealth of NationsANZUSOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Trade OrganizationAsia-Pacific Economic CooperationPacific Islands Forum, and the ASEAN Plus Six mechanism.


The name Australia (pronounced /əˈstrliə/ in Australian English) is derived from the Latin Terra Australis (“southern land”), a name used for a hypothetical continent in the Southern Hemisphere since ancient times. When Europeans first began visiting and mapping Australia in the 17th century, the name Terra Australis was naturally applied to the new territories.[N 5]

Until the early 19th century, Australia was best known as “New Holland“, a name first applied by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1644 (as Nieuw-Holland) and subsequently anglicised. Terra Australis still saw occasional usage, such as in scientific texts.[N 6] The name Australia was popularised by the explorer Matthew Flinders, who said it was “more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth”. Several famous early cartographers also made use of the word Australia on maps. Gerardus Mercator (1512–1594) used the phrase climata australia on his double cordiform map of the world of 1538, as did Gemma Frisius (1508–1555), who was Mercator’s teacher and collaborator, on his own cordiform wall map in 1540. Australia appears in a book on astronomy by Cyriaco Jacob zum Barth published in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1545.

The first time that Australia appears to have been officially used was in April 1817, when Governor Lachlan Macquarie acknowledged the receipt of Flinders’ charts of Australia from Lord Bathurst. In December 1817, Macquarie recommended to the Colonial Office that it be formally adopted. In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially by that name. The first official published use of the new name came with the publication in 1830 of The Australia Directory by the Hydrographic Office.

Colloquial names for Australia include “Oz” and “the Land Down Under” (usually shortened to just “Down Under“). Other epithets include “the Great Southern Land”, “the Lucky Country“, “the Sunburnt Country”, and “the Wide Brown Land”. The latter two both derive from Dorothea Mackellar‘s 1908 poem “My Country“.


Indigenous peoples

Aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley region of Western Australia

Human habitation of the Australian continent is known to have begun at least 65,000 years ago, with the migration of people by land bridges and short sea-crossings from what is now Southeast Asia. The Madjedbebe rock shelter in Arnhem Land is recognised as the oldest site showing the presence of humans in Australia. The oldest human remains found are the Lake Mungo remains, which have been dated to around 41,000 years ago. These people were the ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal Australian culture is one of the oldest continual civilisations on earth.

At the time of first European contact, most Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers with complex economies and societies. Recent archaeological finds suggest that a population of 750,000 could have been sustained. Indigenous Australians have an oral culture with spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, obtained their livelihood from seasonal horticulture and the resources of their reefs and seas. The northern coasts and waters of Australia were visited sporadically by Makassan fishermen from what is now Indonesia.

European arrival

A painting of Captain James Cook in uniform sitting down in front of a map

Portrait of Captain James Cook, the first European to map the eastern coastline of Australia in 1770

The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland, and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent (in 1606), are attributed to the Dutch. The first ship and crew to chart the Australian coast and meet with Aboriginal people was the Duyfken captained by Dutch navigator, Willem Janszoon. He sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in early 1606, and made landfall on 26 February at the Pennefather River near the modern town of Weipa on Cape York. Later that year, Spanish explorer Luís Vaz de Torres sailed through, and navigated, Torres Strait islands. The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines and named the island continent “New Holland” during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement. William Dampier, an English explorer and privateer, landed on the north-west coast of New Holland in 1688 (while serving as a crewman under pirate Captain John Read) and again in 1699 on a return trip. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain.

With the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government sent a fleet of ships, the “First Fleet“, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales. A camp was set up and the Union flag raised at Sydney CovePort Jackson, on 26 January 1788,[67][68] a date which later became Australia’s national day, Australia Day. A British settlement was established in Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania, in 1803, and it became a separate colony in 1825.[69] The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Western Australia (the Swan River Colony) in 1828.[70] Separate colonies were carved from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.[71] The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia.[72] South Australia was founded as a “free province”—it was never a penal colony.[73] Victoria and Western Australia were also founded “free”, but later accepted transported convicts.[74][75] A campaign by the settlers of New South Wales led to the end of convict transportation to that colony; the last convict ship arrived in 1848.[76]

A calm body of water is in the foreground. The shoreline is about 200 metres away. To the left, close to the shore, are three tall gum trees; behind them on an incline are ruins, including walls and watchtowers of light-coloured stone and brick, what appear to be the foundations of walls, and grassed areas. To the right lie the outer walls of a large rectangular four-storey building dotted with regularly spaced windows. Forested land rises gently to a peak several kilometres back from the shore.

Tasmania’s Port Arthur penal settlement is one of eleven UNESCO World Heritage-listed Australian Convict Sites.

The indigenous population declined for 150 years following settlement, mainly due to infectious disease.[77] Thousands more died as a result of frontier conflict with settlers.[78] A government policy of “assimilation” beginning with the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 resulted in the removal of many Aboriginal children from their families and communities—referred to as the Stolen Generations—a practice which also contributed to the decline in the indigenous population.[79] As a result of the 1967 referendum, the Federal government’s power to enact special laws with respect to a particular race was extended to enable the making of laws with respect to Aboriginals.[80] Traditional ownership of land (“native title“) was not recognised in law until 1992, when the High Court of Australia held in Mabo v Queensland (No 2) that the legal doctrine that Australia had been terra nullius (“land belonging to no one”) did not apply to Australia at the time of British settlement.[81]

Colonial expansion

St John’s Anglican Church in Canberra, an early example of settlement west of the Great Dividing Range, finished in 1845. Now the oldest church in the capital.

In 1813, Gregory BlaxlandWilliam Lawson and William Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, opening the interior to European settlement.[82] In 1824, Hamilton Hume and former Royal Navy Captain William Hovell led an expedition to find new grazing land in the south of the colony, and also to find an answer to the question of where New South Wales’ western rivers flowed. In 1826, the British claim was extended to the whole Australian continent when Major Edmund Lockyer established a settlement on King George Sound (modern-day Albany).[83] By 1850, Anglo-Europeans still had not entered large areas of the inland. Explorers remained ambitious to discover new lands for agriculture or answers to scientific enquiries.[84]

gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s,[85] and the Eureka Rebellion against mining licence fees in 1854 was an early expression of civil disobedience.[86] Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire.[87] The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs,[88] defence,[89] and international shipping.


Photo of an ANZAC memorial with an elderly man playing a bugle. Rows of people are seated behind the memorial. Many small white crosses with red poppies have been stuck into the lawn in rows on either side of the memorial.

The Last Post is played at an Anzac Day ceremony in Port Melbourne, Victoria. Similar ceremonies are held in many suburbs and towns.

On 1 January 1901, federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation and voting.[90] This established the Commonwealth of Australia as a dominion of the British Empire.[91][92] The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 as the location for the future federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was being constructed.[93] The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the federal parliament in 1911.[94]

In 1914, Australia joined Britain in fighting World War I, with support from both the outgoing Commonwealth Liberal Party and the incoming Australian Labor Party.[95][96] Australians took part in many of the major battles fought on the Western Front.[97] Of about 416,000 who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 152,000 were wounded.[98] Many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation—its first major military action.[99][100] The Kokoda Track campaign is regarded by many as an analogous nation-defining event during World War II.[101]

Britain’s Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the UK. Australia adopted it in 1942,[102] but it was backdated to 1939 to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during World War II.[103][104] The shock of the United Kingdom’s defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector.[105] Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US, under the ANZUS treaty.[106]

After World War II, Australia encouraged immigration from mainland Europe. Since the 1970s and following the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and elsewhere was also promoted.[107] As a result, Australia’s demography, culture, and self-image were transformed.[108] The passing of the Australia Act 1986 ended all possibility for any vestigial role of the British government in the government in Australia and removed the already seldom-used option of judicial appeals to the Privy Council in London.[109] In a 1999 referendum, 55% of voters and a majority in every state rejected a proposal to become a republic with a president appointed by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of the Australian Parliament. Since the publication of the landmark critique The Lucky Country (1964) by Donald Horne and the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972,[110] there has been an increasing focus in foreign policy on ties with other Pacific Rim nations, while maintaining close ties with Australia’s traditional allies and trading partners.[111]

Geography and environment

General characteristics

Map showing the topography of Australia, showing some elevation in the west and very high elevation in mountains in the southeast

Topographic map of Australia. Dark green represents the lowest elevation and dark brown the highest

Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans,[N 7] Australia is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas, with the Coral Sea lying off the Queensland coast, and the Tasman Sea lying between Australia and New Zealand. The world’s smallest continent[113] and sixth largest country by total area,[114] Australia—owing to its size and isolation—is often dubbed the “island continent”[115] and is sometimes considered the world’s largest island.[116] Australia has 34,218 kilometres (21,262 mi) of coastline (excluding all offshore islands),[117] and claims an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone of 8,148,250 square kilometres (3,146,060 sq mi). This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory.[118] Apart from Macquarie Island, Australia lies between latitudes  and 44°S, and longitudes 112° and 154°E.

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef,[119] lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi). Mount Augustus, claimed to be the world’s largest monolith,[120] is located in Western Australia. At 2,228 metres (7,310 ft), Mount Kosciuszko is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland. Even taller are Mawson Peak (at 2,745 metres or 9,006 feet), on the remote Australian external territory of Heard Island, and, in the Australian Antarctic Territory, Mount McClintock and Mount Menzies, at 3,492 metres (11,457 ft) and 3,355 metres (11,007 ft) respectively.[121]

Heron Island, a coral cay in the southern Great Barrier Reef

Australia’s size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with tropical rainforests in the north-east, mountain ranges in the south-east, south-west and east, and desert in the centre.[122] The desert or semi-arid land commonly known as the outback makes up by far the largest portion of land.[123] Australia is the driest inhabited continent; its annual rainfall averaged over continental area is less than 500 mm.[124] The population density, 3.2 inhabitants per square kilometre, although a large proportion of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline.[125]

Eastern Australia is marked by the Great Dividing Range, which runs parallel to the coast of Queensland, New South Wales and much of Victoria. The name is not strictly accurate, because parts of the range consist of low hills, and the highlands are typically no more than 1,600 metres (5,249 ft) in height.[126] The coastal uplands and a belt of Brigalow grasslands lie between the coast and the mountains, while inland of the dividing range are large areas of grassland.[126][127] These include the western plains of New South Wales, and the Einasleigh UplandsBarkly Tableland, and Mulga Lands of inland Queensland.[clarification needed] The northernmost point of the east coast is the tropical-rainforested Cape York Peninsula.[clarification needed][128][129][130][131]

The Great Dividing Range is the third longest land-based range in the world.

The landscapes of the Top End and the Gulf Country—with their tropical climate—include forest, woodland, wetland, grassland, rainforest and desert.[132][133][134] At the north-west corner of the continent are the sandstone cliffs and gorges of The Kimberley, and below that the Pilbara. To the south of these and inland, lie more areas of grassland[clarification needed]: the Ord Victoria Plain and the Western Australian Mulga shrublands.[135][136][137] At the heart of the country are the uplands of central Australia. Prominent features of the centre and south include Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), the famous sandstone monolith, and the inland SimpsonTirari and Sturt StonyGibsonGreat Sandy, Tanami, and Great Victoria deserts, with the famous Nullarbor Plain on the southern coast.[138][139][140][141]


Basic geological regions of Australia, by age

Lying on the Indo-Australian Plate, the mainland of Australia is the lowest and most primordial landmass on Earth with a relatively stable geological history.[142][143] The landmass includes virtually all known rock types and from all geological time periods spanning over 3.8 billion years of the Earth’s history. The Pilbara Craton is one of only two pristine Archaean 3.6–2.7 Ga (billion years ago) crusts identified on the Earth.[144]

Having been part of all major supercontinents, the Australian continent began to form after the breakup of Gondwana in the Permian, with the separation of the continental landmass from the African continent and Indian subcontinent. It separated from Antarctica over a prolonged period beginning in the Permian and continuing through to the Cretaceous.[145] When the last glacial period ended in about 10,000 BC, rising sea levels formed Bass Strait, separating Tasmania from the mainland. Then between about 8,000 and 6,500 BC, the lowlands in the north were flooded by the sea, separating New Guinea, the Aru Islands, and the mainland of Australia.[146] The Australian continent is currently moving toward Eurasia at the rate of 6 to 7 centimetres a year.[147]

The Australian mainland’s continental crust, excluding the thinned margins, has an average thickness of 38 km, with a range in thickness from 24 km to 59 km.[148] Australia’s geology can be divided into several main sections, showcasing that the continent grew from west to east: the Archaean cratonic shields found mostly in the west, Proterozoic fold belts in the centre and Phanerozoic sedimentary basins, metamorphic and igneous rocks in the east.[149]

The Australian mainland and Tasmania are situated in the middle of the tectonic plate and currently have no active volcanoes,[150] but due to passing over the East Australia hotspot, recent volcanism has occurred during the Holocene, in the Newer Volcanics Province of western Victoria and southeastern South Australia. Volcanism also occurs in the island of New Guinea (considered geologically as part of the Australian continent), and in the Australian external territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands.[151] Seismic activity in the Australian mainland and Tasmania is also low, with the greatest number of fatalities having occurred in the 1989 Newcastle earthquake.[152]


The climate of Australia is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low-pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.[154][155] These factors cause rainfall to vary markedly from year to year. Much of the northern part of the country has a tropical, predominantly summer-rainfall (monsoon).[124] The south-west corner of the country has a Mediterranean climate.[156] The south-east ranges from oceanic (Tasmania and coastal Victoria) to humid subtropical (upper half of New South Wales), with the highlands featuring alpine and subpolar oceanic climates. The interior is arid to semi-arid.[124]

According to the Bureau of Meteorology‘s 2011 Australian Climate Statement, Australia had lower than average temperatures in 2011 as a consequence of a La Niña weather pattern; however, “the country’s 10-year average continues to demonstrate the rising trend in temperatures, with 2002–2011 likely to rank in the top two warmest 10-year periods on record for Australia, at 0.52 °C (0.94 °F) above the long-term average”.[157] Furthermore, 2014 was Australia’s third warmest year since national temperature observations commenced in 1910.[158][159]

Water restrictions are frequently in place in many regions and cities of Australia in response to chronic shortages due to urban population increases and localised drought.[160][161] Throughout much of the continent, major flooding regularly follows extended periods of drought, flushing out inland river systems, overflowing dams and inundating large inland flood plains, as occurred throughout Eastern Australia in 2010, 2011 and 2012 after the 2000s Australian drought.

Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions per capita are among the highest in the world, lower than those of only a few other industrialised nations.[162]

January 2019 was the hottest month ever in Australia with average temperatures exceeding 30 °C (86 °F).[163][164]


A koala holding onto a eucalyptus tree with its head turned so both eyes are visible

The koala and the eucalyptus form an iconic Australian pair.

Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, the continent includes a diverse range of habitats from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests. Fungi typify that diversity—an estimated 250,000 species—of which only 5% have been described—occur in Australia.[165] Because of the continent’s great age, extremely variable weather patterns, and long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia’s biota is unique. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds, and 89% of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic.[166] Australia has the greatest number of reptiles of any country, with 755 species.[167] Besides Antarctica, Australia is the only continent that developed without feline species. Feral cats may have been introduced in the 17th century by Dutch shipwrecks, and later in the 18th century by European settlers. They are now considered a major factor in the decline and extinction of many vulnerable and endangered native species.[168]

Australian forests are mostly made up of evergreen species, particularly eucalyptus trees in the less arid regions; wattles replace them as the dominant species in drier regions and deserts.[169] Among well-known Australian animals are the monotremes (the platypus and echidna); a host of marsupials, including the kangarookoala, and wombat, and birds such as the emu and the kookaburra.[169] Australia is home to many dangerous animals including some of the most venomous snakes in the world.[170] The dingo was introduced by Austronesian people who traded with Indigenous Australians around 3000 BCE.[171] Many animal and plant species became extinct soon after first human settlement,[172] including the Australian megafauna; others have disappeared since European settlement, among them the thylacine.[173][174]

Many of Australia’s ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced animal, chromistan, fungal and plant species.[175] All these factors have led to Australia’s having the highest mammal extinction rate of any country in the world.[176] The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is the legal framework for the protection of threatened species.[177] Numerous protected areas have been created under the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity to protect and preserve unique ecosystems;[178][179] 65 wetlands are listed under the Ramsar Convention,[180] and 16 natural World Heritage Sites have been established.[181] Australia was ranked 21st out of 178 countries in the world on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index.[182] There are more than 1,800 animals and plants on Australia’s threatened species list, including more than 500 animals.[183]

Government and politics

Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia
David Hurley, Governor-General of Australia
Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia

Australia is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The country has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system under its constitution, which is one of the world’s oldest, since Federation in 1901. It is also one of the world’s oldest federations, in which power is divided between the federal and state and territorial governments. The Australian system of government combines elements derived from the political systems of the United Kingdom (a fused executiveconstitutional monarchy and strong party discipline) and the United States (federalism, a written constitution and strong bicameralism with an elected upper house), along with distinctive indigenous features.[185][186]

The federal government is separated into three branches:

Elizabeth II reigns as Queen of Australia and is represented in Australia by the governor-general at the federal level and by the governors at the state level, who by convention act on the advice of her ministers.[188][189] Thus, in practice the governor-general acts as a legal figurehead for the actions of the prime minister and the Federal Executive Council. The governor-general does have extraordinary reserve powers which may be exercised outside the prime minister’s request in rare and limited circumstances, the most notable exercise of which was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.[190]

A large white and cream coloured building with grass on its roof. The building is topped with a large flagpole.

Parliament House, Canberra

In the Senate (the upper house), there are 76 senators: twelve each from the states and two each from the mainland territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory).[191] The House of Representatives (the lower house) has 151 members elected from single-member electoral divisions, commonly known as “electorates” or “seats”, allocated to states on the basis of population,[192] with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats.[193] Elections for both chambers are normally held every three years simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms except for those from the territories, whose terms are not fixed but are tied to the electoral cycle for the lower house; thus only 40 of the 76 places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution.[191]

Australia’s electoral system uses preferential voting for all lower house elections with the exception of Tasmania and the ACT which, along with the Senate and most state upper houses, combine it with proportional representation in a system known as the single transferable voteVoting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over in every jurisdiction,[194] as is enrolment (with the exception of South Australia).[195] The party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. In cases where no party has majority support, the Governor-General has the constitutional power to appoint the Prime Minister and, if necessary, dismiss one that has lost the confidence of Parliament.[196]

There are two major political groups that usually form government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party.[197][198] Within Australian political culture, the Coalition is considered centre-right and the Labor Party is considered centre-left.[199] Independent members and several minor parties have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses. The Australian Greens are often considered the “third force” in politics, being the third largest party by both vote and membership.[200]

The most recent federal election was held on 18 May 2019 and resulted in the Coalition, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, retaining government.[201]

States and territories

A map of Australia’s states and territories

Australia has six states—New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS), Victoria (VIC) and Western Australia (WA)—and two major mainland territories—the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT). In most respects, these two territories function as states, except that the Commonwealth Parliament has the power to modify or repeal any legislation passed by the territory parliaments.[202]

Under the constitution, the states essentially have plenary legislative power to legislate on any subject, whereas the Commonwealth (federal) Parliament may legislate only within the subject areas enumerated under section 51. For example, state parliaments have the power to legislate with respect to education, criminal law and state police, health, transport, and local government, but the Commonwealth Parliament does not have any specific power to legislate in these areas.[203] However, Commonwealth laws prevail over state laws to the extent of the inconsistency.[204] In addition, the Commonwealth has the power to levy income tax which, coupled with the power to make grants to States, has given it the financial means to incentivise States to pursue specific legislative agendas within areas over which the Commonwealth does not have legislative power.

Each state and major mainland territory has its own parliamentunicameral in the Northern Territory, the ACT and Queensland, and bicameral in the other states. The states are sovereign entities, although subject to certain powers of the Commonwealth as defined by the Constitution. The lower houses are known as the Legislative Assembly (the House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania); the upper houses are known as the Legislative Council. The head of the government in each state is the Premier and in each territory the Chief Minister. The Queen is represented in each state by a governor; and in the Northern Territory, the administrator.[205] In the Commonwealth, the Queen’s representative is the governor-general.[206]

The Commonwealth Parliament also directly administers the following external territories: Ashmore and Cartier IslandsAustralian Antarctic TerritoryChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsCoral Sea IslandsHeard Island and McDonald Islands; and Jervis Bay Territory, a naval base and sea port for the national capital in land that was formerly part of New South Wales.[187] The external territory of Norfolk Island previously exercised considerable autonomy under the Norfolk Island Act 1979 through its own legislative assembly and an Administrator to represent the Queen.[207] In 2015, the Commonwealth Parliament abolished self-government, integrating Norfolk Island into the Australian tax and welfare systems and replacing its legislative assembly with a council.[208] Macquarie Island is administered by Tasmania,[209] and Lord Howe Island by New South Wales.[210]

Foreign relations

Over recent decades, Australia’s foreign relations have been driven by a close association with the United States through the ANZUS pact, and by a desire to develop relationships with Asia and the Pacific, particularly through ASEAN, the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Community, of which Australia is a founding member. In 2005 Australia secured an inaugural seat at the East Asia Summit following its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, and in 2011 attended the Sixth East Asia Summit in Indonesia. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for co-operation.[211] Australia has pursued the cause of international trade liberalisation.[212] It led the formation of the Cairns Group and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.[213][214]

Australia is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organization,[215][216] and has pursued several major bilateral free trade agreements, most recently the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement[217] and Closer Economic Relations with New Zealand,[218] with another free trade agreement being negotiated with China—the Australia–China Free Trade Agreement—and Japan,[219] South Korea in 2011,[220][221] Australia–Chile Free Trade Agreement, and as of November 2015 has put the Trans-Pacific Partnership before parliament for ratification.[222]

Australia maintains a deeply integrated relationship with neighbouring New Zealand, with free mobility of citizens between the two countries under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement and free trade under the Australia–New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement.[223] New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom are the most favourably viewed countries in the world by Australian people,[224][225] sharing a number of close diplomatic, military and cultural ties with Australia.

Along with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore, Australia is party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements, a regional defence agreement. A founding member country of the United Nations, Australia is strongly committed to multilateralism[226] and maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–06 budget provides A$2.5 billion for development assistance.[227] Australia ranks fifteenth overall in the Center for Global Development‘s 2012 Commitment to Development Index.[228]


Colour photograph of people wearing military uniforms standing in lines during a formal parade

Australian soldiers deployed to Iraq in 2017

Australia’s armed forces—the Australian Defence Force (ADF)—comprise the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), in total numbering 81,214 personnel (including 57,982 regulars and 23,232 reservists) as of November 2015. The titular role of Commander-in-Chief is vested in the Governor-General, who appoints a Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services on the advice of the government.[229] Day-to-day force operations are under the command of the Chief, while broader administration and the formulation of defence policy is undertaken by the Minister and Department of Defence.

In the 2016–17 budget, defence spending comprised 2% of GDP, representing the world’s 12th largest defence budget.[230] Australia has been involved in UN and regional peacekeeping, disaster relief and armed conflict, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq; it currently has deployed about 2,241 personnel in varying capacities to 12 international operations in areas including Iraq and Afghanistan.[231]


Buildings and equipment of a large mining operation

The Boddington Gold Mine in Western Australia is the nation’s largest open cut mine.[232]

A wealthy country, Australia has a market economy, a high GDP per capita, and a relatively low rate of poverty. In terms of average wealth, Australia ranked second in the world after Switzerland from 2013 until 2018.[233] In 2018, Australia overtook Switzerland and became the country with the highest average wealth.[233] Australia’s poverty rate increased from 10.2% to 11.8%, from 2000/01 to 2013.[234][235] It was identified by the Credit Suisse Research Institute as the nation with the highest median wealth in the world and the second-highest average wealth per adult in 2013.[234]

The Australian dollar is the currency for the nation, including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of KiribatiNauru, and Tuvalu. With the 2006 merger of the Australian Stock Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange, the Australian Securities Exchange became the ninth largest in the world.[236]

Ranked fifth in the Index of Economic Freedom (2017),[237] Australia is the world’s 14th largest economy and has the tenth highest per capita GDP (nominal) at US$55,692.[238] The country was ranked third in the United Nations 2017 Human Development Index.[239] Melbourne reached top spot for the fourth year in a row on The Economists 2014 list of the world’s most liveable cities,[240] followed by Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth in the fifth, seventh, and ninth places respectively. Total government debt in Australia is about A$190 billion[241]—20% of GDP in 2010.[242] Australia has among the highest house prices and some of the highest household debt levels in the world.[243]

A vineyard in the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s major wine-producing regions. The Australian wine industry is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine.

An emphasis on exporting commodities rather than manufactured goods has underpinned a significant increase in Australia’s terms of trade since the start of the 21st century, due to rising commodity prices. Australia has a balance of payments that is more than 7% of GDP negative, and has had persistently large current account deficits for more than 50 years.[244] Australia has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6% for over 15 years, in comparison to the OECD annual average of 2.5%.[244]

Australia was the only advanced economy not to experience a recession due to the global financial downturn in 2008–2009.[245] However, the economies of six of Australia’s major trading partners have been in recession[when?], which in turn has affected Australia, significantly hampering its economic growth in recent years[when?].[246][247] From 2012 to early 2013, Australia’s national economy grew, but some non-mining states and Australia’s non-mining economy experienced a recession.[248][249][250]

The Hawke Government floated the Australian dollar in 1983 and partially deregulated the financial system.[251] The Howard Government followed with a partial deregulation of the labour market and the further privatisation of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry.[252] The indirect tax system was substantially changed in July 2000 with the introduction of a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST).[253] In Australia’s tax system, personal and company income tax are the main sources of government revenue.[254]

As of September 2018, there were 12,640,800 people employed (either full- or part-time), with an unemployment rate of 5.2%.[255] Data released in mid-November 2013 showed that the number of welfare recipients had grown by 55%. In 2007 228,621 Newstart unemployment allowance recipients were registered, a total that increased to 646,414 in March 2013.[256] According to the Graduate Careers Survey, full-time employment for newly qualified professionals from various occupations has declined since 2011 but it increases for graduates three years after graduation.[257][258]

Since 2008[when?], inflation has typically been 2–3% and the base interest rate 5–6%. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, accounts for about 70% of GDP.[259] Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, particularly wheat and wool, minerals such as iron-ore and gold, and energy in the forms of liquified natural gas and coal. Although agriculture and natural resources account for only 3% and 5% of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia’s largest export markets are JapanChina, the United StatesSouth Korea, and New Zealand.[260] Australia is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine, and the wine industry contributes A$5.5 billion per year to the nation’s economy.[261]


A beach populated by people; a city can be seen in the horizon

Australia has one of the world’s most highly urbanised populations with the majority living in metropolitan cities on the coast, such as Gold Coast, Queensland.

Australia has an average population density of 3.3 persons per square kilometre of total land area, which makes it is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. The population is heavily concentrated on the east coast, and in particular in the south-eastern region between South East Queensland to the north-east and Adelaide to the south-west.[262]

Australia is highly urbanised, with 67% of the population living in the Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (metropolitan areas of the state and mainland territorial capital cities) in 2018.[263] Metropolitan areas with more than one million inhabitants are SydneyMelbourneBrisbanePerth and Adelaide.

In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2018 the average age of the Australian population was 38.8 years.[264] In 2015, 2.15% of the Australian population lived overseas, one of the lowest proportions worldwide.[265]

Ancestry and immigration

Country of birth (2019)[267]
Birthplace[N 8] Population
Australia 17,836,000
England 986,460
Mainland China 677,240
India 660,350
New Zealand 570,000
Philippines 293,770
Vietnam 262,910
South Africa 193,860
Italy 182,520
Malaysia 175,920
Sri Lanka 140,260
Scotland 133,920
Nepal 117,870
South Korea 116,030
Germany 112,420
Greece 106,660
United States 108,570
Hong Kong 101,290
Total foreign-born 7,529,570

Between 1788 and the Second World War, the vast majority of settlers and immigrants came from the British Isles (principally EnglandIreland and Scotland), although there was significant immigration from China and Germany during the 19th century. In the decades immediately following the Second World War, Australia received a large wave of immigration from across Europe, with many more immigrants arriving from Southern and Eastern Europe than in previous decades. Since the end of the White Australia policy in 1973, Australia has pursued an official policy of multiculturalism,[268] and there has been a large and continuing wave of immigration from across the world, with Asia being the largest source of immigrants in the 21st century.[269]

Today, Australia has the world’s eighth-largest immigrant population, with immigrants accounting for 30% of the population, a higher proportion than in any other nation with a population of over 10 million.[27][270] 160,323 permanent immigrants were admitted to Australia in 2018-19 (excluding refugees),[269] whilst there was a net population gain of 239,600 people from all permanent and temporary immigration in that year.[271] The majority of immigrants are skilled,[269] but the immigration program includes categories for family members and refugees.[271] In 2019 the largest foreign-born populations were those born in England (3.9%), Mainland China (2.7%), India (2.6%), New Zealand (2.2%), the Philippines (1.2%) and Vietnam (1%).[27]

In the 2016 Australian census, the most commonly nominated ancestries were:[N 9][272][273]

At the 2016 census, 649,171 people (2.8% of the total population) identified as being IndigenousAboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders.[N 12][275] Indigenous Australians experience higher than average rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are, respectively, 11 and 17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians.[260][276][277] Some remote Indigenous communities have been described as having “failed state“-like conditions.[278]


Although Australia has no official language, English is the de facto national language.[2] Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon,[279] and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling.[280] General Australian serves as the standard dialect.

According to the 2016 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for 72.7% of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Mandarin (2.5%), Arabic (1.4%), Cantonese (1.2%), Vietnamese (1.2%) and Italian (1.2%).[272] A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual.

Over 250 Indigenous Australian languages are thought to have existed at the time of first European contact,[281] of which fewer than twenty are still in daily use by all age groups.[282][283] About 110 others are spoken exclusively by older people.[283] At the time of the 2006 census, 52,000 Indigenous Australians, representing 12% of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home.[284] Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 10,112 deaf people who reported that they spoke Auslan language at home in the 2016 census.[285]


Religion in Australia (2016)[286]
Religion Percent
Christianity (total)
—Other Christian
No religion
Undefined or not stated

Australia has no state religion; Section 116 of the Australian Constitution prohibits the federal government from making any law to establish any religion, impose any religious observance, or prohibit the free exercise of any religion.[287] In the 2016 census, 52.1% of Australians were counted as Christian, including 22.6% as Catholic and 13.3% as Anglican; 30.1% of the population reported having “no religion“; 8.2% identify with non-Christian religions, the largest of these being Islam (2.6%), followed by Buddhism (2.4%), Hinduism (1.9%), Sikhism (0.5%) and Judaism (0.4%). The remaining 9.7% of the population did not provide an adequate answer. Those who reported having no religion increased conspicuously from 19% in 2006 to 22% in 2011 to 30.1% in 2016.[286]

Before European settlement, the animist beliefs of Australia’s indigenous people had been practised for many thousands of years. Mainland Aboriginal Australians’ spirituality is known as the Dreamtime and it places a heavy emphasis on belonging to the land. The collection of stories that it contains shaped Aboriginal law and customs. Aboriginal art, story and dance continue to draw on these spiritual traditions. The spirituality and customs of Torres Strait Islanders, who inhabit the islands between Australia and New Guinea, reflected their Melanesian origins and dependence on the sea. The 1996 Australian census counted more than 7000 respondents as followers of a traditional Aboriginal religion.[288]

Since the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships in 1788, Christianity has become the major religion practised in Australia. Christian churches have played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services in Australia. For much of Australian history, the Church of England (now known as the Anglican Church of Australia) was the largest religious denomination, with a large Roman Catholic minority. However, multicultural immigration has contributed to a steep decline in its relative position since the Second World War. Similarly, IslamBuddhismHinduismSikhism and Judaism have all grown in Australia over the past half-century.[289]

Australia has one of the lowest levels of religious adherence in the world.[290] In 2001, only 8.8% of Australians attended church on a weekly basis.[291]


Australia’s life expectancy is the third highest in the world for males and the seventh highest for females.[292] Life expectancy in Australia in 2010 was 79.5 years for males and 84.0 years for females.[293] Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world,[294] while cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease, responsible for 7.8% of the total mortality and disease. Ranked second in preventable causes is hypertension at 7.6%, with obesity third at 7.5%.[295][296] Australia ranks 35th in the world[297] and near the top of developed nations for its proportion of obese adults[298] and nearly two thirds (63%) of its adult population is either overweight or obese.[299]

Total expenditure on health (including private sector spending) is around 9.8% of GDP.[300] Australia introduced universal health care in 1975.[301] Known as Medicare, it is now nominally funded by an income tax surcharge known as the Medicare levy, currently set at 2%.[302] The states manage hospitals and attached outpatient services, while the Commonwealth funds the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (subsidising the costs of medicines) and general practice.[301]


Five Australian universities rank in the top 50 of the QS World University Rankings, including the Australian National University (19th).[303]

School attendance, or registration for home schooling,[304] is compulsory throughout Australia. Education is the responsibility of the individual states and territories[305] so the rules vary between states, but in general children are required to attend school from the age of about 5 until about 16.[306][307] In some states (e.g., Western Australia,[308] the Northern Territory[309] and New South Wales[310][311]), children aged 16–17 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship.

Australia has an adult literacy rate that was estimated to be 99% in 2003.[312] However, a 2011–12 report for the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Tasmania has a literacy and numeracy rate of only 50%.[313] In the Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia regularly scores among the top five of thirty major developed countries (member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Catholic education accounts for the largest non-government sector.

Australia has 37 government-funded universities and two private universities, as well as a number of other specialist institutions that provide approved courses at the higher education level.[314] The OECD places Australia among the most expensive nations to attend university.[315] There is a state-based system of vocational training, known as TAFE, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople.[316] About 58% of Australians aged from 25 to 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications,[260] and the tertiary graduation rate of 49% is the highest among OECD countries. 30.9 percent of Australia’s population has attained a higher education qualification, which is among the highest percentages in the world.[317][318][319]

Australia has the highest ratio of international students per head of population in the world by a large margin, with 812,000 international students enrolled in the nation’s universities and vocational institutions in 2019.[320][321] Accordingly, in 2019, international students represented on average 26.7% of the student bodies of Australian universities. International education therefore represents one of the country’s largest exports and has a pronounced influcence on the country’s demographics, with a significant proportion of international students remaining in Australia after graduation on various skill and employment visas.[322]


Ornate white building with an elevated dome in the middle, fronted by a golden fountain and orange flowers

The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne was the first building in Australia to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.[323]

Since 1788, the primary influence behind Australian culture has been Anglo-Celtic Western culture, with some Indigenous influences.[324][325] The divergence and evolution that has occurred in the ensuing centuries has resulted in a distinctive Australian culture.[326][327] The culture of the United States has also been highly influential, particularly through television and cinema. Other cultural influences come from neighbouring Asian countries, and through large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking nations.[328]


Traditional designs, patterns and stories infuse contemporary Indigenous Australian art, “the last great art movement of the 20th century”;[329] its exponents include Emily Kame Kngwarreye.[330] Early colonial artists, trained in Europe, showed a fascination with the unfamiliar land.[331] The impressionistic works of Arthur StreetonTom Roberts and others associated with the 19th-century Heidelberg School—the first “distinctively Australian” movement in Western art—gave expression to a burgeoning Australian nationalism in the lead-up to Federation.[331] While the school remained influential into the new century, modernists such as Margaret Preston, and, later, Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd, explored new artistic trends.[331] The landscape remained a central subject matter for Fred WilliamsBrett Whiteley and other post-World War II artists whose works, eclectic in style yet uniquely Australian, moved between the figurative and the abstract.[331][332] The national and state galleries maintain collections of local and international art.[333] Australia has one of the world’s highest attendances of art galleries and museums per head of population.[334]

Sidney Nolan‘s Snake mural (1970), held at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, is inspired by the Aboriginal creation myth of the Rainbow Serpent, as well as desert flowers in bloom after a drought.[335]

Australian literature grew slowly in the decades following European settlement though Indigenous oral traditions, many of which have since been recorded in writing, are much older.[336] 19th-century writers such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson captured the experience of the bush using a distinctive Australian vocabulary. Their works are still popular; Paterson’s bush poem “Waltzing Matilda” (1895) is regarded as Australia’s unofficial national anthem.[337] Miles Franklin is the namesake of Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, awarded annually to the best novel about Australian life.[338] Its first recipient, Patrick White, went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973.[339] Australian winners of the Booker Prize include Peter CareyThomas Keneally and Richard Flanagan.[340] Author David Malouf, playwright David Williamson and poet Les Murray are also renowned literary figures.[341][342]

Many of Australia’s performing arts companies receive funding through the federal government’s Australia Council.[343] There is a symphony orchestra in each state,[344] and a national opera company, Opera Australia,[345] well known for its famous soprano Joan Sutherland.[346] At the beginning of the 20th century, Nellie Melba was one of the world’s leading opera singers.[347] Ballet and dance are represented by The Australian Ballet and various state companies. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company.[348]


Actor playing the bushranger Ned Kelly in The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), the world’s first feature film

The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), the world’s first feature length film, spurred a boom in Australian cinema during the silent film era.[349] After World War I, Hollywood monopolised the industry,[350] and by the 1960s Australian film production, had effectively ceased.[351] With the benefit of government support, the Australian New Wave of the 1970s brought provocative and successful films, many exploring themes of national identity, such as Wake in Fright and Gallipoli,[352] while Crocodile Dundee and the Ozploitation movement’s Mad Max series became international blockbusters.[353] In a film market flooded with foreign content, Australian films delivered a 7.7% share of the local box office in 2015.[354] The AACTAs are Australia’s premier film and television awards, and notable Academy Award winners from Australia include Geoffrey RushNicole KidmanCate Blanchett and Heath Ledger.[355]

Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services,[356] and numerous public, non-profit television and radio stations. Each major city has at least one daily newspaper,[356] and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review.[356] In 2010, Reporters Without Borders placed Australia 18th on a list of 178 countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (8th) but ahead of the United Kingdom (19th) and United States (20th).[357] This relatively low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia;[358] most print media are under the control of News Corporation and, after Fairfax Media was merged with Nine, Nine Entertainment Co.[359]


The meringue-based pavlova is generally eaten at Christmas time.

Most Indigenous Australian groups subsisted on a simple hunter-gatherer diet of native fauna and flora, otherwise called bush tucker.[360] The first settlers introduced British food to the continent, much of which is now considered typical Australian food, such as the Sunday roast.[361][362] Multicultural immigration transformed Australian cuisine; post-World War II European migrants, particularly from the Mediterranean, helped to build a thriving Australian coffee culture, and the influence of Asian cultures has led to Australian variants of their staple foods, such as the Chinese-inspired dim sim and Chiko Roll.[363] Vegemitepavlovalamingtons and meat pies are regarded as iconic Australian foods.[364] Australian wine is produced mainly in the southern, cooler parts of the country.

Australia is also known for its cafe and coffee culture in urban centres, which has influenced coffee culture abroad, including New York City.[365] Australia was responsible for the flat white coffee–purported to have originated in a Sydney cafe in the mid-1980s.[366]

Sport and recreation

The Melbourne Cricket Ground is strongly associated with the history and development of cricket and Australian rules football, Australia’s two most popular spectator sports.[367]

About 24% of Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities.[260]

Australia is unique in that it has professional leagues for four football codes. Australian rules football, the world’s oldest major football code and Australia’s most popular sport in terms of revenue and spectatorship, originated in Melbourne in the late 1850s, and predominates in all states except New South Wales and Queensland, where rugby league holds sway, followed by rugby unionSoccer, while ranked fourth in popularity and resources, has the highest overall participation rates.[368]

The Australian national cricket team has participated in every edition of the Cricket World Cup. Australia has been very successful in the event, winning the tournament five times, the record number.[369]

Australia is a powerhouse in water-based sports, such as swimming and surfing.[370] The surf lifesaving movement originated in Australia, and the volunteer lifesaver is one of the country’s icons.[371] Nationally, other popular sports include horse racing, basketball, and motor racing. The annual Melbourne Cup horse race and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race attract intense interest.[372] In 2016, the Australian Sports Commission revealed that swimming, cycling and soccer are the three most popular participation sports.[373][374]

Australia is one of five nations to have participated in every Summer Olympics of the modern era,[375] and has hosted the Games twice: 1956 in Melbourne and 2000 in Sydney. Australia has also participated in every Commonwealth Games,[377] hosting the event in 1938196219822006 and 2018.[378] Australia made its inaugural appearance at the Pacific Games in 2015. As well as being a regular FIFA World Cup participant, Australia has won the OFC Nations Cup four times and the AFC Asian Cup once—the only country to have won championships in two different FIFA confederations.[379] The country regularly competes among the world elite basketball teams as it is among the global top three teams in terms of qualifications to the Basketball Tournament at the Summer Olympics. Other major international events held in Australia include the Australian Open tennis grand slam tournament, international cricket matches, and the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. The highest-rating television programs include sports telecasts such as the Summer Olympics, FIFA World Cup, The AshesRugby League State of Origin, and the grand finals of the National Rugby League and Australian Football League.[380] Skiing in Australia began in the 1860s and snow sports take place in the Australian Alps and parts of Tasmania.

See also




Kingdom of Denmark
Kongeriget Danmark  (Danish)
Anthem: Der er et yndigt land
(English: “There is a lovely country”)

Kong Christian stod ved højen mast[N 1]
(English: “King Christian stood by the lofty mast”)

Location of the Kingdom of Denmark (green), including Greenland, the Faroe Islands (circled), and Denmark proper
Location of the Kingdom of Denmark (green), including Greenland, the Faroe Islands (circled), and Denmark proper
Location of Denmark proper[N 2] (dark green) – in Europe (green & dark grey) – in the European Union (green)
Location of Denmark proper[N 2] (dark green)– in Europe (green & dark grey)
– in the European Union (green)
and largest city
55°43′N 12°34′E
Official languages Danish
Recognised regional languages Faroese
German[N 3]
Government Unitary parliamentary
constitutional monarchy
• Monarch
Margrethe II
Mette Frederiksen
Legislature Folketing
c. 8th century[2]
5 June 1849
24 October 1945
24 March 1948[N 4]
1 January 1973
• Denmark proper
42,933 km2 (16,577 sq mi)[3] (130th)
• Entire kingdom
2,220,930 km2 (857,510 sq mi)
• 2019 estimate
Increase 5,814,461[4] (112th)
• Faroe Islands
• Greenland
• Density (Denmark)
135.43/km2 (350.8/sq mi)
GDP (PPP) 2018 estimate
• Total
$299 billion[7][N 5] (52nd)
• Per capita
$51,643[7] (19th)
GDP (nominal) 2018 estimate
• Total
$370 billion[7][N 5] (34th)
• Per capita
$63,829[7] (6th)
Gini (2017) Positive decrease 27.6[8]
HDI (2017) Increase 0.929[9]
very high · 11th
Currency Danish krone[N 6] (DKK)
Time zone UTC+1 (CET)
• Summer (DST)
[N 7]
Driving side right
Calling code
ISO 3166 code DK
Internet TLD

Denmark (DanishDanmarkpronounced [ˈtænmak] (About this soundlisten)), officially the Kingdom of Denmark,[N 9][N 2] is a Nordic country. Denmark proper, which is the southernmost of the Scandinavian countries, consists of a peninsula, Jutland, and an archipelago of 443 named islands,[N 2][10] with the largest being ZealandFunen and the North Jutlandic Island. The islands are characterised by flat, arable land and sandy coasts, low elevation and a temperate climate. The southernmost of the Scandinavian nations, Denmark lies southwest of Sweden and south of Norway,[N 10] and is bordered to the south by Germany. The Kingdom of Denmark also includes two autonomous territories[11] in the North Atlantic Ocean: the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Denmark has a total area of 42,924 km2 (16,573 sq mi), land area of 42,394 km2 (16,368 sq mi),[3] and the total area including Greenland and the Faroe Islands is 2,210,579 km2 (853,509 sq mi), and a population of 5.8 million (as of 2019).[12]

The unified kingdom of Denmark emerged in the 8th century as a proficient seafaring nation in the struggle for control of the Baltic Sea.[2] Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were ruled together under one sovereign ruler in the Kalmar Union, established in 1397 and ending with Swedish secession in 1523. The areas of Denmark and Norway remained under the same monarch until 1814, Denmark–Norway. Beginning in the 17th century, there were several devastating wars with the Swedish Empire, ending with large cessions of territory to Sweden. After the Napoleonic Wars, Norway was ceded to Sweden, while Denmark kept the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland. In the 19th century there was a surge of nationalist movements, which were defeated in the First Schleswig War. After the Second Schleswig War in 1864, Denmark lost the Duchy of Schleswig to Prussia. Denmark remained neutral during World War I, however, in 1920 the northern half of Schleswig became Danish again. In April 1940, a German invasion saw brief military skirmishes while the Danish resistance movement was active from 1943 until the German surrender in May 1945. An industrialised exporter of agricultural produce in the second half of the 19th century, Denmark introduced social and labour-market reforms in the early 20th century that created the basis for the present welfare state model with a highly developed mixed economy.

The Constitution of Denmark was signed on 5 June 1849, ending the absolute monarchy, which had begun in 1660. It establishes a constitutional monarchy organised as a parliamentary democracy. The government and national parliament are seated in Copenhagen, the nation’s capitallargest city, and main commercial centre. Denmark exercises hegemonic influence in the Danish Realmdevolving powers to handle internal affairs. Home rule was established in the Faroe Islands in 1948; in Greenland home rule was established in 1979 and further autonomy in 2009. Denmark became a member of the European Economic Community (now the EU) in 1973, but negotiated certain opt-outs; it retains its own currency, the krone. It is among the founding members of NATO, the Nordic Council, the OECDOSCE, and the United Nations; it is also part of the Schengen Area. Denmark has close ties to its Scandinavian neighbours also linguistically, with the Danish language being partially mutually intelligible with both Norwegian and Swedish.

Denmark is considered to be one of the most economically and socially developed countries in the world.[13] Danes enjoy a high standard of living and the country ranks highly in some metrics of national performance, including educationhealth care, protection of civil libertiesdemocratic governanceprosperity, and human development.[14][15][16] The country ranks as having the world’s highest social mobility,[17] a high level of income equality,[18] has the lowest perceived level of corruption in the world, the eleventh-most developed in the world, has one of the world’s highest per capita incomes, and one of the world’s highest personal income tax rates.[19]


The etymology of the name “Denmark”, the relationship between “Danes” and “Denmark”, and the emergence of Denmark as a unified kingdom are topics of continuous scholarly debate.[20][21] This is centered primarily on the prefix “Dan” and whether it refers to the Dani or a historical person Dan and the exact meaning of the –“mark” ending.

Most etymological dictionaries and handbooks derive “Dan” from a word meaning “flat land”,[22] related to German Tenne “threshing floor”, English den “cave”.[22] The element mark is believed to mean woodland or borderland (see marches), with probable references to the border forests in south Schleswig.[23]

The first recorded use of the word Danmark within Denmark itself is found on the two Jelling stones, which are runestones believed to have been erected by Gorm the Old (c. 955) and Harald Bluetooth (c. 965). The larger of the two stones is popularly cited as the “baptismal certificate” (dåbsattest) of Denmark,[24] though both use the word “Denmark”, in the accusative ᛏᛅᚾᛘᛅᚢᚱᚴ tanmaurk ([danmɒrk]) on the large stone, and the genitive ᛏᛅᚾᛘᛅᚱᚴᛅᚱ “tanmarkar” (pronounced [danmarkaɽ]) on the small stone,[25] The inhabitants of Denmark are there called tani ([danɪ]), or “Danes”, in the accusative.



The gilded side of the Trundholm sun chariot dating from the Nordic Bronze Age

The earliest archaeological finds in Denmark date back to the Eem interglacial period from 130,000–110,000 BC.[26] Denmark has been inhabited since around 12,500 BC and agriculture has been evident since 3900 BC.[27] The Nordic Bronze Age (1800–600 BC) in Denmark was marked by burial mounds, which left an abundance of findings including lurs and the Sun Chariot.

During the Pre-Roman Iron Age (500 BC – AD 1), native groups began migrating south, and the first tribal Danes came to the country between the Pre-Roman and the Germanic Iron Age,[28] in the Roman Iron Age (AD 1–400).[27] The Roman provinces maintained trade routes and relations with native tribes in Denmark, and Roman coins have been found in Denmark. Evidence of strong Celtic cultural influence dates from this period in Denmark and much of North-West Europe and is among other things reflected in the finding of the Gundestrup cauldron.

The tribal Danes came from the east Danish islands (Zealand) and Scania and spoke an early form of North Germanic. Historians believe that before their arrival, most of Jutland and the nearest islands were settled by tribal Jutes. The Jutes migrated to Great Britain eventually, some as mercenaries of Brythonic King Vortigern, and were granted the south-eastern territories of Kent, the Isle of Wight and other areas, where they settled. They were later absorbed or ethnically cleansed by the invading Angles and Saxons, who formed the Anglo-Saxons. The remaining Jutish population in Jutland assimilated in with the settling Danes.

A short note about the Dani in “Getica” by the historian Jordanes is believed to be an early mention of the Danes, one of the ethnic groups from whom modern Danes are descended.[29][30] The Danevirke defence structures were built in phases from the 3rd century forward and the sheer size of the construction efforts in AD 737 are attributed to the emergence of a Danish king.[31] A new runic alphabet was first used around the same time and Ribe, the oldest town of Denmark, was founded about AD 700.

Viking and Middle Ages

The Ladby ship, the largest ship burial found in Denmark

From the 8th to the 10th century the wider Scandinavian region was the source of Vikings. They colonised, raided, and traded in all parts of Europe. The Danish Vikings were most active in the eastern and southern British Isles and Western Europe. They conquered and settled parts of England (known as the Danelaw) under King Sweyn Forkbeard in 1013, and France where Danes and Norwegians founded Normandy with Rollo as head of state. More Anglo-Saxon pence of this period have been found in Denmark than in England.[32]

Large stone containing a carved depiction of Jesus Christ

Larger of the two Jelling stones, raised by Harald Bluetooth

Denmark was largely consolidated by the late 8th century and its rulers are consistently referred to in Frankish sources as kings (reges). Under the reign of Gudfred in 804 the Danish kingdom may have included all the lands of Jutland, Scania and the Danish islands, excluding Bornholm.[33] The extant Danish monarchy traces its roots back to Gorm the Old, who established his reign in the early 10th century.[2] As attested by the Jelling stones, the Danes were Christianised around 965 by Harald Bluetooth, the son of Gorm. It is believed that Denmark became Christian for political reasons so as not to get invaded by the rising Christian power in Europe, the Holy Roman Empire, which was an important trading area for the Danes. In that case, Harald built six fortresses around Denmark called Trelleborg and built a further Danevirke. In the early 11th century, Canute the Great won and united Denmark, England, and Norway for almost 30 years with a Scandinavian army.[32]

Throughout the High and Late Middle Ages, Denmark also included Skåneland (the areas of Scania, Halland, and Blekinge in present-day south Sweden) and Danish kings ruled Danish Estonia, as well as the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Most of the latter two now form the state of Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany.

In 1397, Denmark entered into a personal union with Norway and Sweden, united under Queen Margaret I.[34] The three countries were to be treated as equals in the union. However, even from the start, Margaret may not have been so idealistic—treating Denmark as the clear “senior” partner of the union.[35] Thus, much of the next 125 years of Scandinavian history revolves around this union, with Sweden breaking off and being re-conquered repeatedly. The issue was for practical purposes resolved on 17 June 1523, as Swedish King Gustav Vasa conquered the city of Stockholm. The Protestant Reformation spread to Scandinavia in the 1530s, and following the Count’s Feud civil war, Denmark converted to Lutheranism in 1536. Later that year, Denmark entered into a union with Norway.

Early modern history (1536–1849)

The Battle of Öland during the Scanian War, between an allied Dano-NorwegianDutch fleet and the Swedish navy, 1 June 1676

After Sweden permanently broke away from the personal union, Denmark tried on several occasions to reassert control over its neighbour. King Christian IV attacked Sweden in the 1611–1613 Kalmar War but failed to accomplish his main objective of forcing it to return to the union. The war led to no territorial changes, but Sweden was forced to pay a war indemnity of 1 million silver riksdaler to Denmark, an amount known as the Älvsborg ransom.[36] King Christian used this money to found several towns and fortresses, most notably Glückstadt (founded as a rival to Hamburg) and Christiania. Inspired by the Dutch East India Company, he founded a similar Danish company and planned to claim Ceylon as a colony, but the company only managed to acquire Tranquebar on India’s Coromandel Coast. Denmark’s large colonial aspirations included a few key trading posts in Africa and India. While Denmark’s trading posts in India were of little note, it played an important role in the highly lucrative transatlantic slave trade, through its trading outposts in Fort Cristiansborg in OsuGhana though which 1.5 million slaves were traded.[37] While the Danish colonial empire was sustained by trade with other major powers, and plantations – ultimately a lack of resources led to its stagnation.[38]

In the Thirty Years’ War, Christian tried to become the leader of the Lutheran states in Germany but suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Lutter.[39] The result was that the Catholic army under Albrecht von Wallenstein was able to invade, occupy, and pillage Jutland, forcing Denmark to withdraw from the war.[40] Denmark managed to avoid territorial concessions, but King Gustavus Adolphus‘ intervention in Germany was seen as a sign that the military power of Sweden was on the rise while Denmark’s influence in the region was declining. Swedish armies invaded Jutland in 1643 and claimed Scania in 1644.

Extent of the Dano-Norwegian Realm. After the Napoleonic Wars, Norway was ceded to Sweden while Denmark kept the Faroe IslandsIceland and Greenland.

In the 1645 Treaty of Brømsebro, Denmark surrendered Halland, Gotland, the last parts of Danish Estonia, and several provinces in Norway. In 1657, King Frederick III declared war on Sweden and marched on Bremen-Verden. This led to a massive Danish defeat and the armies of King Charles X Gustav of Sweden conquered JutlandFunen, and much of Zealand before signing the Peace of Roskilde in February 1658, which gave Sweden control of Scania, BlekingeTrøndelag, and the island of Bornholm. Charles X Gustav quickly regretted not having ruined Denmark and in August 1658, he began a two-year-long siege of Copenhagen but he failed to take the capital.[41] In the ensuing peace settlement, Denmark managed to maintain its independence and regain control of Trøndelag and Bornholm.

Denmark tried but failed to regain control of Scania in the Scanian War (1675–1679). After the Great Northern War (1700–21), Denmark managed to regain control of the parts of Schleswig and Holstein ruled by the house of Holstein-Gottorp in the 1720 Treaty of Frederiksborg and the 1773 Treaty of Tsarskoye Selo, respectively. Denmark prospered greatly in the last decades of the 18th century due to its neutral status allowing it to trade with both sides in the many contemporary wars. In the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark traded with both France and the United Kingdom and joined the League of Armed Neutrality with Russia, Sweden, and Prussia.[42] The British considered this a hostile act and attacked Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, in one case carrying off the Danish fleet, in the other, burning large parts of the Danish capital. This led to the so-called Danish-British Gunboat War. British control of the waterways between Denmark and Norway proved disastrous to the union’s economy and in 1813 Denmark–Norway went bankrupt.

The union was dissolved by the Treaty of Kiel in 1814; the Danish monarchy “irrevocably and forever” renounced claims to the Kingdom of Norway in favour of the Swedish king.[43] Denmark kept the possessions of Iceland (which retained the Danish monarchy until 1944), the Faroe Islands and Greenland, all of which had been governed by Norway for centuries.[44] Apart from the Nordic colonies, Denmark continued to rule over Danish India from 1620 to 1869, the Danish Gold Coast (Ghana) from 1658 to 1850, and the Danish West Indies from 1671 to 1917.

Constitutional monarchy (1849–present)

The National Constitutional Assembly was convened by King Frederick VII in 1848 to adopt the Constitution of Denmark.

A nascent Danish liberal and national movement gained momentum in the 1830s; after the European Revolutions of 1848, Denmark peacefully became a constitutional monarchy on 5 June 1849. A new constitution established a two-chamber parliament. Denmark faced war against both Prussia and Austrian Empire in what became known as the Second Schleswig War, lasting from February to October 1864. Denmark was defeated and obliged to cede Schleswig and Holstein to Prussia. This loss came as the latest in the long series of defeats and territorial losses that had begun in the 17th century. After these events, Denmark pursued a policy of neutrality in Europe.

Industrialisation came to Denmark in the second half of the 19th century.[45] The nation’s first railways were constructed in the 1850s, and improved communications and overseas trade allowed industry to develop in spite of Denmark’s lack of natural resources. Trade unions developed, starting in the 1870s. There was a considerable migration of people from the countryside to the cities, and Danish agriculture became centred on the export of dairy and meat products.

Denmark maintained its neutral stance during World War I. After the defeat of Germany, the Versailles powers offered to return the region of Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark. Fearing German irredentism, Denmark refused to consider the return of the area without a plebiscite; the two Schleswig Plebiscites took place on 10 February and 14 March 1920, respectively. On 10 July 1920, Northern Schleswig was recovered by Denmark, thereby adding some 163,600 inhabitants and 3,984 square kilometres (1,538 sq mi). The country’s first social democratic government took office in 1924.[46]

In 1939 Denmark signed a 10-year non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany but Germany invaded Denmark on 9 April 1940 and the Danish government quickly surrendered. World War II in Denmark was characterised by economic co-operation with Germany until 1943, when the Danish government refused further co-operation and its navy scuttled most of its ships and sent many of its officers to Sweden, which was neutral. The Danish resistance performed a rescue operation that managed to evacuate several thousand Jews and their families to safety in Sweden before the Germans could send them to death camps. Some Danes supported Nazism by joining the Danish Nazi Party or volunteering to fight with Germany as part of the Frikorps Danmark.[47] Iceland severed ties with Denmark and became an independent republic in 1944; Germany surrendered in May 1945; in 1948, the Faroe Islands gained home rule; in 1949, Denmark became a founding member of NATO.

Denmark became a member of the European Union in 1973 and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.

Denmark was a founding member of European Free Trade Association (EFTA). During the 1960s, the EFTA countries were often referred to as the Outer Seven, as opposed to the Inner Six of what was then the European Economic Community (EEC).[48] In 1973, along with Britain and Ireland, Denmark joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) after a public referendum. The Maastricht Treaty, which involved further European integration, was rejected by the Danish people in 1992; it was only accepted after a second referendum in 1993, which provided for four opt-outs from policies. The Danes rejected the euro as the national currency in a referendum in 2000. Greenland gained home rule in 1979 and was awarded self-determination in 2009. Neither the Faroe Islands nor Greenland are members of the European Union, the Faroese having declined membership of the EEC in 1973 and Greenland in 1986, in both cases because of fisheries policies.

Constitutional change in 1953 led to a single-chamber parliament elected by proportional representation, female accession to the Danish throne, and Greenland becoming an integral part of Denmark. The centre-left Social Democrats led a string of coalition governments for most of the second half of the 20th century, introducing the Nordic welfare model. The Liberal Party and the Conservative People’s Party have also led centre-right governments.


Satellite image

A satellite image of Jutland and the Danish islands

Located in Northern Europe, Denmark[N 2] consists of the peninsula of Jutland and 443 named islands (1,419 islands above 100 square metres (1,100 sq ft) in total).[50] Of these, 74 are inhabited (January 2015),[51] with the largest being Zealand, the North Jutlandic Island, and Funen. The island of Bornholm is located east of the rest of the country, in the Baltic Sea. Many of the larger islands are connected by bridges; the Øresund Bridge connects Zealand with Sweden; the Great Belt Bridge connects Funen with Zealand; and the Little Belt Bridge connects Jutland with Funen. Ferries or small aircraft connect to the smaller islands. The four cities with populations over 100,000 are the capital Copenhagen on Zealand; Aarhus and Aalborg in Jutland; and Odense on Funen.

A labelled map of Denmark

A map showing major urban areas, islands and connecting bridges

The country occupies a total area of 42,924 square kilometres (16,573 sq mi), and land area of 42,394 square kilometres (16,368.4 sq mi),[3] the latter comparable to that of Estonia. The area of inland water is 700 km2 (270 sq mi), variously stated as from 500 – 700 km2 (193–270 sq mi). Lake Arresø northwest of Copenhagen is the largest lake. The size of the land area cannot be stated exactly since the ocean constantly erodes and adds material to the coastline, and because of human land reclamation projects (to counter erosion). Post-glacial rebound raises the land by a bit less than 1 cm (0.4 in) per year in the north and east, extending the coast. A circle enclosing the same area as Denmark would be 234 kilometres (145 miles) in diameter with a circumference of 736 km (457 mi) (land area only:232.33 km (144.36 mi) and 730 km (454 mi) respectively). It shares a border of 68 kilometres (42 mi) with Germany to the south and is otherwise surrounded by 8,750 km (5,437 mi) of tidal shoreline (including small bays and inlets).[52] No location in Denmark is farther from the coast than 52 km (32 mi). On the south-west coast of Jutland, the tide is between 1 and 2 m (3.28 and 6.56 ft), and the tideline moves outward and inward on a 10 km (6.2 mi) stretch.[53] Denmark’s territorial waters total 105,000 square kilometres (40,541 square miles).

Denmark’s northernmost point is Skagen point (the north beach of the Skaw) at 57° 45′ 7″ northern latitude; the southernmost is Gedser point (the southern tip of Falster) at 54° 33′ 35″ northern latitude; the westernmost point is Blåvandshuk at 8° 4′ 22″ eastern longitude; and the easternmost point is Østerskær at 15° 11′ 55″ eastern longitude. This is in the small Ertholmene archipelago 18 kilometres (11 mi) north-east of Bornholm. The distance from east to west is 452 kilometres (281 mi), from north to south 368 kilometres (229 mi).

Bay of Aarhus viewed from southern Djursland

The country is flat with little elevation, having an average height above sea level of 31 metres (102 ft). The highest natural point is Møllehøj, at 170.86 metres (560.56 ft).[54] A sizeable portion of Denmark’s terrain consists of rolling plains whilst the coastline is sandy, with large dunes in northern Jutland. Although once extensively forested, today Denmark largely consists of arable land. It is drained by a dozen or so rivers, and the most significant include the GudenåOdenseSkjernSuså and Vidå—a river that flows along its southern border with Germany.

The Kingdom of Denmark includes two overseas territories, both well to the west of Denmark: Greenland, the world’s largest island, and the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. These territories are self-governing and form part of the Danish Realm.


Denmark has a temperate climate, characterised by mild winters, with mean temperatures in January of 1.5 °C (34.7 °F), and cool summers, with a mean temperature in August of 17.2 °C (63.0 °F).[55] The most extreme temperatures recorded in Denmark, since 1874 when recordings began, was 36.4 °C (97.5 °F) in 1975 and −31.2 °C (−24.2 °F) in 1982.[56] Denmark has an average of 179 days per year with precipitation, on average receiving a total of 765 millimetres (30 in) per year; autumn is the wettest season and spring the driest.[55] The position between a continent and an ocean means that weather often changes.[57]

Because of Denmark’s northern location, there are large seasonal variations in daylight. There are short days during the winter with sunrise coming around 8:45 am and sunset 3:45 pm (standard time), as well as long summer days with sunrise at 4:30 am and sunset at 10 pm (daylight saving time).[58]

The Danish landscape is characterised by flat, arable land and sandy coasts.

Beech trees are common throughout Denmark, especially in the sparse woodlands.


Denmark belongs to the Boreal Kingdom and can be subdivided into two ecoregions: the Atlantic mixed forests and Baltic mixed forests.[59] Almost all of Denmark’s primeval temperate forests have been destroyed or fragmented, chiefly for agricultural purposes during the last millennia.[60] The deforestation has created large swaths of heathland and devastating sand drifts.[60] In spite of this, there are several larger second growth woodlands in the country and, in total, 12.9% of the land is now forested.[61] Norway spruce is the most widespread tree (2017), being important in the production of Christmas trees.

Roe deer occupy the countryside in growing numbers, and large-antlered red deer can be found in the sparse woodlands of Jutland. Denmark is also home to smaller mammals, such as polecatshares and hedgehogs.[62] Approximately 400 bird species inhabit Denmark and about 160 of those breed in the country.[63] Large marine mammals include healthy populations of Harbour porpoise, growing numbers of pinnipeds and occasional visits of large whales, including blue whales and orcasCodherring and plaice are abundant fish in Danish waters and form the basis for a large fishing industry.[64]


Land and water pollution are two of Denmark’s most significant environmental issues, although much of the country’s household and industrial waste is now increasingly filtered and sometimes recycled. The country has historically taken a progressive stance on environmental preservation; in 1971 Denmark established a Ministry of Environment and was the first country in the world to implement an environmental law in 1973.[65] To mitigate environmental degradation and global warming the Danish Government has signed the Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol.[66] However, the national ecological footprint is 8.26 global hectares per person, which is very high compared to a world average of 1.7 in 2010.[67] Contributing factors to this value are an exceptional high value for cropland but also a relatively high value for grazing land,[68] which may be explained by the substantially high meat production in Denmark (115.8 kilograms (255 lb) meat annually per capita) and the large economic role of the meat and dairy industries.[69] In December 2014, the Climate Change Performance Index for 2015 placed Denmark at the top of the table, explaining that although emissions are still quite high, the country was able to implement effective climate protection policies.[70]

Denmark has an outstanding performance in the global Environmental Performance Index (EPI) with an overall ranking of 4 out of 180 countries in 2016. This recent and significant increase in ranking and performance is mostly due to remarkable achievements in energy efficiency and reductions in CO2 emission levels. A future implementation of air quality improvements are expected. The EPI was established in 2001 by the World Economic Forum as a global gauge to measure how well individual countries perform in implementing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The environmental areas where Denmark performs best (i.e. lowest ranking) are sanitation (12), water resource management (13) and health impacts of environmental issues (14), followed closely by the area of biodiversity and habitat. The latter are due to the many protection laws and protected areas of significance within the country even though the EPI is not considering how well these laws and regulations are affecting the current biodiversity and habitats in reality; one of many weaknesses in the EPI.[71] Denmark performs worst (i.e. highest ranking) in the areas of environmental effects of fisheries (128)[72] and forest management (96). The very poor ranking in the fisheries area are due to alarmingly low and continually rapidly declining fish stocks, placing Denmark among the worst performing countries of the world.[73][74] Denmark’s territories, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, catch approximately 650 whales per year.[75][76] Greenland’s quotas for the catch of whales are determined according to the advice of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), having quota decision-making powers.[77]

Administrative divisions

Denmark, with a total area of 43,094 square kilometres (16,639 sq mi), is divided into five administrative regions (Danishregioner). The regions are further subdivided into 98 municipalities (kommuner). The easternmost land in Denmark, the Ertholmene archipelago, with an area of 39 hectares (0.16 sq mi), is neither part of a municipality nor a region but belongs to the Ministry of Defence.[78]

The regions were created on 1 January 2007 to replace the 16 former counties. At the same time, smaller municipalities were merged into larger units, reducing the number from 270. Most municipalities have a population of at least 20,000 to give them financial and professional sustainability, although a few exceptions were made to this rule.[79] The administrative divisions are led by directly elected councils, elected proportionally every four years; the most recent Danish local elections were held on 21 November 2017. Other regional structures use the municipal boundaries as a layout, including the police districts, the court districts and the electoral wards.


The governing bodies of the regions are the regional councils, each with forty-one councillors elected for four-year terms. The councils are headed by regional district chairmen (regionsrådsformanden), who are elected by the council.[80] The areas of responsibility for the regional councils are the national health servicesocial services and regional development.[80][81] Unlike the counties they replaced, the regions are not allowed to levy taxes and the health service is partly financed by a national health care contribution until 2018 (sundhedsbidrag), partly by funds from both government and municipalities.[19] From 1 January 2019 this contribution will be abolished, as it is being replaced by higher income tax instead.

The area and populations of the regions vary widely; for example, the Capital Region, which encompasses the Copenhagen metropolitan area with the exception of the subtracted province East Zealand but includes the Baltic Sea island of Bornholm, has a population three times larger than that of North Denmark Region, which covers the more sparsely populated area of northern Jutland. Under the county system certain densely populated municipalities, such as Copenhagen Municipality and Frederiksberg, had been given a status equivalent to that of counties, making them first-level administrative divisions. These sui generis municipalities were incorporated into the new regions under the 2007 reforms.

Danish name English name Admin. centre Largest city
(January 2017)
Total area
Hovedstaden Capital Region of Denmark Hillerød Copenhagen 1,807,404 2,568.29
Midtjylland Central Denmark Region Viborg Aarhus 1,304,253 13,095.80
Nordjylland North Denmark Region Aalborg Aalborg 587,335 7,907.09
Sjælland Region Zealand Sorø Roskilde 832,553 7,268.75
Syddanmark Region of Southern Denmark Vejle Odense 1,217,224 12,132.21
Source: Regional and municipal key figures

Greenland and the Faroe Islands

Kunoy island, Faroe Islands

The Kingdom of Denmark is a unitary state that comprises, in addition to Denmark proper, two autonomous territories[11] in the North Atlantic OceanGreenland and the Faroe Islands. They have been integrated parts of the Danish Realm since the 18th century; however, due to their separate historical and cultural identities, these parts of the Realm have extensive political powers and have assumed legislative and administrative responsibility in a substantial number of fields.[82] Home rule was granted to the Faroe Islands in 1948 and to Greenland in 1979, each having previously had the status of counties.[83]

Greenland and the Faroe Islands have their own home governments and parliaments and are effectively self-governing in regards to domestic affairs apart from the judicial system and monetary policy.[83] High Commissioners (Rigsombudsmand) act as representatives of the Danish government in the Faroese Løgting and in the Greenlandic Parliament, but they cannot vote.[83] The Faroese home government is defined to be an equal partner with the Danish national government,[84] while the Greenlandic people are defined as a separate people with the right to self-determination.[85]

Country Population (2015) Total area Capital Local parliament Premier
 Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat) 56,114[6] 2,166,086 km2 (836,330 sq mi)  Nuuk Inatsisartut Kim Kielsen
 Faroe Islands (Føroyar) 49,079[5] 1,399 km2 (540.16 sq mi)  Tórshavn Løgting Aksel V. Johannesen


Monarch Queen Margrethe II
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen

Politics in Denmark operate under a framework laid out in the Constitution of Denmark.[N 11] First written in 1849, it establishes a sovereign state in the form of a constitutional monarchy, with a representative parliamentary system. The monarch officially retains executive power and presides over the Council of State (privy council).[87][88] In practice, the duties of the monarch are strictly representative and ceremonial,[N 12][89] such as the formal appointment and dismissal of the Prime Minister and other Government ministers. The Monarch is not answerable for his or her actions, and their person is sacrosanct.[90] Hereditary monarch Queen Margrethe II has been head of state since 14 January 1972.


The Danish Parliament is unicameral and called the Folketing (DanishFolketinget). It is the legislature of the Kingdom of Denmark, passing acts that apply in Denmark and, variably, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The Folketing is also responsible for adopting the state’s budgets, approving the state’s accounts, appointing and exercising control of the Government, and taking part in international co-operation. Bills may be initiated by the Government or by members of parliament. All bills passed must be presented before the Council of State to receive Royal Assent within thirty days in order to become law.[91]

Christiansborg Palace houses the Folketing, the Supreme Court, and Government offices.

Denmark is a representative democracy with universal suffrage.[N 13] Membership of the Folketing is based on proportional representation of political parties,[92] with a 2% electoral threshold. Danes elect 175 members to the Folketing, with Greenland and the Faroe Islands electing an additional two members each—179 members in total.[93] Parliamentary elections are held at least every four years, but it is within the powers of the prime minister to ask the monarch to call for an election before the term has elapsed. On a vote of no confidence, the Folketing may force a single minister or an entire government to resign.[94]

The Government of Denmark operates as a cabinet government, where executive authority is exercised—formally, on behalf of the monarch—by the prime minister and other cabinet ministers, who head ministries. As the executive branch, the Cabinet is responsible for proposing bills and a budget, executing the laws, and guiding the foreign and internal policies of Denmark. The position of prime minister belongs to the person most likely to command the confidence of a majority in the Folketing; this is usually the current leader of the largest political party or, more effectively, through a coalition of parties. A single party generally does not have sufficient political power in terms of the number of seats to form a cabinet on its own; Denmark has often been ruled by coalition governments, themselves sometimes minority governments dependent on non-government parties.[95]

Following a general election defeat, in June 2015 Helle Thorning-Schmidt, leader of the Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterne), resigned as prime minister. She was succeeded by Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the leader of the Liberal Party (Venstre). Rasmussen became the leader of a cabinet that, unusually, consisted entirely of ministers from his own party. Following the 2019 general election the left-wing coalition led by Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen formed a government.[96] Frederiksen became prime minister on 27 June 2019.

Law and judicial system

King Christian V presiding over the Supreme Court in 1697

Denmark has a civil law system with some references to Germanic law. Denmark resembles Norway and Sweden in never having developed a case-law like that of England and the United States nor comprehensive codes like those of France and Germany. Much of its law is customary.[97]

The judicial system of Denmark is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and administrative courts with jurisdiction over litigation between individuals and the public administration. Articles sixty-two and sixty-four of the Constitution ensure judicial independence from government and Parliament by providing that judges shall only be guided by the law, including acts, statutes and practice.[98] The Kingdom of Denmark does not have a single unified judicial system – Denmark has one system, Greenland another, and the Faroe Islands a third.[99] However, decisions by the highest courts in Greenland and the Faroe Islands may be appealed to the Danish High Courts. The Danish Supreme Court is the highest civil and criminal court responsible for the administration of justice in the Kingdom.

Foreign relations

Denmark wields considerable influence in Northern Europe and is a middle power in international affairs.[100] In recent years, Greenland and the Faroe Islands have been guaranteed a say in foreign policy issues such as fishing, whaling, and geopolitical concerns. The foreign policy of Denmark is substantially influenced by its membership of the European Union (EU); Denmark including Greenland joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the EU’s predecessor, in 1973.[N 14] Denmark held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on seven occasions, most recently from January to June 2012.[101] Following World War II, Denmark ended its two-hundred-year-long policy of neutrality. It has been a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1949, and membership remains highly popular.[102]

As a member of Development Assistance Committee (DAC), Denmark has for a long time been among the countries of the world contributing the largest percentage of gross national income to development aid. In 2015, Denmark contributed 0.85% of its gross national income (GNI) to foreign aid and was one of only six countries meeting the longstanding UN target of 0.7% of GNI.[N 15][103] The country participates in both bilateral and multilateral aid, with the aid usually administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The organisational name of Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) is often used, in particular when operating bilateral aid.


Danish MP-soldiers conducting advanced law enforcement training

Denmark’s armed forces are known as the Danish Defence (DanishForsvaret). The Minister of Defence is commander-in-chief of the Danish Defence, and serves as chief diplomatic official abroad. During peacetime, the Ministry of Defence employs around 33,000 in total. The main military branches employ almost 27,000: 15,460 in the Royal Danish Army, 5,300 in the Royal Danish Navy and 6,050 in the Royal Danish Air Force (all including conscripts).[citation needed] The Danish Emergency Management Agency employs 2,000 (including conscripts), and about 4,000 are in non-branch-specific services like the Danish Defence Command and the Danish Defence Intelligence Service. Furthermore, around 55,000 serve as volunteers in the Danish Home Guard.

Denmark is a long-time supporter of international peacekeeping, but since the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the War in Afghanistan in 2001, Denmark has also found a new role as a warring nation, participating actively in several wars and invasions. This relatively new situation has stirred some internal critique, but the Danish population has generally been very supportive, in particular of the War in Afghanistan.[104][105] The Danish Defence has around 1,400[106] staff in international missions, not including standing contributions to NATO SNMCMG1. Danish forces were heavily engaged in the former Yugoslavia in the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), with IFOR,[107] and now SFOR.[108] Between 2003 and 2007, there were approximately 450 Danish soldiers in Iraq.[109] Denmark also strongly supported American operations in Afghanistan and has contributed both monetarily and materially to the ISAF.[110] These initiatives are often described by the authorities as part of a new “active foreign policy” of Denmark.


Lego bricks are produced by The Lego Group, headquartered in Billund.

Denmark has a developed mixed economy that is classed as a high-income economy by the World Bank.[111] In 2017 it ranked 16th in the world in terms of gross national income (PPP) per capita and 10th in nominal GNI per capita.[112] Denmark’s economy stands out as one of the most free in the Index of Economic Freedom and the Economic Freedom of the World.[113][114] It is the 10th most competitive economy in the world, and 6th in Europe, according to the World Economic Forum in its Global Competitiveness Report 2018.[115]

Denmark has the fourth highest ratio of tertiary degree holders in the world.[116] The country ranks highest in the world for workers’ rights.[117] GDP per hour worked was the 13th highest in 2009. The country has a market income inequality close to the OECD average,[118][119] but after taxes and public cash transfers the income inequality is considerably lower. According to Eurostat, Denmark’s Gini coefficient for disposable income was the 7th-lowest among EU countries in 2017.[120] According to the International Monetary Fund, Denmark has the world’s highest minimum wage.[121] As Denmark has no minimum wage legislation, the high wage floor has been attributed to the power of trade unions. For example, as the result of a collective bargaining agreement between the 3F trade union and the employers group Horesta, workers at McDonald’s and other fast food chains make the equivalent of US$20 an hour, which is more than double what their counterparts earn in the United States, and have access to five weeks’ paid vacation, parental leave and a pension plan.[122] Union density in 2015 was 68%.[123]

Denmark is a leading producer of pork, and the largest exporter of pork products in the EU.[124]

Once a predominantly agricultural country on account of its arable landscape, since 1945 Denmark has greatly expanded its industrial base and service sector. By 2017 services contributed circa 75% of GDP, manufacturing about 15% and agriculture less than 2%.[125] Major industries include wind turbinespharmaceuticalsmedical equipmentmachinery and transportation equipment, food processing, and construction.[126] Circa 60% of the total export value is due to export of goods, and the remaining 40% is from service exports, mainly sea transport. The country’s main export goods are: wind turbines, pharmaceuticals, machinery and instruments, meat and meat products, dairy products, fish, furniture and design.[126] Denmark is a net exporter of food and energy and has for a number of years had a balance of payments surplus which has transformed the country from a net debitor to a net creditor country. By 1 July 2018, the net international investment position (or net foreign assets) of Denmark was equal to 64.6% of GDP.[127]

Denmark is a member of the European Single Market.

A liberalisation of import tariffs in 1797 marked the end of mercantilism and further liberalisation in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century established the Danish liberal tradition in international trade that was only to be broken by the 1930s.[128] Even when other countries, such as Germany and France, raised protection for their agricultural sector because of increased American competition resulting in much lower agricultural prices after 1870, Denmark retained its free trade policies, as the country profited from the cheap imports of cereals (used as feedstuffs for their cattle and pigs) and could increase their exports of butter and meat of which the prices were more stable.[129] Today, Denmark is part of the European Union‘s internal market, which represents more than 508 million consumers. Several domestic commercial policies are determined by agreements among European Union (EU) members and by EU legislation. Support for free trade is high among the Danish public; in a 2016 poll 57% responded saw globalisation as an opportunity whereas 18% viewed it as a threat.[130] 70% of trade flows are inside the European Union. As of 2017, Denmark’s largest export partners are Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.[66]

Denmark’s currency, the krone (DKK), is pegged at approximately 7.46 kroner per euro through the ERM II. Although a September 2000 referendum rejected adopting the euro,[131] the country follows the policies set forth in the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union and meets the economic convergence criteria needed to adopt the euro. The majority of the political parties in the Folketing support joining the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union|EMU, but since 2010 opinion polls have consistently shown a clear majority against adopting the euro. In May 2018, 29% of respondents from Denmark in a Eurobarometer opinion poll stated that they were in favour of the EMU and the euro, whereas 65% were against it.[132]

Ranked by turnover in Denmark, the largest Danish companies are: A.P. Møller-Mærsk (international shipping), Novo Nordisk (pharmaceuticals), ISS A/S (facility services), Vestas (wind turbines), Arla Foods (dairy), DSV (transport), Carlsberg Group (beer), Salling Group (retail), Ørsted A/S (power), Danske Bank.[133]

Public policy

Danes enjoy a high standard of living and the Danish economy is characterised by extensive government welfare provisions. Denmark has a corporate tax rate of 22% and a special time-limited tax regime for expatriates.[134] The Danish taxation system is broad based, with a 25% value-added tax, in addition to excise taxes, income taxes and other fees. The overall level of taxation (sum of all taxes, as a percentage of GDP) was 46% in 2017.[135] The tax structure of Denmark (the relative weight of different taxes) differs from the OECD average, as the Danish tax system in 2015 was characterized by substantially higher revenues from taxes on personal income and a lower proportion of revenues from taxes on corporate income and gains and property taxes than in OECD generally, whereas no revenues at all derive from social security contributions. The proportion deriving from payroll taxes, VAT, and other taxes on goods and services correspond to the OECD average[136]

As of 2014, 6% of the population was reported to live below the poverty line, when adjusted for taxes and transfers. Denmark has the 2nd lowest relative poverty rate in the OECD, below the 11.3% OECD average.[137] The share of the population reporting that they feel that they cannot afford to buy sufficient food in Denmark is less than half of the OECD average.[137]

Labour market

Like other Nordic countries, Denmark has adopted the Nordic Model, which combines free market capitalism with a comprehensive welfare state and strong worker protection.[138] As a result of its acclaimed “flexicurity” model, Denmark has the freest labour market in Europe, according to the World Bank. Employers can hire and fire whenever they want (flexibility), and between jobs, unemployment compensation is relatively high (security). According to OECD, initial as well as long-term net replacement rates for unemployed persons were 65% of previous net income in 2016, against an OECD average of 53%.[139] Establishing a business can be done in a matter of hours and at very low costs.[140] No restrictions apply regarding overtime work, which allows companies to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.[141] With an employment rate in 2017 of 74.2% for people aged 15–64-years, Denmark ranks 9th highest among the OECD countries, and above the OECD average of 67.8%.[142] The unemployment rate was 5.7% in 2017,[143] which is considered close to or below its structural level.[144]

The level of unemployment benefits is dependent on former employment and normally on membership of an unemployment fund, which is usually closely connected to a trade union, and previous payment of contributions. Circa 65% of the financing comes from earmarked member contributions, whereas the remaining third originates from the central government and hence ultimately from general taxation.[145]

Science and technology

With an investment of 8.5 million euros over the ten-year construction period, Denmark confirms participation in E-ELT.[146]

Denmark has a long tradition of scientific and technological invention and engagement, and has been involved internationally from the very start of the scientific revolution. In current times, Denmark is participating in many high-profile international science and technology projects, including CERNITERESAISS and E-ELT.

In the 20th century, Danes have also been innovative in several fields of the technology sector. Danish companies have been influential in the shipping industry with the design of the largest and most energy efficient container ships in the world, the Maersk Triple E class, and Danish engineers have contributed to the design of MAN Diesel engines. In the software and electronic field, Denmark contributed to design and manufacturing of Nordic Mobile Telephones, and the now-defunct Danish company DanCall was among the first to develop GSM mobile phones.

Life science is a key sector with extensive research and development activities. Danish engineers are world-leading in providing diabetes care equipment and medication products from Novo Nordisk and, since 2000, the Danish biotech company Novozymes, the world market leader in enzymes for first generation starch based bioethanol, has pioneered development of enzymes for converting waste to cellulosic ethanol.[147] Medicon Valley, spanning the Øresund Region between Zealand and Sweden, is one of Europe’s largest life science clusters, containing a large number of life science companies and research institutions located within a very small geographical area.

Danish-born computer scientists and software engineers have taken leading roles in some of the world’s programming languages: Anders Hejlsberg (Turbo PascalDelphiC#); Rasmus Lerdorf (PHP); Bjarne Stroustrup (C++); David Heinemeier Hansson (Ruby on Rails); Lars Bak, a pioneer in virtual machines (V8Java VMDart). Physicist Lene Vestergaard Hau is the first person to stop light, leading to advances in quantum computingnanoscale engineering and linear optics.


Middelgrunden, an offshore wind farm near Copenhagen

Denmark has considerably large deposits of oil and natural gas in the North Sea and ranks as number 32 in the world among net exporters of crude oil[148] and was producing 259,980 barrels of crude oil a day in 2009.[149] Denmark is a long-time leader in wind power: In 2015 wind turbines provided 42.1% of the total electricity consumption.[150] In May 2011 Denmark derived 3.1% of its gross domestic product from renewable (clean) energy technology and energy efficiency, or around €6.5 billion ($9.4 billion).[151] Denmark is connected by electric transmission lines to other European countries. On 6 September 2012, Denmark launched the biggest wind turbine in the world, and will add four more over the next four years.[needs update]

Denmark’s electricity sector has integrated energy sources such as wind power into the national grid. Denmark now aims to focus on intelligent battery systems (V2G) and plug-in vehicles in the transport sector.[152] The country is a member nation of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).[153]


Great Belt Fixed Link, The East Bridge as seen from Zealand

Copenhagen Airport is the largest airport in Scandinavia and 15th-busiest in Europe.[154]

Significant investment has been made in building road and rail links between regions in Denmark, most notably the Great Belt Fixed Link, which connects Zealand and Funen. It is now possible to drive from Frederikshavn in northern Jutland to Copenhagen on eastern Zealand without leaving the motorway. The main railway operator is DSB for passenger services and DB Schenker Rail for freight trains. The railway tracks are maintained by Banedanmark. The North Sea and the Baltic Sea are intertwined by various, international ferry links. Construction of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link, connecting Denmark and Germany with a second link, will start in 2015.[155] Copenhagen has a rapid transit system, the Copenhagen Metro, and an extensive electrified suburban railway network, the S-train. In the four largest cities – CopenhagenAarhusOdenseAalborg – light rail systems are planned to be in operation around 2020.[156]

Cycling in Denmark is a very common form of transport, particularly for the young and for city dwellers. With a network of bicycle routes extending more than 12,000 km[157] and an estimated 7,000 km[158] of segregated dedicated bicycle paths and lanes, Denmark has a solid bicycle infrastructure.

Private vehicles are increasingly used as a means of transport. Because of the high registration tax (150%), VAT (25%), and one of the world’s highest income tax rates, new cars are very expensive. The purpose of the tax is to discourage car ownership. In 2007, an attempt was made by the government to favour environmentally friendly cars by slightly reducing taxes on high mileage vehicles. However, this has had little effect, and in 2008 Denmark experienced an increase in the import of fuel inefficient old cars,[159] as the cost for older cars—including taxes—keeps them within the budget of many Danes. As of 2011, the average car age is 9.2 years.[160]

With Norway and Sweden, Denmark is part of the Scandinavian Airlines flag carrierCopenhagen Airport is Scandinavia’s busiest passenger airport, handling over 25 million passengers in 2014.[154] Other notable airports are Billund AirportAalborg Airport, and Aarhus Airport.


Population by ancestry (Q1 2018)[12]

  People of Danish origin (86.67%)
  Immigrant (10.23%)
  Descendant of an immigrant (3.09%)

The population of Denmark, as registered by Statistics Denmark, was 5.781 million in January 2018.[12] Denmark has one of the oldest populations in the world, with the average age of 41.9 years,[161] with 0.97 males per female. Despite a low birth rate, the population is growing at an average annual rate of 0.59%[126] because of net immigration and increasing longevity. The World Happiness Report frequently ranks Denmark’s population as the happiest in the world.[162][163][164] This has been attributed to the country’s highly regarded education and health care systems,[165] and its low level of income inequality.[166]

Denmark is a historically homogeneous nation.[167] However, as with its Scandinavian neighbours, Denmark has recently transformed from a nation of net emigration, up until World War II, to a nation of net immigration. Today, residence permits are issued mostly to immigrants from other EU countries (54% of all non-Scandinavian immigrants in 2017). Another 31% of residence permits were study- or work-related, 4% were issued to asylum seekers and 10% to persons who arrive as family dependants.[168] Overall, the net migration rate in 2017 was 2.1 migrant(s)/1,000 population, somewhat lower than the United Kingdom and the other Nordic countries.[126][169][170]

There are no official statistics on ethnic groups, but according to 2018 figures from Statistics Denmark, 86.7% of the population was of Danish descent, defined as having at least one parent who was born in Denmark and has Danish citizenship.[12][N 5] The remaining 13.3% were of foreign background, defined as immigrants or descendants of recent immigrants. With the same definition, the most common countries of origin were TurkeyPolandSyriaGermanyIraqRomaniaLebanonPakistanBosnia and Hercegovina, and Somalia.[12]

Largest cities in Denmark (as of 1 January 2016)
Rank Core City Region Urban Population Municipal Population


1 Copenhagen Capital Region of Denmark 1,280,371 591,481
2 Aarhus Central Denmark Region 264,716 330,639
3 Odense Region of Southern Denmark 175,245 198,972
4 Aalborg North Denmark Region 112,194 210,316
5 Esbjerg Region of Southern Denmark 72,151 115,748
6 Randers Central Denmark Region 62,342 97,520
7 Kolding Region of Southern Denmark 59,712 91,695
8 Horsens Central Denmark Region 57,517 87,736
9 Vejle Region of Southern Denmark 54,862 111,743
10 Roskilde Region Zealand 50,046 86,207
Source: Statistics Denmark


Danish is the de facto national language of Denmark.[171] Faroese and Greenlandic are the official languages of the Faroe Islands and Greenland respectively.[171] German is a recognised minority language in the area of the former South Jutland County (now part of the Region of Southern Denmark), which was part of the German Empire prior to the Treaty of Versailles.[171] Danish and Faroese belong to the North Germanic (Nordic) branch of the Indo-European languages, along with IcelandicNorwegian, and Swedish.[172] There is a limited degree of mutual intelligibility between Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Danish is more distantly related to German, which is a West Germanic language. Greenlandic or “Kalaallisut” belongs to the Eskimo–Aleut languages; it is closely related to the Inuit languages in Canada, such as Inuktitut, and entirely unrelated to Danish.[172]

A large majority (86%) of Danes speak English as a second language,[173] generally with a high level of proficiency. German is the second-most spoken foreign language, with 47% reporting a conversational level of proficiency.[171] Denmark had 25,900 native speakers of German in 2007 (mostly in the South Jutland area).[171]


Church of Denmark
year population members percentage
1990 5,135,409 4,584,450 89.3%
2000 5,330,500 4,536,422 85.1%
2005 5,413,600 4,498,703 83.3%
2010 5,534,738 4,479,214 80.9%
2015 5,659,715 4,400,754 77.8%
2016 5,707,251 4,387,571 76.9%
2017 5,748,769 4,361,518 75.9%
2018 5,781,190 4,352,507 75.3%
Statistical data: 1984,[174] 1990–2018,[175] Source: Kirkeministeriet

Christianity is the dominant religion in Denmark. In January 2018, 75.3%[175] of the population of Denmark were members of the Church of Denmark (Den Danske Folkekirke), the officially established church, which is Protestant in classification and Lutheran in orientation.[176][N 16] This is down 0.6% compared to the year earlier and 1.6% down compared to two years earlier. Despite the high membership figures, only 3% of the population regularly attend Sunday services[177][178] and only 19% of Danes consider religion to be an important part of their life.[179]

Roskilde Cathedral has been the burial place of Danish royalty since the 15th century. In 1995 it became a World Heritage Site.

The Constitution states that a member of the Royal Family must be a member of the Church of Denmark, though the rest of the population is free to adhere to other faiths.[180][181][182] In 1682 the state granted limited recognition to three religious groups dissenting from the Established Church: Roman Catholicismthe Reformed Church and Judaism,[182] although conversion to these groups from the Church of Denmark remained illegal initially. Until the 1970s, the state formally recognised “religious societies” by royal decree. Today, religious groups do not need official government recognition, they can be granted the right to perform weddings and other ceremonies without this recognition.[182] Denmark’s Muslims make up approximately 5.3% of the population and form the country’s second largest religious community and largest minority religion.[183] The Danish Foreign Ministry estimates that other religious groups comprise less than 1% of the population individually and approximately 2% when taken all together.[184]

According to a 2010 Eurobarometer Poll,[185] 28% of Danish citizens polled responded that they “believe there is a God”, 47% responded that they “believe there is some sort of spirit or life force” and 24% responded that they “do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force”. Another poll, carried out in 2009, found that 25% of Danes believe Jesus is the son of God, and 18% believe he is the saviour of the world.[186]


The oldest surviving Danish lecture plan dated 1537 from the University of Copenhagen

All educational programmes in Denmark are regulated by the Ministry of Education and administered by local municipalities. Folkeskole covers the entire period of compulsory education, encompassing primary and lower secondary education.[187] Most children attend folkeskole for 10 years, from the ages of 6 to 16. There are no final examinations, but pupils can choose to sit an exam when finishing ninth grade (14–15 years old). The test is obligatory if further education is to be attended. Alternatively pupils can attend an independent school (friskole), or a private school (privatskole), such as Christian schools or Waldorf schools.

The Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen

Following graduation from compulsory education, there are several continuing educational opportunities; the Gymnasium (STX) attaches importance in teaching a mix of humanities and science, Higher Technical Examination Programme (HTX) focuses on scientific subjects and the Higher Commercial Examination Programme emphasises on subjects in economics. Higher Preparatory Examination (HF) is similar to Gymnasium (STX), but is one year shorter. For specific professions, there is vocational education, training young people for work in specific trades by a combination of teaching and apprenticeship.

The government records upper secondary school completion rates of 95% and tertiary enrollment and completion rates of 60%.[188] All university and college (tertiary) education in Denmark is free of charges; there are no tuition fees to enrol in courses. Students aged 18 or above may apply for state educational support grants, known as Statens Uddannelsesstøtte (SU), which provides fixed financial support, disbursed monthly.[189] Danish universities offer international students a range of opportunities for obtaining an internationally recognised qualification in Denmark. Many programmes may be taught in the English language, the academic lingua franca, in bachelor’s degreesmaster’s degreesdoctorates and student exchange programmes.[190]


As of 2015, Denmark has a life expectancy of 80.6 years at birth (78.6 for men, 82.5 for women), up from 76.9 years in 2000.[191] This ranks it 27th among 193 nations, behind the other Nordic countries. The National Institute of Public Health of the University of Southern Denmark has calculated 19 major risk factors among Danes that contribute to a lowering of the life expectancy; this includes smoking, alcohol, drug abuse and physical inactivity.[192] Although the obesity rate is lower than in North America and most other European countries,[193] the large number of Danes becoming overweight is an increasing problem and results in an annual additional consumption in the health care system of DKK 1,625 million.[192] In a 2012 study, Denmark had the highest cancer rate of all countries listed by the World Cancer Research Fund International; researchers suggest the reasons are better reporting, but also lifestyle factors like heavy alcohol consumptionsmoking and physical inactivity.[194][195]

Denmark has a universal health care system, characterised by being publicly financed through taxes and, for most of the services, run directly by the regional authorities. One of the sources of income is a national health care contribution (sundhedsbidrag) (2007–11:8%; ’12:7%; ’13:6%; ’14:5%; ’15:4%; ’16:3%; ’17:2%; ’18:1%; ’19:0%) but it is being phased out and will be gone from January 2019, with the income taxes in the lower brackets being raised gradually each year instead.[19] Another source comes from the municipalities that had their income taxes raised by 3 percentage points from 1 January 2007, a contribution confiscated from the former county tax to be used from 1 January 2007 for health purposes by the municipalities instead. This means that most health care provision is free at the point of delivery for all residents. Additionally, roughly two in five have complementary private insurance to cover services not fully covered by the state, such as physiotherapy.[196] As of 2012, Denmark spends 11.2% of its GDP on health care; this is up from 9.8% in 2007 (US$3,512 per capita).[196] This places Denmark above the OECD average and above the other Nordic countries.[196][197]


Denmark is the only country to officially use the word ‘ghetto’ in the 21st century to denote certain residential areas.[198] Since 2010, the Danish Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing publishes the ghettolisten (List of ghettos) which in 2018 consists of 25 areas.[198][199] As a result, the term is widely used in the media and common parlance.[200] The legal designation is applied to areas based on the residents’ income levels, employment status, education levels, criminal convictions and ‘non-Western’ ethnic background.[199][200][201] In 2017, 8.7% of Denmark’s population consisted of non-Western immigrants or their descendants. The population proportion of ‘ghetto residents’ with non-Western background was 66.5%.[202] In 2018, the government has proposed measures to solve the issue of integration and to rid the country of parallel societies and ghettos by 2030.[201][202][203][204] The measures focus on physical redevelopment, control over who is allowed to live in these areas, crime abatement and education.[199] These policies have been criticized for undercutting ‘equality before law’ and for portraying immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants, in a bad light.[199][205] While some proposals like restricting ‘ghetto children’ to their homes after 8 p.m. have been rejected for being too radical, most of the 22 proposals have been agreed upon by a parliamentary majority.[198][200]


Denmark shares strong cultural and historic ties with its Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Norway. It has historically been one of the most socially progressive cultures in the world. In 1969, Denmark was the first country to legalise pornography,[206] and in 2012, Denmark replaced its “registered partnership” laws, which it had been the first country to introduce in 1989,[207][208] with gender-neutral marriage, and allowed same-sex marriages to be performed in the Church of Denmark.[209][210] Modesty and social equality are important parts of Danish culture.[211]

The astronomical discoveries of Tycho Brahe (1546–1601), Ludwig A. Colding‘s (1815–1888) neglected articulation of the principle of conservation of energy, and the contributions to atomic physics of Niels Bohr (1885–1962) indicate the range of Danish scientific achievement. The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875), the philosophical essays of Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), the short stories of Karen Blixen (penname Isak Dinesen), (1885–1962), the plays of Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754), and the dense, aphoristic poetry of Piet Hein (1905–1996), have earned international recognition, as have the symphonies of Carl Nielsen (1865–1931). From the mid-1990s, Danish films have attracted international attention, especially those associated with Dogme 95 like those of Lars von Trier.

A major feature of Danish culture is Jul (Danish Christmas). The holiday is celebrated throughout December, starting either at the beginning of Advent or on 1 December with a variety of traditions, culminating with the Christmas Eve meal.

There are five Danish heritage sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in Northern EuropeChristiansfeld, a Moravian Church Settlement, the Jelling Mounds (Runic Stones and Church)Kronborg CastleRoskilde Cathedral, and The par force hunting landscape in North Zealand.[212]


Danish mass media date back to the 1540s, when handwritten fly sheets reported on the news. In 1666, Anders Bording, the father of Danish journalism, began a state paper. In 1834, the first liberal, factual newspaper appeared, and the 1849 Constitution established lasting freedom of the press in Denmark. Newspapers flourished in the second half of the 19th century, usually tied to one or another political party or trade union. Modernisation, bringing in new features and mechanical techniques, appeared after 1900. The total circulation was 500,000 daily in 1901, more than doubling to 1.2 million in 1925.[213] The German occupation during World War II brought informal censorship; some offending newspaper buildings were simply blown up by the Nazis. During the war, the underground produced 550 newspapers—small, surreptitiously printed sheets that encouraged sabotage and resistance.[213]

Director Lars von Trier, who co-created the Dogme film movement

Danish cinema dates back to 1897 and since the 1980s has maintained a steady stream of productions due largely to funding by the state-supported Danish Film Institute. There have been three big internationally important waves of Danish cinema: erotic melodrama of the silent era; the increasingly explicit sex films of the 1960s and 1970s; and lastly, the Dogme 95 movement of the late 1990s, where directors often used hand-held cameras to dynamic effect in a conscious reaction against big-budget studios. Danish films have been noted for their realism, religious and moral themes, sexual frankness and technical innovation. The Danish filmmaker Carl Th. Dreyer (1889–1968) is considered one of the greatest directors of early cinema.[214][215]

Other Danish filmmakers of note include Erik Balling, the creator of the popular Olsen-banden films; Gabriel Axel, an Oscar-winner for Babette’s Feast in 1987; and Bille August, the Oscar-, Palme d’Or– and Golden Globe-winner for Pelle the Conqueror in 1988. In the modern era, notable filmmakers in Denmark include Lars von Trier, who co-created the Dogme movement, and multiple award-winners Susanne Bier and Nicolas Winding RefnMads Mikkelsen is a world-renowned Danish actor, having starred in films such as King ArthurCasino Royale, the Danish film The Hunt, and the American TV series Hannibal. Another renowned Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is internationally known for playing the role of Jaime Lannister in the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Danish mass media and news programming are dominated by a few large corporations. In printed media JP/Politikens Hus and Berlingske Media, between them, control the largest newspapers PolitikenBerlingske Tidende and Jyllands-Posten and major tabloids B.T. and Ekstra BladetIn television, publicly owned stations DR and TV 2 have large shares of the viewers.[216] DR in particular is famous for its high quality TV-series often sold to foreign broadcasters and often with leading female characters like internationally known actresses Sidse Babett Knudsen and Sofie Gråbøl. In radio, DR has a near monopoly, currently broadcasting on all four nationally available FM channels, competing only with local stations.[217]



A sample from Carl Nielsen‘s Wind Quintet with the theme from Min Jesus, lad mit hjerte få

Denmark and its multiple outlying islands have a wide range of folk traditions. The country’s famous classical composer is Carl Nielsen, especially remembered for his six symphonies and his Wind Quintet, while the Royal Danish Ballet specialises in the work of the Danish choreographer August Bournonville. The Royal Danish Orchestra is among the world’s oldest orchestras.[218] Danes have distinguished themselves as jazz musicians, and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has acquired international recognition. The modern pop and rock scene has produced a few names of international fame, including AquaAlphabeatD-A-DKing DiamondKashmirLukas GrahamMewMichael Learns to RockOh LandThe Raveonettes and Volbeat, among othersLars Ulrich, the drummer of the band Metallica, has become the first Danish musician to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Roskilde Festival near Copenhagen is the largest music festival in Northern Europe since 1971 and Denmark has many recurring music festivals of all genres throughout, including Aarhus International Jazz FestivalSkanderborg Festival, The Blue Festival in Aalborg, Esbjerg International Chamber Music Festival and Skagen Festival among many others.[219][220]

Denmark has been a part of the Eurovision Song Contest since 1957. Denmark has won the contest three times, in 19632000 and 2013.

Architecture and design

Grundtvig’s Church in Copenhagen. An example of expressionist architecture.

Denmark’s architecture became firmly established in the Middle Ages when first Romanesque, then Gothic churches and cathedrals sprang up throughout the country. From the 16th century, Dutch and Flemish designers were brought to Denmark, initially to improve the country’s fortifications, but increasingly to build magnificent royal castles and palaces in the Renaissance style. During the 17th century, many impressive buildings were built in the Baroque style, both in the capital and the provinces. Neoclassicism from France was slowly adopted by native Danish architects who increasingly participated in defining architectural style. A productive period of Historicism ultimately merged into the 19th-century National Romantic style.[221]

The 20th century brought along new architectural styles; including expressionism, best exemplified by the designs of architect Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint, which relied heavily on Scandinavian brick Gothic traditions; and Nordic Classicism, which enjoyed brief popularity in the early decades of the century. It was in the 1960s that Danish architects such as Arne Jacobsen entered the world scene with their highly successful Functionalist architecture. This, in turn, has evolved into more recent world-class masterpieces including Jørn Utzon‘s Sydney Opera House and Johan Otto von Spreckelsen‘s Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris, paving the way for a number of contemporary Danish designers such as Bjarke Ingels to be rewarded for excellence both at home and abroad.[222]

Danish design is a term often used to describe a style of functionalistic design and architecture that was developed in the mid-20th century, originating in Denmark. Danish design is typically applied to industrial design, furniture and household objects, which have won many international awards. The Royal Porcelain Factory is famous for the quality of its ceramics and export products worldwide. Danish design is also a well-known brand, often associated with world-famous, 20th-century designers and architects such as Børge MogensenFinn JuhlHans WegnerArne JacobsenPoul Henningsen and Verner Panton.[223] Other designers of note include Kristian Solmer Vedel (1923–2003) in the area of industrial design, Jens Quistgaard (1919–2008) for kitchen furniture and implements and Ole Wanscher (1903–1985) who had a classical approach to furniture design.

Literature and philosophy

The first known Danish literature is myths and folklore from the 10th and 11th century. Saxo Grammaticus, normally considered the first Danish writer, worked for bishop Absalon on a chronicle of Danish history (Gesta Danorum). Very little is known of other Danish literature from the Middle Ages. With the Age of Enlightenment came Ludvig Holberg whose comedy plays are still being performed.

In the late 19th century, literature was seen as a way to influence society. Known as the Modern Breakthrough, this movement was championed by Georg BrandesHenrik Pontoppidan (awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature) and J. P. JacobsenRomanticism influenced the renowned writer and poet Hans Christian Andersen, known for his stories and fairy tales, e.g. The Ugly DucklingThe Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen. In recent history Johannes Vilhelm Jensen was also awarded the Nobel Prize for LiteratureKaren Blixen is famous for her novels and short stories. Other Danish writers of importance are Herman BangGustav WiedWilliam HeinesenMartin Andersen NexøPiet HeinHans ScherfigKlaus RifbjergDan TurèllTove DitlevsenInger Christensen and Peter Høeg.

Danish philosophy has a long tradition as part of Western philosophy. Perhaps the most influential Danish philosopher was Søren Kierkegaard, the creator of Christian existentialism. Kierkegaard had a few Danish followers, including Harald Høffding, who later in his life moved on to join the movement of positivism. Among Kierkegaard’s other followers include Jean-Paul Sartre who was impressed with Kierkegaard’s views on the individual, and Rollo May, who helped create humanistic psychology. Another Danish philosopher of note is Grundtvig, whose philosophy gave rise to a new form of non-aggressive nationalism in Denmark, and who is also influential for his theological and historical works.

Painting and photography

Woman in front of a Mirror, (1841), by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg

While Danish art was influenced over the centuries by trends in Germany and the Netherlands, the 15th and 16th century church frescos, which can be seen in many of the country’s older churches, are of particular interest as they were painted in a style typical of native Danish painters.[224]

The Danish Golden Age, which began in the first half of the 19th century, was inspired by a new feeling of nationalism and romanticism, typified in the later previous century by history painter Nicolai AbildgaardChristoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg was not only a productive artist in his own right but taught at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where his students included notable painters such as Wilhelm BendzChristen KøbkeMartinus RørbyeConstantin Hansen, and Wilhelm Marstrand.

In 1871, Holger Drachmann and Karl Madsen visited Skagen in the far north of Jutland where they quickly built up one of Scandinavia’s most successful artists’ colonies specialising in Naturalism and Realism rather than in the traditional approach favoured by the Academy. Hosted by Michael and his wife Anna, they were soon joined by P.S. KrøyerCarl Locher and Laurits Tuxen. All participated in painting the natural surroundings and local people.[225] Similar trends developed on Funen with the Fynboerne who included Johannes LarsenFritz Syberg and Peter Hansen,[226] and on the island of Bornholm with the Bornholm school of painters including Niels LergaardKræsten Iversen and Oluf Høst.[227]

Painting has continued to be a prominent form of artistic expression in Danish culture, inspired by and also influencing major international trends in this area. These include impressionism and the modernist styles of expressionismabstract painting and surrealism. While international co-operation and activity has almost always been essential to the Danish artistic community, influential art collectives with a firm Danish base includes De Tretten (1909–1912), Linien (1930s and 1940s), COBRA (1948–1951), Fluxus (1960s and 1970s), De Unge Vilde (1980s) and more recently Superflex (founded in 1993). Most Danish painters of modern times have also been very active with other forms of artistic expressions, such as sculpting, ceramics, art installations, activism, film and experimental architecture. Notable Danish painters from modern times representing various art movements include Theodor Philipsen (1840–1920, impressionism and naturalism), Anna Klindt Sørensen (1899–1985, expressionism), Franciska Clausen (1899–1986, Neue Sachlichkeit, cubism, surrealism and others), Henry Heerup (1907–1993, naivism), Robert Jacobsen (1912–1993, abstract painting), Carl Henning Pedersen (1913–2007, abstract painting), Asger Jorn (1914–1973, Situationist, abstract painting), Bjørn Wiinblad (1918–2006, art deco, orientalism), Per Kirkeby (b. 1938, neo-expressionism, abstract painting), Per Arnoldi (b. 1941, pop art), Michael Kvium (b. 1955, neo-surrealism) and Simone Aaberg Kærn (b. 1969, superrealism).

Danish photography has developed from strong participation and interest in the very beginnings of the art of photography in 1839 to the success of a considerable number of Danes in the world of photography today. Pioneers such as Mads Alstrup and Georg Emil Hansen paved the way for a rapidly growing profession during the last half of the 19th century. Today Danish photographers such as Astrid Kruse Jensen and Jacob Aue Sobol are active both at home and abroad, participating in key exhibitions around the world.[228]


Smørrebrød, a variety of Danish open sandwiches piled high with delicacies

The traditional cuisine of Denmark, like that of the other Nordic countries and of Northern Germany, consists mainly of meat, fish and potatoes. Danish dishes are highly seasonal, stemming from the country’s agricultural past, its geography, and its climate of long, cold winters.

The open sandwiches on rye bread, known as smørrebrød, which in their basic form are the usual fare for lunch, can be considered a national speciality when prepared and decorated with a variety of fine ingredients. Hot meals traditionally consist of ground meats, such as frikadeller (meat balls of veal and pork) and hakkebøf (minced beef patties), or of more substantial meat and fish dishes such as flæskesteg (roast pork with crackling) and kogt torsk (poached cod) with mustard sauce and trimmings. Denmark is known for its Carlsberg and Tuborg beers and for its akvavit and bitters.

Since around 1970, chefs and restaurants across Denmark have introduced gourmet cooking, largely influenced by French cuisine. Also inspired by continental practices, Danish chefs have recently developed a new innovative cuisine and a series of gourmet dishes based on high-quality local produce known as New Danish cuisine.[229] As a result of these developments, Denmark now have a considerable number of internationally acclaimed restaurants of which several have been awarded Michelin stars. This includes Geranium and Noma in Copenhagen.


Michael Laudrup, named the best Danish football player of all time by the Danish Football Association

Sports are popular in Denmark, and its citizens participate in and watch a wide variety. The national sport is football, with over 320,000 players in more than 1600 clubs.[230] Denmark qualified six times consecutively for the European Championships between 1984 and 2004, and were crowned European champions in 1992; other significant achievements include winning the Confederations Cup in 1995 and reaching the quarter-final of the 1998 World Cup. Notable Danish footballers include Allan Simonsen, named the best player in Europe in 1977, Peter Schmeichel, named the “World’s Best Goalkeeper” in 1992 and 1993, and Michael Laudrup, named the best Danish player of all time by the Danish Football Association.[231]

There is much focus on handball, too. The women’s national team celebrated great successes during the 1990s and has won a total of 13 medals – seven gold (in 1994, 1996 (2), 1997, 2000, 2002 and 2004), four silver (in 1962, 1993, 1998 and 2004) and two bronze (in 1995 and 2013). On the men’s side, Denmark has won 12 medals—four gold (in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2019), four silver (in 1967, 2011, 2013 and 2014) and four bronze (in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007)—the most that have been won by any team in European Handball Championship history.[232] In 2019, the Danish men’s national handball team won their first World Championship title in the tournament that was co-hosted between Germany and Denmark.[citation needed]

In recent years, Denmark has made a mark as a strong cycling nation, with Michael Rasmussenreaching King of the Mountains status in the Tour de France in 2005 and 2006. Other popular sports include golf—which is mostly popular among those in the older demographic;[233] tennis—in which Denmark is successful on a professional level; basketball—Denmark joined the international governing body FIBA in 1951;[234] rugby—the Danish Rugby Union dates back to 1950;[235] hockey— often competing in the top division in the Men’s World Championships; rowing—Denmark specialise in lightweight rowing and are particularly known for their lightweight coxless four, having won six gold and two silver World Championship medals and three gold and two bronze Olympic medals; and several indoor sports—especially badmintontable tennis and gymnastics, in each of which Denmark holds World Championships and Olympic medals. Denmark’s numerous beaches and resorts are popular locations for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and many other water-themed sports.

See also




People’s Republic of Bangladesh
  • গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশ (Bengali)
  • Gônoprojatontri Bangladesh
Anthem: Amar Sonar Bangla (Bengali)
“My Golden Bengal”

March: “Notuner Gaan
“The Song of Youth”[1]
Location of Bangladesh
and largest city
23°45′50″N 90°23′20″E
Official language
and national language
Ethnic groups
Demonym(s) Bangladeshi
Membership UNWTOSAARCBIMSTECIMCTCOICCommonwealth of Nations
Government Unitary parliamentary
constitutional republic
Abdul Hamid
Sheikh Hasina
Shirin Chaudhury
Syed Mahmud Hossain
Legislature Jatiya Sangsad
26 March 1971
• V-Day
16 December 1971
• Total
147,570[5] km2 (56,980 sq mi) (92nd)
• Water (%)
• 2016 estimate
Increase162,951,560[6] (8th)
• 2011 census
149,772,364[7] (8th)
• Density
1,106/km2 (2,864.5/sq mi) (10th)
GDP (PPP) 2019 estimate
• Total
Increase$831.750 billion[8]
• Per capita
GDP (nominal) 2019 estimate
• Total
Increase$314.656 billion[8]
• Per capita
Gini (2016) 32.4[9]
HDI (2017) Increase 0.608[10]
medium · 136th
Currency Bangladeshi taka () (BDT)
Time zone UTC+6 (BST)
Date format
  • dd-mm-yyyy
  • BS দদ-মম-বববব (CE−594)
Driving side left
Calling code +880
ISO 3166 code BD
Internet TLD .bd

Bangladesh (/ˌbæŋɡləˈdɛʃ, ˌbɑːŋ-/Bengaliবাংলাদেশ Bangladesh [ˈbaŋladeʃ] (About this soundlisten)lit. ”The country of Bengal”), officially the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশ Gônoprojatontri Bangladesh), is a country in South Asia. While the country is the 92nd-largest in land area, spanning 147,570 square kilometres (56,980 sq mi), it is the world’s 8th-most populous with nearly 163 million people,[6] making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Bangladesh shares land borders with India to the west, north, and east, Myanmar to the southeast, and the Bay of Bengal to the south. Dhaka, the capital and largest city, is the nation’s economic, political and cultural hub. Chittagong, the largest sea port, is the second largest city. The dominant geographic feature is the Ganges delta, which empties into the Bay of Bengal the combined waters of several river systems, including the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, with numerous criss-crossing rivers and inland waterways. Highlands with evergreen forests cover the northeastern and southeastern regions. The seacoast features the longest natural sea beach and most of the world’s largest mangrove forest. The country’s biodiversity includes a vast array of plants and wildlife, including the endangered Bengal tiger, the national animal.

Bangladesh forms the largest and eastern part of the Bengal region.[11] According to the ancient Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Vanga Kingdom, one of the namesakes of the Bengal region, was a strong naval ally of the legendary Ayodhya. In the ancient and classical period of the Indian subcontinent, the territory was home to many principalities, including the PundraGangaridaiGaudaSamatata and Harikela. It was also a Mauryan province under the reign of Ashoka. The principalities were notable for their overseas trade, contacts with the Roman world, export of fine muslin and silk to the Middle East, and spreading of philosophy and art to Southeast Asia. The Pala Empire, the Chandra dynasty, and the Sena dynasty were the last pre-Islamic Bengali middle kingdomsIslam was introduced during the Pala Empire, through trade with the Abbasid Caliphate,[12] but following the early conquest of Bakhtiyar Khalji and the subsequent establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and preaching of Shah Jalal in East Bengal, the faith fully spread across the region. In 1576, the area was absorbed into the Mughal Empire, although part was overrun by the Suri Empire. Following the decline of the Mughals in the early 1700s, Bengal became a semi-independent state under the Nawabs of Bengal, ultimately led by Siraj ud-Daulah. It was later conquered by the British East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.[13] The borders of modern Bangladesh were established with the separation of Bengal and India in August 1947, when the region became East Pakistan as a part of the newly formed State of Pakistan, demarcated by the Boundary of the Partition of India.[14] Later the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement led to the Liberation War and eventually resulted in the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation in 1971.

The Bengali ethnicity, speakers of the official Bengali language, make up 98% of the population.[2][3] The politically dominant Bengali Muslims make the nation the world’s fourth-largest Muslim-majority country. While recognising Islam as the country’s established religion, the constitution grants freedom of religion to non-Muslims.[15][16] A middle power,[17] Bangladesh is a unitary parliamentary democracy and constitutional republic in the Westminster tradition. The country is divided into eight administrative divisions and sixty-four districts. It is one of the emerging and growth-leading economies of the world, one of the Next Eleven countries, with one of the fastest real GDP growth rates in the world. Its gross domestic product ranks 39th largest in terms of market exchange rates, and 29th in purchasing power parity. Its per capita income ranks 143th nominally and 136th by purchasing power parity. In recent years Bangladesh has registered notable success in reducing child mortalitypopulation control, combating natural disasters, women’s empowerment, earning foreign exchange through the export of textiles, and using microcredit to alleviate poverty. However, the country continues to face the challenges of the Rohingya genocide and refugee crisis,[18] terrorism,[19] corruption,[20] and the erratic effects of climate change.[21]


The etymology of Bangladesh (Country of Bengal) can be traced to the early 20th century, when Bengali patriotic songs, such as Namo Namo Namo Bangladesh Momo by Kazi Nazrul Islam and Aaji Bangladesher Hridoy by Rabindranath Tagore, used the term.[22] The term Bangladesh was often written as two words, Bangla Desh, in the past. Starting in the 1950s, Bengali nationalists used the term in political rallies in East Pakistan.

The exact origin of the word Bangla is unknown, though it is believed to come from “Vanga”, an ancient kingdom and geopolitical division on the Ganges delta in the Indian subcontinent. It was located in southern Bengal, with the core region including present-day southern West Bengal (India) and southwestern Bangladesh. The suffix “al” came to be added to it from the fact that the ancient rajahs of this land raised mounds of earth 10 feet high and 20 in breadth in lowlands at the foot of the hills which were called “al”. From this suffix added to the Bung, the name Bengal arose and gained currency”.[23][24] Support to this view is found in Ghulam Husain Salim‘s Riyaz-us-Salatin.[25]

Other theories point to a Bronze Age proto-Dravidian tribe,[26] the Austric word “Bonga” (Sun god),[27] and the Iron Age Vanga Kingdom.[27] The Indo-Aryan suffix Desh is derived from the Sanskrit word deśha, which means “land” or “country”. Hence, the name Bangladesh means “Land of Bengal” or “Country of Bengal”.[28]

The term Bangla denotes both the Bengal region and the Bengali language. The earliest known usage of the term is the Nesari plate in 805 AD. The term Vangaladesa is found in 11th-century South Indian records.[28][29] The term gained official status during the Sultanate of Bengal in the 14th century.[30][31] Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah proclaimed himself as the first “Shah of Bangala” in 1342.[30] The word Bangla became the most common name for the region during the Islamic period. The Portuguese referred to the region as Bengala in the 16th century.[32]


Early and medieval periods

Vanga Kingdom and erstwhile neighbors in ancient South Asia
Gauda Kingdom, the first independent unified polity in the Bengal region.

Stone Age tools found in Bangladesh indicate human habitation for over 20,000 years,[33] and remnants of Copper Age settlements date back 4,000 years.[33] Ancient Bengal was settled by AustroasiaticsTibeto-BurmansDravidians and Indo-Aryans in consecutive waves of migration.[33][34] Archaeological evidence confirms that by the second millennium BCE, rice-cultivating communities inhabited the region. By the 11th century people lived in systemically-aligned housing, buried their dead, and manufactured copper ornaments and black and red pottery.[35] The GangesBrahmaputra and Meghna rivers were natural arteries for communication and transportation,[35] and estuaries on the Bay of Bengal permitted maritime trade. The early Iron Age saw the development of metal weaponry, coinage, agriculture and irrigation.[35] Major urban settlements formed during the late Iron Age, in the mid-first millennium BCE,[36] when the Northern Black Polished Ware culture developed.[37] In 1879, Alexander Cunningham identified Mahasthangarh as the capital of the Pundra Kingdom mentioned in the Rigveda.[38][39] The oldest inscription in Bangladesh was found in Mahasthangarh and dates from the 3rd century BCE. It is written in the Brahmi script.[40]

Greek and Roman records of the ancient Gangaridai Kingdom, which (according to legend) deterred the invasion of Alexander the Great, are linked to the fort city in Wari-Bateshwar.[41][42] The site is also identified with the prosperous trading center of Souanagoura listed on Ptolemy’s world map.[43] Roman geographers noted a large seaport in southeastern Bengal, corresponding to the present-day Chittagong region.[44]

The Pala Empire was an imperial power during the Late Classical period on the Indian subcontinent, which originated in the region of Bengal
The 9th-century ruins of Somapura Mahavihara. The ruins hosted the largest monastery in pre-Islamic Bangladesh and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ancient Buddhist and Hindu states which ruled Bangladesh included the VangaSamatata and Pundra kingdoms, the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, the Varman dynastyShashanka‘s kingdom, the Khadga and Candra dynasties, the Pala Empire, the Sena dynasty, the Harikela kingdom and the Deva dynasty. These states had well-developed currencies, banking, shipping, architecture and art, and the ancient universities of Bikrampur and Mainamati hosted scholars and students from other parts of Asia. Xuanzang of China was a noted scholar who resided at the Somapura Mahavihara (the largest monastery in ancient India), and Atisa travelled from Bengal to Tibet to preach Buddhism. The earliest form of the Bengali language began to the emerge during the eighth century.

Early Muslim explorers and missionaries arrived in Bengal late in the first millennium CE. The Islamic conquest of Bengal began with the 1204 invasion by Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji; after annexing Bengal to the Delhi Sultanate, Khilji waged a military campaign in Tibet. Bengal was ruled by the Delhi Sultanate for a century by governors from the Mamluk, Balban and Tughluq dynasties.

The Sultanate of Bengal was the sovereign power of Bengal for much of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries
The 15th-century Sixty Dome Mosque is the largest mosque in Bangladesh that was built during the period of the Bengal Sultanate

Subsequently, the independent Bengal Sultanate was established by the rabel governors in 1352. During their rule Bengal was transformed into a cosmopolitan Islamic superpower and became a major trading nation in the world, often referred by the Europeans as the richest country to trade with.[45] The sultanate’s ruling houses included the Ilyas ShahiJalaluddin Muhammad ShahHussain ShahiSuri and Karrani dynasties, and the era saw the introduction of a distinct mosque architecture[46] and the tangka currency. The Arakan region was brought under Bengali hegemony. The Bengal Sultanate was visited by explorers Ibn BattutaAdmiral Zheng He and Niccolo De Conti. The Khorasanis referred to the land as an “inferno full of gifts”, due to its unbearable climate but abundance of wealth.[47] During the late 16th century, the Baro-Bhuyan (a confederation of Muslim and Hindu aristocrats) ruled eastern Bengal; its leader was the Mansad-e-Ala,[48] a title held by Isa Khan and his son Musa Khan. The Khan dynasty are considered local heroes for resisting North Indian invasions with their river navies.

The Bengal Subah was a subdivision of the Mughal Empire encompassing much of the Bengal, Bihar and Orissa region.
Lalbagh Fort (also Fort Aurangabad) is an incomplete 17th century Mughal fort complex that stands before the Buriganga River in the southwestern part of Dhaka.

The Mughal Empire controlled Bengal by the 17th century. During the reign of Emperor Akbar, the Bengali agrarian calendar was reformed to facilitate tax collection. The Mughals established Dhaka as a fort city and commercial metropolis, and it was the capital of Mughal Bengal for 75 years.[49] In 1666, the Mughals expelled the Arakanese from Chittagong. Mughal Bengal attracted foreign traders for its muslin and silk goods, and the Armenians were a notable merchant community. A Portuguese settlement in Chittagong flourished in the southeast, and a Dutch settlement in Rajshahi existed in the north. Bengal accounted for 40% of overall Dutch imports from Asia; including more than 50% of textiles and around 80% of silks.[50] The Bengal Subah, described as the Paradise of the Nations,[51] was the empire’s wealthiest province, and a major global exporter,[50][52][53] a notable center of worldwide industries such as muslincotton textilessilk,[54] and shipbuilding,.[55] Its citizens also enjoyed one of the world’s most superior living standards.[56][57]

During the 18th century, the Nawabs of Bengal became the region’s de facto rulers. The title of the ruler is popularly known as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, given that the Bengali Nawab’s realm encompassed much of the eastern subcontinent. The Nawabs forged alliances with European colonial companies, which made the region relatively prosperous early in the century. Bengal accounted for 50% of the gross domestic product of the empire. The Bengali economy relied on textile manufacturingshipbuildingsaltpetre production, craftsmanship and agricultural produce. Bengal was a major hub for international trade – silk and cotton textiles from Bengal were worn in Europe, Japan, Indonesia and Central Asia.[58][59] Annual Bengali shipbuilding output was 223,250 tons, compared to an output of 23,061 tons in the nineteen colonies of North America. Bengali shipbuilding proved to be more advanced than European shipbuilding prior to the Industrial Revolution. The flush deck of Bengali rice ships was later replicated in European shipbuilding to replace the stepped deck design for ship hulls.[60][61][62][63][64][65]

The Bengali Muslim population was a product of conversion and religious evolution,[66] and their pre-Islamic beliefs included elements of Buddhism and Hinduism. The construction of mosques, Islamic academies (madrasas) and Sufi monasteries (khanqahs) facilitated conversion, and Islamic cosmology played a significant role in developing Bengali Muslim society. Scholars have theorised that Bengalis were attracted to Islam by its egalitarian social order, which contrasted with the Hindu caste system.[67] One of the notable Muslim preachers was Shah Jalal who arrived in the region of Sylhet in 1303 with many other disciples to preach the religion to the people.[68][69] By the 15th century, Muslim poets were writing in the Bengali language. Notable medieval Bengali Muslim poets included Daulat QaziAbdul Hakim and AlaolSyncretic cults, such as the Baul movement, emerged on the fringes of Bengali Muslim society. The Persianate culture was significant in Bengal, where cities like Sonargaon became the easternmost centers of Persian influence.[70][71]

The Mughals had aided France during the Seven Years’ War to avoid losing the Bengal region to the British. However, in the Battle of Plassey the British East India Company registered a decisive victory over the Nawab of Bengal and his French[72] allies on 22 June 1757, under the leadership of Robert Clive. The battle followed the order of Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, to the English to stop the extension of their fortification. Robert Clive bribed Mir Jafar, the commander-in-chief of the Nawab’s army, and also promised him to make him Nawab of Bengal which helped him to defeat Siraj-ud-Daulah and capture Calcutta.[73] The battle consolidated the Company’s presence in Bengal, which later expanded to cover much of India over the next hundred years. Although they had lost control of Bengal SubahShah Alam II was involved in the Bengal War which ended once more in their defeat at the Battle of Buxar.[74]

Colonial period

European settlements in South Asia from 1501 to 1739
Lord Clive meeting with Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey

After the 1757 Battle of Plassey, Bengal was the first region of the Indian subcontinent conquered by the British East India Company. The company formed the Presidency of Fort William, which administered the region until 1858. A notable aspect of company rule was the Permanent Settlement, which established the feudal zamindari system.[75] The plunder of Bengal directly contributed to the Industrial Revolution in Britain, with the capital amassed from Bengal used to invest in British industries such as textile and greatly increase British wealth, while at the same time leading to deindustrialisation of Bengal’s traditional textile industry.[76][77] The economic mismanagement directly led to the Great Bengal famine of 1770, which is estimated to have caused the deaths of about 10 million people,[78] as a third of the population in the affected region starved to death.[79] Several rebellions broke out during the early 19th century (including one led by Titumir), but British rule displaced the Muslim ruling class. A conservative Islamic cleric, Haji Shariatullah, sought to overthrow the British by propagating Islamic revivalism.[80] Several towns in Bangladesh participated in the Indian Rebellion of 1857[81] and pledged allegiance to the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was later exiled to neighbouring Burma.

The challenge posed to company rule by the failed Indian Mutiny led to the creation of the British Indian Empire as a crown colony. The British established several schools, colleges and a university in what is now Bangladesh. Syed Ahmed Khan and Ram Mohan Roy promoted modern and liberal education in the subcontinent, inspiring the Aligarh movement[82] and the Bengal Renaissance.[83] During the late 19th century, novelists, social reformers and feminists emerged from Muslim Bengali society. Electricity and municipal water systems were introduced in the 1890s; cinemas opened in many towns during the early 20th century. East Bengal’s plantation economy was important to the British Empire, particularly its jute and tea. The British established tax-free river ports, such as the Port of Narayanganj, and large seaports like the Port of Chittagong.

Bengal had the highest gross domestic product in British India.[84] Bengal was one of the first regions in Asia to have a railway. The first railway in what is now Bangladesh began operating in 1862.[85] In comparison, Japan saw its first railway in 1872. The main railway companies in the region were the Eastern Bengal Railway and Assam Bengal Railway. Railways competed with waterborne transport to become one of the main mediums of transport.[86]

The Bengal Presidency at its greatest extent
Map showing the result of the Partition of Bengal (1905). The western part (Bengal) gained parts of Orissa, the eastern part as Eastern Bengal and Assam.

Social tensions also increased under British rule, particularly between wealthy Hindus and the Muslim-majority population. The Permanent Settlement made millions of Muslim peasants tenants of Hindu estates, and resentment of the Hindu landed gentry grew.[87] Supported by the Muslim aristocracy, the British government created the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905; the new province received increased investment in education, transport and industry.[88] However, the first partition of Bengal created an uproar in Calcutta and the Indian National Congress. In response to growing Hindu nationalism, the All India Muslim League was formed in Dhaka during the 1906 All India Muhammadan Educational Conference. The British government reorganised the provinces in 1912, reuniting East and West Bengal and making Assam a second province.

Founding conference of the All India Muslim League in Dacca, 1906

The Raj was slow to allow self-rule in the colonial subcontinent. It established the Bengal Legislative Council in 1862, and the council’s native Bengali representation increased during the early 20th century. The Bengal Provincial Muslim League was formed in 1913 to advocate civil rights for Bengali Muslims within a constitutional framework. During the 1920s, the league was divided into factions supporting the Khilafat movement and favouring co-operation with the British to achieve self-rule. Segments of the Bengali elite supported Mustafa Kemal Ataturk‘s secularist forces.[89] In 1929, the All Bengal Tenants Association was formed in the Bengal Legislative Council to counter the influence of the Hindu landed gentry, and the Indian Independence and Pakistan Movements strengthened during the early 20th century. After the Morley-Minto Reforms and the diarchy era in the legislatures of British India, the British government promised limited provincial autonomy in 1935. The Bengal Legislative Assembly, British India’s largest legislature, was established in 1937.

Although it won a majority of seats in 1937, the Bengal Congress boycotted the legislature. A. K. Fazlul Huq of the Krishak Praja Party was elected as the first Prime Minister of Bengal. In 1940 Huq supported the Lahore Resolution, which envisaged independent states in the northwestern and eastern Muslim-majority regions of the subcontinent. The first Huq ministry, a coalition with the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, lasted until 1941; it was followed by a Huq coalition with the Hindu Mahasabha which lasted until 1943. Huq was succeeded by Khawaja Nazimuddin, who grappled with the effects of the Burma Campaign, the Bengal famine of 1943, which killed up to 3 million people,[90] and the Quit India movement. In 1946, the Bengal Provincial Muslim League won the provincial election, taking 113 of the 250-seat assembly (the largest Muslim League mandate in British India). H. S. Suhrawardy, who made a final futile effort for a United Bengal in 1946, was the last premier of Bengal.

Partition of Bengal (1947)

Three Bengali Prime Ministers

Prime Ministers of Bengal A. K. Fazlul HuqKhawaja Nazimuddin and H. S. Suhrawardy. One of them, Suhrawardy, proposed an independent Bengal in 1947

On 3 June 1947 Mountbatten Plan outlined the partition of British India. On 20 June, the Bengal Legislative Assembly met to decide on the partition of Bengal. At the preliminary joint meeting, it was decided (120 votes to 90) that if the province remained united it should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. At a separate meeting of legislators from West Bengal, it was decided (58 votes to 21) that the province should be partitioned and West Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of India. At another meeting of legislators from East Bengal, it was decided (106 votes to 35) that the province should not be partitioned and (107 votes to 34) that East Bengal should join the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan if Bengal was partitioned.[91] On 6 July, the Sylhet region of Assam voted in a referendum to join East BengalCyril Radcliffe was tasked with drawing the borders of Pakistan and India, and the Radcliffe Line established the borders of present-day Bangladesh.

Union with Pakistan

Map of the world, with Pakistan in 1947 highlighted

The Dominion of Pakistan in 1947, with East Bengal its eastern part

The Dominion of Pakistan was created on 14 August 1947. East Bengal, with Dhaka as its capital, was the most populous province of the 1947 Pakistani federation (led by Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who promised freedom of religion and secular democracy in the new state).[92][93] East Bengal was also Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan province, home to peoples of different faiths, cultures and ethnic groups. Partition gave increased economic opportunity to East Bengalis, producing an urban population during the 1950s.[94][95]

Khawaja Nazimuddin was East Bengal’s first chief minister with Frederick Chalmers Bourne its governor. The All Pakistan Awami Muslim League was formed in 1949. In 1950, the East Bengal Legislative Assembly enacted land reform, abolishing the Permanent Settlement and the zamindari system.[96] The 1952 Bengali Language Movement was the first sign of friction between the country’s geographically-separated wings. The Awami Muslim League was renamed the more-secular Awami League in 1953.[97] The first constituent assembly was dissolved in 1954; this was challenged by its East Bengali speaker, Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan. The United Front coalition swept aside the Muslim League in a landslide victory in the 1954 East Bengali legislative election. The following year, East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan as part of the One Unit program and the province became a vital part of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.

Shaheed Minar, established to commemorate those killed during the Bengali Language Movement demonstrations of 1952 in then East Pakistan
Female students march in defiance of the Section 144 prohibition on assembly during the Bengali Language Movement in early 1953

Pakistan adopted its first constitution in 1956. Three Bengalis were its Prime Minister until 1957: Nazimuddin, Mohammad Ali of Bogra and Suhrawardy. None of the three completed their terms, and resigned from office. The Pakistan Army imposed military rule in 1958, and Ayub Khan was the country’s strongman for 11 years. Political repression increased after the coup. Khan introduced a new constitution in 1962, replacing Pakistan’s parliamentary system with a presidential and gubernatorial system (based on electoral college selection) known as Basic Democracy. In 1962 Dhaka became the seat of the National Assembly of Pakistan, a move seen as appeasing increased Bengali nationalism.[98] The Pakistani government built the controversial Kaptai Dam, displacing the Chakma people from their indigenous homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.[99] During the 1965 presidential electionFatima Jinnah lost to Ayub Khan despite support from the Combined Opposition alliance (which included the Awami League).[100] The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 blocked cross-border transport links with neighbouring India in what is described as a second partition.[101] In 1966, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced a six point movement for a federal parliamentary democracy.

Earl Warren and Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan shake hands as a third man looks on

U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren meets Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan, the plaintiff in Federation of Pakistan v. Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan

According to senior World Bank officials, Pakistan practised extensive economic discrimination against East Pakistan: greater government spending on West Pakistan, financial transfers from East to West Pakistan, the use of East Pakistan’s foreign-exchange surpluses to finance West Pakistani imports, and refusal by the central government to release funds allocated to East Pakistan because previous spending had been under budget;[102] though East Pakistan generated 70 percent of Pakistan’s export revenue with its jute and tea.[103] Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested for treason in the Agartala Conspiracy Case, and was released during the 1969 uprising in East Pakistan which resulted in Ayub Khan’s resignation. General Yahya Khan assumed power, reintroducing martial law.

Ethnic and linguistic discrimination was common in Pakistan’s civil and military services, in which Bengalis were under-represented. Fifteen percent of Pakistani central-government offices were occupied by East Pakistanis, who formed 10 percent of the military.[104] Cultural discrimination also prevailed, making East Pakistan forge a distinct political identity.[105] Pakistan banned Bengali literature and music in state media, including the works of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.[106] A cyclone devastated the coast of East Pakistan in 1970, killing an estimated 500,000 people,[107] and the central government was criticised for its poor response.[108] After the December 1970 elections, calls for the independence of East Bengal became louder; the Bengali-nationalist Awami League won 167 of 169 East Pakistani seats in the National Assembly. The League claimed the right to form a government and develop a new constitution, but was strongly opposed by the Pakistani military and the Pakistan Peoples Party (led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto).

War of Independence

Human Remains and War Materiel from 1971 Bangladesh genocide in Liberation War Museum, Dhaka
Martyred Intellectuals Memorial near Rayerbazar killing field is built in memory of the martyred intellectuals of Liberation War.

The Bengali population was angered when Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was prevented from taking the office.[109] Civil disobedience erupted across East Pakistan, with calls for independence.[110] Mujib addressed a pro-independence rally of nearly 2 million people in Dacca on 7 March 1971, where he said, “This time the struggle is for our freedom. This time the struggle is for our independence.” The flag of Bangladesh was raised for the first time on 23 March, Pakistan’s Republic Day.[111] Later, on 25 March late evening, the Pakistani military junta led by Yahya Khan launched a sustained military assault on East Pakistan under the code name of Operation Searchlight.[112][113] The Pakistan Army arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and flew him away to Karachi.[114][115][116] However, before his arrest Mujib proclaimed the Independence of Bangladesh at midnight on 26 March which led the Bangladesh Liberation War to break out within hours. The Pakistan Army continued to massacre Bengali studentsintellectuals, politicians, civil servants and military defectors in the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, while the Mukti Bahini and other Bengali guerrilla forces created strong resistance throughout the country.[117] During the war, an estimated 300,000 to three million people were killed and several million people took shelter in neighbouring India.[118] Global public opinion turned against Pakistan as news of the atrocities spread;[119] the Bangladesh movement was supported by prominent political and cultural figures in the West, including Ted KennedyGeorge HarrisonBob DylanJoan BaezVictoria Ocampo and André Malraux.[120][121][122] The Concert for Bangladesh was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City to raise funds for Bangladeshi refugees. The first major benefit concert in history, it was organised by Harrison and Indian Bengali sitarist Ravi Shankar.[123]

Surrender of Pakistan on 16 December 1971 at Suhrawardy Udyan, bringing the Bangladesh Liberation War to an end.
Swadhinata Stambha or Independence Monument commemorate the historical events that took place in the Suhrawardy Udyan regarding the Liberation War.

During the Bangladesh Liberation War, Bengali nationalists declared independence and formed the Mukti Bahini (the Bangladeshi National Liberation Army). The Provisional Government of Bangladesh was established on 17 April 1971, converting the 469 elected members of the Pakistani national assembly and East Pakistani provincial assembly into the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh. The provisional government issued a proclamation that became the country’s interim constitution and declared “equality, human dignity and social justice” as its fundamental principles. Due to Mujib’s detention, Syed Nazrul Islam took over the role of Acting President, while Tajuddin Ahmad was named Bangladesh’s first Prime Minister. The Mukti Bahini and other Bengali guerrilla forces formed the Bangladesh Forces which became the military wing of the provisional government. Led by General M. A. G. Osmani and eleven sector commanders, the forces held the countryside during the war and conducted wide-ranging guerrilla operations against Pakistani forces. As a result, almost the entire country except the capital Dacca was liberated by Bangladesh Forces by late November.

National Martyrs’ Memorial set up in the memory of those who died in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971

This led the Pakistan Army to attack neighbouring India’s western front on 2 December. India retaliated in both the western and eastern fronts. With a joint ground advance by Bangladeshi and Indian forces, coupled with air strikes by both India and the small Bengali air contingent, the capital Dacca was liberated from Pakistani occupation in mid-December. During the last phase of the war, the Soviet Union and the United States dispatched naval forces to the Bay of Bengal in a Cold War standoff. The nine-months long war ended with the surrender of Pakistani armed forces to the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces on 16 December 1971.[124][125] Under international pressure, Pakistan released Rahman from imprisonment on 8 January 1972 and he was flown by the British Royal Air Force to a million-strong homecoming in Dacca.[126][127] Remaining Indian troops were withdrawn by 12 March 1972, three months after the war ended.[128]

The cause of Bangladeshi self-determination was recognised around the world. By August 1972, the new state was recognised by 86 countries.[119] Pakistan recognised Bangladesh in 1974 after pressure from most of the Muslim countries.[129]

People’s Republic of Bangladesh

First parliamentary era

A seated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Gerald Ford, smiling and talking

Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and U.S. president Gerald Ford in 1974

The constituent assembly adopted the constitution of Bangladesh on 4 November 1972, establishing a secular, multiparty parliamentary democracy. The new constitution included references to socialism, and Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman nationalised major industries in 1972.[130] A major reconstruction and rehabilitation program was launched. The Awami League won the country’s first general election in 1973, securing a large majority in the “Jatiyo Sangshad“, the national parliament. Bangladesh joined the Commonwealth of Nations, the UN, the OIC and the Non-Aligned Movement, and Rahman strengthened ties with India. Amid growing agitation by the opposition National Awami Party and National Socialist Party, he became increasingly authoritarian. Rahman amended the constitution, giving himself more emergency powers (including the suspension of fundamental rights). The Bangladesh famine of 1974 also worsened the political situation.[131]

Presidential era and coups (1975–1991)

Zia and Ershad were the country’s strongmen between 1975–1981 and 1982–1990 respectively

In January 1975, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman introduced one-party socialist rule under BAKSAL. Rahman banned all newspapers except four state-owned publications, and amended the constitution to increase his power. He was assassinated during a coup on 15 August 1975. Martial law was declared, and the presidency passed to the usurper Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad for four months. Ahmad is widely regarded as a quisling by Bangladeshis.[132] Tajuddin Ahmad, the nation’s first prime minister, and four other independence leaders were assassinated on 4 November 1975. Chief Justice Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem was installed as president by the military on 6 November 1975. Bangladesh was governed by a military junta led by the Chief Martial Law Administrator for three years. In 1977, the army chief Ziaur Rahman became president. Rahman reinstated multiparty politics, privatised industries and newspapers, established BEPZA and held the country’s second general election in 1979. A semi-presidential system evolved, with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) governing until 1982. Rahman was assassinated in 1981, and was succeeded by Vice-President Abdus Sattar. Sattar received 65.5 percent of the vote in the 1981 presidential election.[133]

After a year in office, Sattar was overthrown in the 1982 Bangladesh coup d’état. Chief Justice A. F. M. Ahsanuddin Chowdhury was installed as president, but army chief Hussain Muhammad Ershad became the country’s de facto leader and assumed the presidency in 1983. Ershad lifted martial law in 1986. He governed with four successive prime ministers (Ataur Rahman KhanMizanur Rahman ChowdhuryMoudud Ahmed and Kazi Zafar Ahmed) and a parliament dominated by his Jatiyo Party. General elections were held in 1986 and 1988, although the latter was boycotted by the opposition BNP and Awami League. Ershad pursued administrative decentralisation, dividing the country into 64 districts, and pushed Parliament to make Islam the state religion in 1988.[134] A 1990 mass uprising forced him to resign, and Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed led the country’s first caretaker government as part of the transition to parliamentary rule.[133]

Current parliamentary era (1991–present)

The rivalry between Hasina and Zia has been dubbed the Battle of the Begums[135][136][137]

Rohingya refugees entering Bangladesh from Myanmar

After the 1991 general election, the twelfth amendment to the constitution restored the parliamentary republic and Begum Khaleda Zia became Bangladesh’s first female prime minister. Zia, a former first lady, led a BNP government from 1990 to 1996. In 1991 her finance minister, Saifur Rahman, began a major program to liberalise the Bangladeshi economy.[131]

In February 1996, a general election was held which was boycotted by all opposition parties giving a 300 (of 300) seat victory for BNP. This election was deemed illegitimate, so a system of a caretaker government was introduced to oversee the transfer of power and a new election was held in June 1996, overseen by Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman, the first Chief Adviser of Bangladesh. The Awami League won the seventh general election, marking its leader Sheikh Hasina’s first term as Prime Minister. Hasina’s first term was highlighted by the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord and a Ganges water-sharing treaty with India. The second caretaker government, led by Chief Adviser Justice Latifur Rahman, oversaw the 2001 Bangladeshi general election which returned Begum Zia and the BNP to power.

The second Zia administration saw improved economic growth, but political turmoil gripped the country between 2004 and 2006. A radical Islamist militant group, the JMB, carried out a series of terror attacks. The evidence of staging these attacks by these extremist groups have been found in the investigation, and hundreds of suspected members were detained in numerous security operations in 2006, including the two chiefs of the JMB, Shaykh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai, who were executed with other top leaders in March 2007, bringing the militant group to an end.[138]

In 2006, at the end of the term of the BNP administration, there was widespread political unrest related to the handover of power to a caretaker government. As such, the Bangladeshi military urged President Iajuddin Ahmed to impose a state of emergency and a caretaker government, led by technocrat Fakhruddin Ahmed, was installed.[131] Emergency rule lasted for two years, during which time investigations into members of both Awami League and BNP were conducted, including their leaders Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia.[139][140] In 2008 the ninth general election saw a return to power for Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League led Grand Alliance in a landslide victory. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled martial law illegal and affirmed secular principles in the constitution. The following year, the Awami League abolished the caretaker-government system.

Citing the lack of caretaker government the 2014 general election was boycotted by the BNP and other opposition parties, giving the Awami League a decisive victory. The election was controversial with reports of violence and an alleged crackdown on the opposition in the run-up to the election and 153 seats (of 300) went uncontested in the election. Despite the controversy Hasina went on to form a government which saw her return for a third term as Prime Minister. Due to strong domestic demand, Bangladesh emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.[141] However, human rights abuses increased under the Hasina administration, particularly enforced disappearances. Between 2016 and 2017, an estimated 1 million Rohingya refugees took shelter in southeastern Bangladesh amid a military crackdown in neighbouring Rakhine StateMyanmar.

In 2018, the country saw major movements for government quota reforms and road-safety. The 2018 Bangladeshi general election was marred by allegations of widespread vote rigging.[142] The Awami League won 259 out of 300 seats and the main opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front secured only 8 seats, with Sheikh Hasina becoming the longest serving prime minister in Bangladeshi history.[143] Pro-democracy leader Dr. Kamal Hossain called for an annulment of the election result and for a new election to be held in a free and fair manner.[144] The election was also criticised by the observers from the European Union.[145]


A satellite image showing the topography of Bangladesh

One of the highest peaks in the country, Keokradong

The geography of Bangladesh is divided between three regions. Most of the country is dominated by the fertile Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, the largest delta in the world,.[146] The northwest and central parts of the country are formed by the Madhupur and the Barind plateaus. The northeast and southeast are home to evergreen hill ranges.

The Ganges delta is formed by the confluence of the Ganges (local name Padma or Pôdda), Brahmaputra (Jamuna or Jomuna), and Meghna rivers and their respective tributaries. The Ganges unites with the Jamuna (main channel of the Brahmaputra) and later joins the Meghna, finally flowing into the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has 57 trans-boundary rivers, making the resolution of water issues politically complicated, in most cases, as the country is a lower riparian state to India.[147]

Bangladesh is predominantly rich fertile flat land. Most of it is less than 12 m (39.4 ft) above sea level, and it is estimated that about 10% of its land would be flooded if the sea level were to rise by 1 m (3.28 ft).[148] 17% of the country is covered by forests and 12% is covered by hill systems. The country’s haor wetlands are of significance to global environmental science.

In southeastern Bangladesh, experiments have been done since the 1960s to ‘build with nature’. Construction of cross dams has induced a natural accretion of silt, creating new land. With Dutch funding, the Bangladeshi government began promoting the development of this new land in the late 1970s. The effort has become a multi-agency endeavour, building roads, culverts, embankments, cyclone shelters, toilets and ponds, as well as distributing land to settlers.[149] Years of collaboration with donors and global experts in water resources management has enabled Bangladesh to formulate strategies to combad the impacts of climate change. In Sep 2018, Bangladesh Government approved Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, a combination of long-term strategies and subsequent interventions for ensuring long term water and food security, economic growth and environmental sustainability.[150] The formulation of the plan was led by the General Economics Division of the Ministry of Planning, and supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, bringing together cross-sectoral expertise from the Netherlands and Bangladesh.[151]

With an elevation of 1,064 m (3,491 ft), Saka Haphong (also known as Mowdok Mual) near the border with Myanmar, is claimed to be the highest peak of Bangladesh.[152] However, it is not yet widely recognized as the highest point of the country, and most sources give the honor to Keokradong.[153]

Administrative geography

Rangpur Division Rajshahi Division Khulna Division Mymensingh Division Dhaka Division Barisal Division Sylhet Division Chittagong Division

A clickable map of Bangladesh exhibiting its divisions.

About this image

Bangladesh is divided into eight administrative divisions,[154][155][156] each named after their respective divisional headquarters: Barisal (officially Barishal[157]), Chittagong (officially Chattogram[157]), DhakaKhulnaMymensingh, Rajshahi, Rangpur, and Sylhet.

Divisions are subdivided into districts (zila). There are 64 districts in Bangladesh, each further subdivided into upazila (subdistricts) or thana. The area within each police station, except for those in metropolitan areas, is divided into several unions, with each union consisting of multiple villages. In the metropolitan areas, police stations are divided into wards, which are further divided into mahallas.

There are no elected officials at the divisional or district levels, and the administration is composed only of government officials. Direct elections are held in each union (or ward) for a chairperson and a number of members. In 1997, a parliamentary act was passed to reserve three seats (out of 12) in every union for female candidates.[158]

Administrative Divisions of Bangladesh
Division Capital Established Area (km2)[159] Population[159] Density[159]
Barisal Division Barisal 1 January 1993 13,297 8,325,666 626
Chittagong Division Chittagong 1 January 1829 33,771 28,423,019 841
Dhaka Division Dhaka 1 January 1829 20,593 36,054,418 1,751
Khulna Division Khulna 1 October 1960 22,272 15,687,759 704
Mymensingh Division Mymensingh 14 September 2015 10,584 11,370,000 1,074
Rajshahi Division Rajshahi 1 January 1829 18,197 18,484,858 1,015
Rangpur Division Rangpur 25 January 2010 16,317 15,787,758 960
Sylhet Division Sylhet 1 August 1995 12,596 9,910,219 780


Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate

Flooding after the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone, which killed around 140,000 people.

Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh’s climate is tropical with a mild winter from October to March, and a hot, humid summer from March to June. The country has never recorded an air temperature below 0 °C (32 °F), with a record low of 1.1 °C (34.0 °F) in the north west city of Dinajpur on 3 February 1905.[161] A warm and humid monsoon season lasts from June to October and supplies most of the country’s rainfall.

Natural calamities, such as floodstropical cyclonestornadoes, and tidal bores occur almost every year,[162] combined with the effects of deforestationsoil degradation and erosion. The cyclones of 1970 and 1991 were particularly devastating, the latter killing some 140,000 people.[163]

In September 1998, Bangladesh saw the most severe flooding in modern world history. As the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and Meghna spilt over and swallowed 300,000 houses, 9,700 km (6,000 mi) of road and 2,700 km (1,700 mi) of embankment, 1,000 people were killed and 30 million more were made homeless; 135,000 cattle were killed; 50 km2 (19 sq mi) of land were destroyed; and 11,000 km (6,800 mi) of roads were damaged or destroyed. Effectively, two-thirds of the country was underwater. The severity of the flooding was attributed to unusually high monsoon rains, the shedding of equally unusually large amounts of melt water from the Himalayas, and the widespread cutting down of trees (that would have intercepted rain water) for firewood or animal husbandry.[164] As a result of various international and national level initiatives in disaster risk reduction, human toll and economic damage from floods and cyclones have come down over the years.[165] A similar country wide flood in 2007, which left five million people displaced, had a death toll around 500,[166]

Bangladesh is now widely recognised to be one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change.[167][168] Over the course of a century, 508 cyclones have affected the Bay of Bengal region, 17 percent of which are believed to have caused landfall in Bangladesh.[169] Natural hazards that come from increased rainfall, rising sea levels, and tropical cyclones are expected to increase as the climate changes, each seriously affecting agriculture, water and food security, human health, and shelter.[170] It is estimated that by 2050, a 3 feet rise in sea levels will inundate some 20 percent of the land and displace more than 30 million people.[171] To address the sea level rise threat in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 has been launched.[172][173]

There is evidence that earthquakes pose a threat to the country and that plate tectonics have caused rivers to shift course suddenly and dramatically. It has been shown that rainy-season flooding in Bangladesh, on the world’s largest river delta, can push the underlying crust down by as much as 6 centimetres, and possibly perturb faults.[174]

Bangladeshi water is frequently contaminated with arsenic because of the high arsenic content of the soil—up to 77 million people are exposed to toxic arsenic from drinking water.[175][176]


Bengal tiger, the national animal, in the Sundarbans

Bangladesh ratified the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 3 May 1994.[177] As of 2014, the country was set to revise its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.[177]

Bangladesh is located in the Indomalaya ecozone. Its ecology includes a long sea coastline, numerous rivers and tributaries, lakes, wetlands, evergreen forests, semi evergreen forests, hill forests, moist deciduous forests, freshwater swamp forests and flat land with tall grass. The Bangladesh Plain is famous for its fertile alluvial soil which supports extensive cultivation. The country is dominated by lush vegetation, with villages often buried in groves of mangojackfruitbamboobetel nutcoconut and date palm.[178] The country has up to 6000 species of plant life, including 5000 flowering plants.[179] Water bodies and wetland systems provide a habitat for many aquatic plants. Water lilies and lotuses grow vividly during the monsoon season. The country has 50 wildlife sanctuaries.

Bangladesh is home to much of the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, covering an area of 6,000 km2 in the southwest littoral region. It is divided into three protected sanctuaries–the SouthEast and West zones. The forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The northeastern Sylhet region is home to haor wetlands, which is a unique ecosystem. It also includes tropical and subtropical coniferous forests, a freshwater swamp forest and mixed deciduous forests. The southeastern Chittagong region covers evergreen and semi evergreen hilly jungles. Central Bangladesh includes the plainland Sal forest running along the districts of Gazipur, Tangail and MymensinghSt. Martin’s Island is the only coral reef in the country.

Bangladesh has an abundance of wildlife in its forests, marshes, woodlands and hills.[178] The vast majority of animals dwell within a habitat of 150,000 km2.[180] The Bengal tigerclouded leopardsaltwater crocodileblack panther and fishing cat are among the chief predators in the Sundarbans.[181][182] Northern and eastern Bangladesh is home to the Asian elephanthoolock gibbonAsian black bear and oriental pied hornbill.[183]

The Chital deer are widely seen in southwestern woodlands. Other animals include the black giant squirrelcapped langurBengal foxsambar deerjungle catking cobrawild boarmongoosespangolinspythons and water monitors. Bangladesh has one of the largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins and Ganges dolphins. A 2009 census found 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins inhabiting the littoral rivers of Bangladesh.[184] The country has numerous species of amphibians (53), reptiles (139), marine reptiles (19) and marine mammals (5). It also has 628 species of birds.[185]

Several animals became extinct in Bangladesh during the last century, including the one horned and two horned rhinoceros and common peafowl. The human population is concentrated in urban areas, hence limiting deforestation to a certain extent. Rapid urban growth has threatened natural habitats. Although many areas are protected under law, a large portion of Bangladeshi wildlife is threatened by this growth. Furthermore, access to biocapacity in Bangladesh is low. In 2016, Bangladesh had 0.4 global hectares[186] of biocapacity per person within its territory, or about one fourth of the world average. In contrast, in 2016, they used 0.84 global hectares of biocapacity – their ecological footprint of consumption. As a result, Bangladesh is running a biocapacity deficit.[186]

The Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act was enacted in 1995. The government has designated several regions as Ecologically Critical Areas, including wetlands, forests and rivers. The Sundarbans tiger project and the Bangladesh Bear Project are among the key initiatives to strengthen conservation.[183]

Politics and government

Bangabhaban, the residence of the President of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a de jure representative democracy under its constitution, with a Westminster-style unitary parliamentary republic that has universal suffrage. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is invited to form a government every five years by the President. The President invites the leader of the largest party in parliament to become Prime Minister. Once the world’s fifth largest democracy,[187] Bangladesh experienced a two party system between 1990 and 2014, when the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) alternated in power. During this period, elections were managed by a neutral caretaker government. But the caretaker government was abolished by the Awami League government in 2011. The BNP boycotted the next election in 2014, arguing that it would not be fair without a caretaker government. The BNP-led Jatiya Oikya Front participated in the 2018 election and lost. The election saw many allegations of irregularities. Bangladesh is increasingly classified as an autocracy due to the authoritarian practices of its government. The democratic wave which ushered parliamentary democracy in 1990 has been reversed by an illiberal electoral autocracy which features a dominant party state led by the Awami League. Bangladesh has a prominent civil society since the colonial period. There are various interest groups, including non-governmental organisations, human rights organisations, professional associations, chambers of commerce, employers’ associations and trade unions.[188]

One of the key aspects of Bangladeshi politics is the so-called “spirit of the liberation war”,[189] which refers to the ideals of the liberation movement. For example, the Proclamation of Independence enunciated the values of “equality, human dignity and social justice”. In 1972, the constitution included a bill of rights and declared “nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularity” as the principles of government policy. Socialism was later de-emphasised and neglected by successive governments; Bangladesh has a market-based economy. To many Bangladeshis, especially in the younger generation, the spirit of the liberation war is a vision for a society based on civil liberties, human rights, the rule of law and good governance.[190]

Executive branch

The Government of Bangladesh is overseen by a cabinet headed by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The tenure of a parliamentary government is five years. The Bangladesh Civil Service assists the cabinet in running the government. Recruitment for the civil service is based on a public examination. In theory, the civil service should be a meritocracy. But a disputed quota system coupled with politicisation and preference for seniority have allegedly affected the civil service’s meritocracy.[191] The President of Bangladesh is the ceremonial head of state[192] whose powers include signing bills passed by parliament into law. The President is elected by the parliament and has a five-year term. Under the constitution, the president acts on the advice of the prime minister. The President is the Supreme Commander of the Bangladesh Armed Forces and the chancellor of all universities.

Legislative branch

The Jatiya Sangshad (National Assembly) is the unicameral parliament. It has 350 Members of Parliament (MPs), including 300 MPs elected on the first past the post system and 50 MPs appointed to reserved seats for women’s empowermentArticle 70 of the Constitution of Bangladesh forbids MPs from voting against their party, thereby rendering the Jatiya Sangshad a largely rubber-stamp parliament. However, several laws proposed independently by MPs have been transformed into legislation, including the anti-torture law.[193] A bill proposing to declare Bangladesh as a nuclear weapons free zone remains pending.[194] The parliament is presided over by the Speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad, who is second in line to the president as per the constitution. There is also a Deputy Speaker. When a president is incapable of performing duties (i.e. due to illness), the Speaker steps in as Acting President and the Deputy Speaker becomes Acting Speaker. A recurring proposal suggests that the Deputy Speaker should be a member of the opposition.[195]

Legal system

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh, including its High Court and Appellate Divisions, is the high court of the land. The head of the judiciary is the Chief Justice of Bangladesh, who sits on the Supreme Court. The courts have wide latitude in judicial review, and judicial precedent is supported by the Article 111 of the constitution. The judiciary includes district and metropolitan courts, which are divided into civil and criminal courts. Due to a shortage of judges, the judiciary has a large backlog. The Bangladesh Judicial Service Commission is an independent body responsible for judicial appointments, salaries and discipline.

Bangladesh’s legal system is based on common law, and its principal source of laws are acts of Parliament.[196] The Bangladesh Code includes a list of all laws in force in the country. The code begins in 1836, and most of its listed laws were crafted under the British Raj by the Bengal Legislative Council, the Bengal Legislative Assembly, the Eastern Bengal and Assam Legislative Council, the Imperial Legislative Council and the Parliament of the United Kingdom; one example is the 1860 Penal Code. From 1947 to 1971, laws were enacted by Pakistan’s national assembly and the East Pakistani legislature. The Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh was the country’s provisional parliament until 1973, when the first elected Jatiyo Sangshad was sworn in. Although most of Bangladesh’s laws were compiled in English, after a 1987 government directive laws are now primarily written in Bengali. While most of Bangladeshi law is secular; marriage, divorce and inheritance are governed by IslamicHindu and Christian family law. The judiciary is often influenced by legal developments in the Commonwealth of Nations, such as the doctrine of legitimate expectation.


World map, indicating where the Bangladeshi UN peacekeeping force is stationed

Map of Bangladesh UN Peacekeeping Force deployments

The Bangladesh Armed Forces have inherited the institutional framework of the British military and the British Indian Army.[197] It was formed in 1971 from the military regiments of East Pakistan. In 2018 the army active personnel strength was around 157,500,[198] excluding the Air Force and the Navy (24,000).[199] In addition to traditional defence roles, the military has supported civil authorities in disaster relief and provided internal security during periods of political unrest. For many years, Bangladesh has been the world’s largest contributor to UN peacekeeping forces. In February 2015, the country made major deployments to Côte d’IvoireCyprusDarfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Golan HeightsHaitiLebanonLiberia and South Sudan.[200]

The Bangladesh Navy has the third-largest fleet (after India and Thailand) of countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal, including guided-missile frigatessubmarinescutters and aircraft. The Bangladesh Air Force is equipped with several Russian multi-role fighter jets. Bangladesh cooperates defensively with the United States Armed Forces, participating in the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises. Ties between the Bangladeshi and the Indian military have increased, with high-level visits by the military chiefs of both countries.[201][202] Eighty percent of Bangladesh’s military equipment comes from China.[203]

Foreign relations

Leaders seated at a dais

First South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in 1985 in Dhaka (l-r, top row: the presidents of Pakistan and the Maldives, the king of Bhutan, the president of Bangladesh, the prime minister of India, the king of Nepal and the president of Sri Lanka)

The first major intergovernmental organisation joined by Bangladesh was the Commonwealth of Nations in 1972. The country joined the United Nations in 1974, and has been elected twice to the UN Security Council. Ambassador Humayun Rashid Choudhury was elected president of the UN General Assembly in 1986. Bangladesh relies on multilateral diplomacy in the World Trade Organization. It is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping, providing 113,000 personnel to 54 UN missions in the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa and the Caribbean in 2014.[204]

In addition to membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations, Bangladesh pioneered regional co-operation in South Asia. Bangladesh is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an organisation designed to strengthen relations and promote economic and cultural growth among its members. It has hosted several summits, and two Bangladeshi diplomats were the organisation’s secretary-general.

Bangladesh joined the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1973. It has hosted the summit of OIC foreign ministers, which addresses issues, conflicts and disputes affecting Muslim-majority countries. Bangladesh is a founding member of the Developing 8 Countries, a bloc of eight Muslim-majority republics.

The neighbouring country of Myanmar was one of first countries to recognise Bangladesh.[205] Despite common regional interests, Bangladesh-Myanmar relations have been strained by the Rohingya refugee issue and the isolationist policies of the Myanmar military. In 2012, the countries came to terms at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea over maritime disputes in the Bay of Bengal.[206] In 2016 and 2017, relations with Myanmar again strained as over 400,000 Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh after atrocities. The parliament, government and civil society of Bangladesh have been at the forefront of international criticism against Myanmar for military operations against the Rohingya, which the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing.[207][208]

PM Sheikh Hasina with US President Bill Clinton at the Prime Minister’s Office in Dhaka, 2000.

Bangladesh’s most politically-important bilateral relationship is with neighbouring India. In 2015, major Indian newspapers called Bangladesh a “trusted friend”.[209] Bangladesh and India are South Asia’s largest trading partners. The countries are forging regional economic and infrastructure projects, such as a regional motor-vehicle agreement in eastern South Asia and a coastal shipping agreement in the Bay of BengalIndo-Bangladesh relations often emphasise a shared cultural heritage, democratic values and a history of support for Bangladeshi independence. Despite political goodwill, border killings of Bangladeshi civilians and the lack of a comprehensive water-sharing agreement for 54 trans-boundary rivers are major issues. In 2017, India joined Russia and China in refusing to condemn Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya, which contradicted with Bangladesh’s demand for recognising Rohingya human rights.[210] However, the Indian air force delivered aid shipments for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.[211] The rise of Hindu extremism and Islamophobia in India has also affected Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi beef and leather industries have seen increased prices due to the Indian BJP government’s Hindu nationalist campaign against the export of beef and cattle skin.[212]

Pakistan and Bangladesh have a US$550 million trade relationship,[213] particularly in Pakistani cotton imports for the Bangladeshi textile industry. Although Bangladeshi and Pakistani businesses have invested in each other, diplomatic relations are strained because of Pakistani denial of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide. The execution of a Jamaat-e-Islami leader in 2013 on acquisition of war crimes during the liberation war was opposed in Pakistan and led to further strained ties.[214]

Sino-Bangladesh relations date to the 1950s and are relatively warm, despite the Chinese leadership siding with Pakistan during Bangladesh’s war of independence. China and Bangladesh established bilateral relations in 1976 which have significantly strengthened, and the country is considered a cost-effective source of arms for the Bangladeshi military.[215] Since the 1980s 80 percent of Bangladesh’s military equipment has been supplied by China (often with generous credit terms), and China is Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. Both countries are part of the BCIM Forum.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (second from left on back row) with leaders of the G7 industrialised countries and other invitees during the 44th G7 summit in La Malbaie, Canada

Japan is Bangladesh’s largest economic-aid provider, and the countries have common political goals.[216][217] The United Kingdom has longstanding economic, cultural and military links with Bangladesh. The United States is a major economic and security partner, its largest export market and foreign investor. Seventy-six percent of Bangladeshis viewed the United States favourably in 2014, one of the highest ratings among Asian countries.[218][219] The United States views Bangladesh as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific.[220] The European Union is Bangladesh’s largest regional market, conducting public diplomacy and providing development assistance.

Relations with other countries are generally positive. Shared democratic values ease relations with Western countries, and similar economic concerns forge ties to other developing countries. Despite poor working conditions and war affecting overseas Bangladeshi workers, relations with Middle Eastern countries are friendly and bounded by religion and culture; more than a million Bangladeshis are employed in the region. In 2016, the king of Saudi Arabia called Bangladesh “one of the most important Muslim countries”.[221] However, Bangladesh has not established diplomatic relationship with Israel[222] in support of a sovereign Palestinian state and “an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine”.[223]

Bangladeshi aid agencies work in many developing countries. An example is BRAC in Afghanistan, which benefits 12 million people in that country.[224] Bangladesh has a record of nuclear nonproliferation as a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT),[225] and is also a member of Non-Aligned Movement since 1973. It is a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Bangladeshi foreign policy is influenced by the principle of “friendship to all and malice to none”, first articulated by Bengali statesman H. S. Suhrawardy in 1957.[216][226] Suhrawardy led East and West Pakistan to join the Southeast Asia Treaty OrganizationCENTO and the Regional Cooperation for Development.

Human rights

2013 Shahbag protests demanding the death penalty for the war criminals of the 1971 war

A list of fundamental rights is enshrined in the country’s constitution. The drafter of the constitution in 1972, Dr. Kamal Hossain, was influenced by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[227] Bangladesh also recognises the third gender.[228] However, Homosexuality is outlawed by section 377 of the criminal code (a legacy of the colonial period), and is punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment.[229][230] Judicial activism has often upheld human rights. In the 1970s, judges invalidated detentions under the Special Powers Act, 1974 through cases such as Aruna Sen v. Government of Bangladesh and Abdul Latif Mirza v. Government of Bangladesh. In 2008, the Supreme Court paved the way for citizenship for the Stranded Pakistanis, who were an estimated 300,000 stateless people.[231] Despite being a non-signatory of the UN Refugee Convention, Bangladesh has taken in Rohingya refugees since 1978 and the country is now home to a million refugees. Bangladesh is an active member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) since 1972. It has ratified 33 ILO conventions, including the seven fundamental ILO conventions.[232] Bangladesh has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[233][234] In 2018, Bangladesh came under heavy criticism for its repressive Digital Security Act which threatened freedom of speech. The photojournalist Shahidul Alam was jailed and tortured for criticising the government.[235] Alam was featured in the 2018 Time Person of the Year issue.

The National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh was set up in 2007. Notable human rights organisations and initiatives include the Centre for Law and MediationOdhikar, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council and the War Crimes Fact Finding Committee.

Successive governments and their security forces have flouted constitutional principles and have been accused of human rights abuses. Bangladesh is ranked “partly free” in Freedom House‘s Freedom in the World report,[236] but its press is ranked “not free”.[237] According to the British Economist Intelligence Unit, the country has a hybrid regime: the third of four rankings in its Democracy Index.[238] Bangladesh was the third-most-peaceful South Asian country in the 2015 Global Peace Index.[239] Civil society and media in Bangladesh have been attacked by the ruling Awami League government and Islamic extremists.[240]

Armed men in black uniforms on a street

Bangladeshi law-enforcement agencies, including the Rapid Action Battalion (pictured), have been accused of human-rights abuses

According to National Human Rights Commission, 70% of alleged human-rights violations are committed by law-enforcement agencies.[241] Targets have included Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Banksecularist bloggers and independent and pro-opposition newspapers and television networks. The United Nations is concerned about government “measures that restrict freedom of expression and democratic space”.[240]

Bangladeshi security forces, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), have received international condemnation for human-rights abuses (including enforced disappearancestorture and extrajudicial killings). Over 1,000 people have been said to have been victims of extrajudicial killings by RAB since its inception under the last Bangladesh Nationalist Party government.[242] The RAB has been called a “death squad” by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International,[243][244] which have called for the force to be disbanded.[243][244] The British and American governments have been criticised for funding and engaging the force in counter-terrorism operations.[245]

The Bangladeshi government has not fully implemented the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.[246] The Hill Tracts region remains heavily militarized, despite a peace treaty with indigenous people forged by the United People’s Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.[247]

Secularism is protected by the constitution of Bangladesh and religious parties are barred from contesting elections; however, the government is accused of courting religious extremist groups. Islam’s ambiguous position as the de facto state religion has been criticised by the United Nations.[248] Despite relative harmony, religious minorities have faced occasional persecution. The Hindu and Buddhist communities have experienced religious violence from Islamic groups – notably the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing (Shibir). However, Islamic groups are losing popular support -Islamic far-right candidates peaked at 12 percent of the vote in 2001, falling to four percent in 2008.[249]

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index, an estimated 1,531,300 people are enslaved in modern-day Bangladesh, or 0.95% of the population.[250] A number of slaves in Bangladesh are forced to work in the fish and shrimp industries.[251][252][253]


Like for many developing countries, institutional corruption is a serious concern for Bangladesh. Bangladesh was ranked 149th among 180 countries on Transparency International‘s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index.[254] According to survey conducted by the Bangladesh chapter of TI, In 2015 bribes made up 3.7 percent of the national budget.[255] Land administration was the sector with the most bribery in 2015,[256] followed by education,[257] police[258] and water supply.[259] The Anti Corruption Commission was formed in 2004, and it was active during the 2006–08 Bangladeshi political crisis, indicting many leading politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen for graft. After it assumed power in 2009, the Awami League government reduced the commission’s independent power to investigate and prosecute.[260][261][262]


Dhaka, the commercial and financial hub of the country, is a major business center in South Asia and the largest economic centre in Eastern South Asia

Bangladesh has the world’s 39th largest economy in terms of market exchange rates and 29th largest in terms of purchasing power parity, which ranks second in South Asia after India.[263] Bangladesh is also one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and one of the fastest growing middle-income countries.[264] The country has a market-based mixed economy. A developing nation, Bangladesh is one of the Next Eleven emerging markets. According to the IMF, its per-capita income was US$1,888 in 2018, with a GDP of $314 billion.[265] Bangladesh has the second-highest foreign-exchange reserves in South Asia (after India). The Bangladeshi diaspora contributed $15.31 billion in remittances in 2015.[266] Bangladesh’s largest trading partners are the European Union, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, China and ASEAN. Expat workers in the Middle East and Southeast Asia send back a large chunk of remittances. The economy is driven by strong domestic demand.[264]

During its first five years of independence Bangladesh adopted socialist policies. The subsequent military regime and BNP and Jatiya Party governments restored free markets and promoted the country’s private sector. In 1991, finance minister Saifur Rahman introduced a programme of economic liberalisation. The Bangladeshi private sector has rapidly expanded, with a number of conglomerates driving the economy. Major industries include textiles, pharmaceuticals, shipbuilding, steel, electronics, energy, construction materials, chemicals, ceramics, food processing and leather goods. Export-oriented industrialisation has increased, with fiscal year 2014–15 exports increasing by 3.3% over the previous year to $30 billion, although Bangladesh’s trade deficit ballooned by over 45% in this same time period.[267] Most export earnings are from the garment-manufacturing industry.

Share of world GDP (PPP)[268]
Year Share
1980 0.31%
1990 0.33%
2000 0.36%
2010 0.44%
2019 0.58%

Bangabandhu Bridge, commonly called the Jamuna Multi-purpose Bridge, was the 11th longest bridge in the world and the 6th longest bridge in South Asia when constructed in 1998.

However, an insufficient power supply is a significant obstacle to Bangladesh’s economic development. According to the World Bank, poor governance, corruption and weak public institutions are also major challenges.[269] In April 2010, Standard & Poor’s gave Bangladesh a BB- long-term credit rating, below India’s but above those of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.[270]

The country is notable for its soil fertility land, including the Ganges DeltaSylhet Division and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, making up 18.6 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP in November 2010 and employing about 45 percent of the workforce.[271] The agricultural sector impacts employment generation, poverty alleviation, human resources development and food security. More Bangladeshis earn their living from agriculture than from any other sector. The country is among the top producers of rice (fourth), potatoes (seventh), tropical fruits (sixth), jute (second), and farmed fish (fifth).[272][273] Bangladesh is the seventh-largest natural gas producer in Asia, ahead of neighbouring Myanmar, and 56 percent of the country’s electricity is generated by natural gas. Major gas fields are located in the northeastern (particularly Sylhet) and southern (including Barisal and Chittagong) regions. Petrobangla is the national energy company. The American multinational corporation Chevron produces 50 percent of Bangladesh’s natural gas.[274] According to geologists, the Bay of Bengal contains large, untapped gas reserves in Bangladesh’s exclusive economic zone.[275] Bangladesh has substantial coal reserves, with several coal mines operating in the northwest. Jute exports remain significant, although the global jute trade has shrunk considerably since its World War II peak. Bangladesh has one of the world’s oldest tea industries, and is a major exporter of fish and seafood.

Noble-laurate Yunus at the 2009 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

Bangladesh’s textile and ready-made garment industries are the country’s largest manufacturing sector, with 2014 exports of $25 billion.[276] Leather-goods manufacturing, particularly footwear, is the second-largest export sector. The pharmaceutical industry meets 97 percent of domestic demand, and exports to many countries.[277][278] Shipbuilding has grown rapidly, with exports to Europe.[279]

Steel is concentrated in the port city of Chittagong, and the ceramics industry is prominent in international trade. In 2005 Bangladesh was the world’s 20th-largest cement producer, an industry dependent on limestone imports from northeast IndiaFood processing is a major sector, with local brands such as PRAN increasing their international market share. The electronics industry is growing rapidly, particularly the Walton Group.[280] Bangladesh’s defence industry includes the Bangladesh Ordnance Factories and the Khulna Shipyard.

The service sector accounts for 51 percent of the country’s GDP. Bangladesh ranks with Pakistan as South Asia’s second-largest banking sector.[281] The Dhaka and Chittagong Stock Exchanges are the country’s twin financial markets. Bangladesh’s telecommunications industry is one of the world’s fastest-growing, with 114 million cellphone subscribers in December 2013,[282] and GrameenphoneBanglalinkRobi and BTTB are major companies. Tourism is developing, with the beach resort of Cox’s Bazar the center of the industry. The Sylhet region, home to Bangladesh’s tea country, also hosts a large number of visitors. The country has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the Mosque Citythe Buddhist Vihara and the Sundarbans) and five tentative-list sites.[283]

Following the pioneering work of Akhter Hameed Khan on rural development at Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development, several NGOs in Bangladesh including BRAC (the world’s largest NGO),[284] and Grameen Bank, focused on rural development and poverty alleviation in the country. Muhammad Yunus successfully pioneered microfinance as a sustainable tool for provery alleviation and others followed suit. As of 2015, the country had over 35 million microcredit borrowers.[285] In recognition of their tangible contribution to proverty alleviation, Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.[286]


Transport is a major sector of the economy. Aviation has grown rapidly, and includes the flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines and other privately owned airlines. Bangladesh has a number of airports: three international and several domestic and STOL (short takeoff and landing) airports. The busiest, Shahjalal International Airport connects Dhaka with major destinations.

Bangladesh has a 2,706-kilometre (1,681-mile) rail network operated by state-owned Bangladesh Railway. The total length of the country’s road and highway network is nearly 21,000 kilometres (13,000 miles).

It has one of the largest inland waterway networks in the world,[287] with 8,046 kilometres (5,000 miles) of navigable waters. The southeastern port of Chittagong is its busiest seaport, handling over $60 billion in annual trade (more than 80 percent of the country’s export-import commerce).[288] The second-busiest seaport is Mongla. Bangladesh has three seaports and 22 river ports.[289]

Top maritime and inland ports
Port of Chittagong
Port of Dhaka
Rank Port Type TEU traffic Mongla
1 Port of Chittagong Seaport 2.3 million
2 Port of Pangaon River port 116,000
3 Port of Mongla Seaport 70,000
4 Port of Dhaka River port
5 Port of Narayanganj River port
6 Port of Ashuganj River port
7 Port of Payra Seaport
8 Aricha Ghat River port
9 Goalondo River port

Energy and infrastructure

Map of Bangladesh, illustrating coal and gas deposits

Coal and natural-gas fields in Bangladesh, 2011

Bangladesh had an installed electrical capacity of 10,289 MW in January 2014.[290] About 56 percent of the country’s commercial energy is generated by natural gas, followed by oil, hydropower and coal. Bangladesh has planned to import hydropower from Bhutan and Nepal.[291] Nuclear energy is being developed with Russian support in the Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant project.[292] The country ranks fifth worldwide in the number of renewable energy green jobs, and solar panels are increasingly used to power urban and off-grid rural areas.[293]

An estimated 98 percent of the country’s population had access to improved water sources in 2004[294] (a high percentage for a low-income country), achieved largely through the construction of hand pumps with support from external donors. However, in 1993 it was discovered that much of Bangladesh’s groundwater (the source of drinking water for 97 percent of the rural population and a significant share of the urban population) is naturally contaminated with arsenic.

Another challenge is low cost recovery due to low tariffs and poor economic efficiency, especially in urban areas (where water revenue does not cover operating costs). An estimated 56 percent of the population had access to adequate sanitation facilities in 2010.[295] Community-led total sanitation, addressing the problem of open defecation in rural areas, is credited with improving public health since its introduction in 2000.[296]

Science and technology

In 2018, the first payload of SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket was the Bangabandhu-1 satellite built by Thales Alenia Space

The Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, founded in 1973, traces its roots to the East Pakistan Regional Laboratories established in Dhaka (1955), Rajshahi (1965) and Chittagong (1967). Bangladesh’s space agencySPARRSO, was founded in 1983 with assistance from the United States.[297] The country’s first communications satellite, Bangabandhu-1, was launched from the United States in 2018.[298] The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission operates a TRIGA research reactor at its atomic-energy facility in Savar.[299] In 2015, Bangladesh was ranked the 26th global IT outsourcing destination.[300]


The beach in Cox’s Bazar, with an unbroken length of 120 km (75 mi), it is the longest natural sea beach in the world

Mountain trekking is a popular activity in the Bandarban District

Bangladesh’s tourist attractions include historical and monuments, resorts, beaches, picnic spots, forests and tribal people, wildlife of various species. Activities for tourists include anglingwater skiing, river cruising, hiking, rowingyachting, and sea bathing.[301][302]

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reported in 2013 that the travel and tourism industry in Bangladesh directly generated 1,281,500 jobs in 2012 or 1.8 percent of the country’s total employment, which ranked Bangladesh 157 out of 178 countries worldwide.[303] Direct and indirect employment in the industry totalled 2,714,500 jobs, or 3.7 percent of the country’s total employment.[303] The WTTC predicted that by 2023, travel and tourism will directly generate 1,785,000 jobs and support an overall total of 3,891,000 jobs, or 4.2 percent of the country’s total employment.[303] This would represent an annual growth rate in direct jobs of 2.9 percent.[303] Domestic spending generated 97.7 percent of direct travel and tourism gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012.[303] Bangladesh’s world ranking in 2012 for travel and tourism’s direct contribution to GDP, as a percentage of GDP, was 142 out of 176.[303]


Population (millions)
Year Pop. ±% p.a.
1971 67.8
1980 80.6 +1.94%
1990 105.3 +2.71%
2000 129.6 +2.10%
2010 148.7 +1.38%
2012 161.1 +4.09%
Source: OECD/World Bank[304]

Estimates of the Bangladeshi population vary, but UN data suggests 162,951,560 (162.9 million) in 2017.[6] The 2011 census estimated 142.3 million,[305] much less than 2007–2010 estimates of Bangladesh’s population (150–170 million). Bangladesh is the world’s eighth-most-populous nation. In 1951, its population was 44 million.[306] Bangladesh is the most densely-populated large country in the world, ranking 7th in population density when small countries and city-states are included.[307]

The country’s population-growth rate was among the highest in the world in the 1960s and 1970s, when its population grew from 65 to 110 million. With the promotion of birth control in the 1980s, Bangladesh’s growth rate began to slow. Its total fertility rate is now 2.05,[308] lower than India’s (2.58) and Pakistan’s (3.07). The population is relatively young, with 34 percent aged 15 or younger and five percent 65 or older. Life expectancy at birth was estimated at 72.49 years in 2016.[155] According to the World Bank, as of 2016 14.8% of the country lives below the international poverty line on less than $1.90 per day.[309][310]

Bengalis are 98 percent of the population.[311] Of Bengalis, Muslims are the majority, followed by HindusChristians and Buddhists.

The Adivasi population includes the ChakmaMarmaTanchangyaTripuriKuki, Khiang, Khumi, MurangMruChakLusheiBawmBishnupriya ManipuriKhasiJaintiaGaroSantalMunda and Oraon tribes. The Chittagong Hill Tracts region experienced unrest and an insurgency from 1975 to 1997 in an autonomy movement by its indigenous people. Although a peace accord was signed in 1997, the region remains militarised.[312]

Bangladesh is home to a significant Ismaili community.[313] It hosts many Urdu-speaking immigrants, who migrated there after the partition of India. Stranded Pakistanis were given citizenship by the Supreme Court in 2008.[314]

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh number at around 1 million, making Bangladesh one of the countries with the largest refugee populations in the world.

Urban centres

Dhaka is Bangladesh’s capital and largest city. There are 12 city corporations which hold mayoral elections: Dhaka South, Dhaka North, Chittagong, ComillaKhulnaMymensinghSylhetRajshahiBarisalRangpurGazipur and Narayanganj. Mayors are elected for five-year terms. Altogether there are 506 urban centres in Bangladesh among which 43 cities have a population of more than 100000.[316]


The Charyapada scrolls are the oldest surviving text of the Bengali language. The photograph was taken at the Rajshahi College Library

The predominant language of Bangladesh is Bengali (also known as Bangla). Bengali is the one of the easternmost branches of the Indo-European language family. It is a part of the Eastern Indo-Aryan languages in South Asia, which developed between the 10th and 13th centuries. Bengali is written using the Bengali script. In ancient Bengal, Sanskrit was the language of written communication, especially by priests. During the Islamic period, Sanskrit was replaced by Bengali as the vernacular language. The Sultans of Bengal promoted the production of Bengali literature instead of Sanskrit. Bengali also received Persian and Arabic loanwords during the Sultanate of Bengal. Under British rule, Bengali was significantly modernised by Europeans. Modern Standard Bengali emerged as the lingua franca of the region. A heavily Sanskritized version of Bengali was employed by Hindu scholars during the Bengali Renaissance. Muslim writers such as Kazi Nazrul Islam gave attention to the Persian and Arabic vocabulary of the language. Today, the Bengali language is regulated by the Bangla Academy in Bangladesh. Bengali is a symbol of secular Bangladeshi identity. More than 98 percent of people in Bangladesh speak Bengali as their native language.[317][318] Dialects of Bengali are spoken in some parts of the country, which include non-standard dialects (sometimes viewed as separate languages) such as ChatgaiyaSylheti and Rangpuri.[319] Bengali Language Implementation Act, 1987 made it mandatory to use Bengali in all government affairs in Bangladesh.[320] Although laws were historically written in English, they were not translated into Bengali until the Bengali Language Implementation Act of 1987. All subsequent acts, ordinances and laws have been promulgated in Bengali since 1987.[321] English is often used in the verdicts delivered by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and is also used in higher education.

The Chakma language is another native Eastern Indo-Aryan language of Bangladesh. It is written using the Chakma script. The unique aspect of the language is that it is used by the Chakma people, who are a population with similarities to the people of East Asia, rather than the Indian subcontinent. The Chakma language is endangered due to its decreasing use in schools and institutions.

Other tribal languages include GaroManipuriKokborok and Rakhine. Among the Austroasiatic languages, the Santali language is spoken by the Santali tribe. Many of these languages are written in the Bengali script; while there is also some usage of the Latin script.

Urdu has a significant heritage in Bangladesh. The language was introduced to Bengal in the 17th-century. Traders from North India often spoke the language in Bengal, as did sections of the Bengali upper class. Urdu poets lived in many parts of Bangladesh. The use of Urdu became controversial during the Bengali Language Movement, when the people of East Bengal resisted attempts to impose Urdu as the main official language. In modern Bangladesh, the Urdu-speaking community is today restricted to the country’s Bihari community (formerly Stranded Pakistanis); and some sections of the non-Bengali upper class.[322] The University of Dhaka operates a Department of Urdu.[323]


Religions in Bangladesh in 2011 [324]
Religion Percent

Islam is the largest and the official state religion of Bangladesh,[325][326] followed by 90 percent of the population.[327] Most Bangladeshis are Bengali Muslims, who form the largest Muslim ethnoreligious group in South Asia and the second largest in the world after the Arabs. There is also a minority of non-Bengali Muslims. The vast majority of Bangladeshi Muslims are Sunni, followed by minorities of Shia and Ahmadiya. About four percent are non-denominational Muslims.[328] Bangladesh has the fourth-largest Muslim population in the world, and is the third-largest Muslim-majority country (after Indonesia and Pakistan).[329] Sufism has an extensive heritage in the region.[330] Liberal Bengali Islam sometimes clashes with orthodox movements. The largest gathering of Muslims in Bangladesh is the apolitical Bishwa Ijtema, held annually by the orthodox Tablighi Jamaat. The Ijtema is the second-largest Muslim congregation in the world, after the Hajj. The Islamic Foundation is an autonomous government agency responsible for some Muslim religious matters, including sighting the moon in accordance with the lunar Islamic calendar in order to set festival dates; as well as the charitable tradition of zakat. Public holidays include the Islamic observances of Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-al-Adha, the Prophet’s Birthday, Ashura and Shab-e-Barat.

Montage of religions of Bangladesh. Clockwise from top left: Muslims praying in Baitul Mukarram; a Hindu monk in Dhakeshwari Temple; a Buddhist monk in Buddha Dhatu Jadi; a Bangladeshi Christian cardinal with other cardinals at the Vatican

Hinduism is followed by 9.5 percent of the population;[327] most are Bengali Hindus, and some are members of ethnic minority groups. Bangladeshi Hindus are the country’s second-largest religious group and the third-largest Hindu community in the world, after those in India and Nepal. Hindus in Bangladesh are evenly distributed, with concentrations in GopalganjDinajpur, Sylhet, Sunamganj, Mymensingh, Khulna, Jessore, Chittagong and parts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Hindus are the second largest religious community in Bangladeshi cities. The festivals of Durga’s Return and Krishna’s Birthday are public holidays.

Buddhism is the third-largest religion, at 0.6 percent. Bangladeshi Buddhists are concentrated among ethnic groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (particularly the Chakma, Marma and Tanchangya peoples), and coastal Chittagong is home to a large number of Bengali Buddhists. While the Mahayana school of Buddhism was historically prevalent in the region, Bangladeshi Buddhists today adhere to the Theravada school. Buddha’s Birthday is a public holiday. The chief Buddhist priests are based at a monastery in Chittagong.

Eid prayers for Muslims at Barashalghar, DebidwarComilla

Christianity is the fourth-largest religion, at 0.4 percent.[331] Roman Catholicism is the largest denomination among Bangladeshi Christians. Bengali Christians are spread across the country; while there are many Christians among minority ethnic groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (southeastern Bangladesh) and within the Garo tribe of Mymensingh (north-central Bangladesh). The country also has Protestant, Baptist and Oriental Orthodox churches. Christmas is a public holiday.

The Constitution of Bangladesh declares Islam the state religion, but bans religion-based politics. It proclaims equal recognition of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and people of all faiths.[332] In 1972, Bangladesh was South Asia’s first constitutionally-secular country.[333] Article 12 of the constitution continues to call for secularism, the elimination of interfaith tensions and prohibits the abuse of religion for political purposes and any discrimination against, or persecution of, persons practising a particular religion.[334] Article 41 of the constitution subjects religious freedom to public order, law and morality; it gives every citizen the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion; every religious community or denomination the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions; and states that no person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or to take part in or to attend any religious ceremony or worship, if that instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.[335]


Bangladesh has a literacy rate of 72.9 percent as of 2018. 75.7% percent for males and 70.09% percent for females.[155] The country’s educational system is three-tiered and heavily subsidised, with the government operating many schools at the primary, secondary and higher-secondary levels and subsidising many private schools. In the tertiary-education sector, the Bangladeshi government funds over 15 state universities through the University Grants Commission.

Literacy rates in Bangladesh districts

The education system is divided into five levels: primary (first to fifth grade), junior secondary (sixth to eighth grade), secondary (ninth and tenth grade), higher secondary (11th and 12th grade) and tertiary.[336] Five years of secondary education end with a Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examination; since 2009, the Primary Education Closing (PEC) examination has also been given. Students who pass the PEC examination proceed to four years of secondary or matriculation training, culminating in the SSC examination.[336]

Students who pass the PEC examination proceed to three years of junior-secondary education, culminating in the Junior School Certificate (JSC) examination. Students who pass this examination proceed to two years of secondary education, culminating in the SSC examination. Students who pass this examination proceed to two years of higher-secondary education, culminating in the Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC) examination.[336]

Education is primarily in Bengali, but English is commonly taught and used. Many Muslim families send their children to part-time courses or full-time religious education in Bengali and Arabic in madrasas.[336]

Bangladesh conforms with the Education For All (EFA) objectives, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and international declarations. Article 17 of the Bangladesh Constitution provides that all children between the ages of six and ten years receive a basic education free of charge.

University of Dhaka, is the oldest university in Bangladesh

Universities in Bangladesh are of three general types: public (government-owned and -subsidized), private (privately owned universities) and international (operated and funded by international organisations). Bangladesh has 34 public, 64 private and two international universitiesBangladesh National University has the largest enrolment, and the University of Dhaka (established in 1921) is the oldest.University of Chittagong (established in 1966) is the largest University (Campus: Rural, 2,100 acres (8.5 km2)) . Islamic University of Technology, commonly known as IUT, is a subsidiary of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC, representing 57 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America). Asian University for Women in Chittagong is the preeminent South Asian liberal-arts university for women, representing 14 Asian countries; its faculty hails from notable academic institutions in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.[337] BUETCUETKUET and RUET are Bangladesh’s four public engineering universities. BUTex and DUET are two specialised engineering universities; BUTex specialises in textile engineering, and DUET offers higher education to diploma engineers. The NITER is a specialised public-private partnership institute which provides higher education in textile engineering. Science and technology universities include SUSTPUSTJUST and NSTU. Bangladeshi universities are accredited by and affiliated with the University Grants Commission (UGC), created by Presidential Order 10 in 1973.[338]

Medical education is provided by 29 government and private medical colleges. All medical colleges are affiliated with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Bangladesh’s 2015 literacy rate rose to 71 percent due to education modernisation and improved funding, with 16,087 schools and 2,363 colleges receiving Monthly Pay Order (MPO) facilities. According to education minister Nurul Islam Nahid, 27,558 madrasas and technical and vocational institutions were enlisted for the facility. 6,036 educational institutions were outside MPO coverage, and the government enlisted 1,624 private schools for MPO in 2010.[339][340]


Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, the first public medical university in Bangladesh established in 1998

Health and education levels remain relatively low, although they have improved as poverty levels have decreased significantly. In rural areas, village doctors with little or no formal training constitute 62 percent of healthcare providers practising “modern medicine”; formally-trained providers make up four percent of the total health workforce. A Future Health Systems survey indicated significant deficiencies in the treatment practices of village doctors, with widespread harmful and inappropriate drug prescribing.[341] Receiving health care from informal providers is encouraged.[342]

A 2007 study of 1,000 households in rural Bangladesh found that direct payments to formal and informal healthcare providers and indirect costs (loss of earnings because of illness) associated with illness were deterrents to accessing healthcare from qualified providers.[341] A community survey of 6,183 individuals in rural Bangladesh found a gender difference in treatment-seeking behaviour, with women less likely to seek treatment than to men.[343] The use of skilled birth attendant (SBA) services, however, rose from 2005 to 2007 among women from all socioeconomic quintiles except the highest.[344] A health watch, a pilot community-empowerment tool, was successfully developed and implemented in south-eastern Bangladesh to improve the uptake and monitoring of public-health services.[345]

Bangladesh’s poor health conditions are attributed to the lack of healthcare provision by the government. According to a 2010 World Bank report, 2009 healthcare spending was 3.35 percent of the country’s GDP.[346] The number of hospital beds is 3 per 10,000 population.[347] Government spending on healthcare that year was 7.9 percent of the total budget; out-of-pocket expenditures totalled 96.5 percent.[346]

Malnutrition has been a persistent problem in Bangladesh, with the World Bank ranking the country first in the number of malnourished children worldwide.[348][349] Twenty-six percent of the population (two-thirds of children under the age of five) are undernourished,[350] and 46 percent of children are moderately or severely underweight.[351] Forty-three to 60 percent of children under five are smaller than normal; one in five preschool children are vitamin-A deficient, and one in two are anaemic.[352][353] More than 45 percent of rural families and 76 percent of urban families were below the acceptable caloric-intake level.[354]


Visual arts

A sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka

The recorded history of art in Bangladesh can be traced to the 3rd century BCE, when terracotta sculptures were made in the region. In classical antiquity, a notable school of sculptural Hindu, Jain and Buddhist art developed in the Pala Empire and the Sena dynasty. Islamic art evolved since the 14th century. The architecture of the Bengal Sultanate saw a distinct style of domed mosques with complex niche pillars that had no minarets. Mughal Bengal‘s most celebrated artistic tradition was the weaving of Jamdani motifs on fine muslin, which is now classified by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage. Jamdani motifs were similar to Iranian textile art (buta motifs) and Western textile art (paisley). The Jamdani weavers in Dhaka received imperial patronage.[61][355] Ivory and brass were also widely used in Mughal art. Pottery is widely used in Bengali culture.

The modern art movement in Bangladesh took shape during the 1950s, particularly with the pioneering works of Zainul Abedin. East Bengal developed its own modernist painting and sculpture traditions, which were distinct from the art movements in West Bengal. The Art Institute Dhaka has been an important center for visual art in the region. Its annual Bengali New Year parade was enlisted as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2016.

Modern Bangladesh has produced many of South Asia’s leading painters, including SM SultanMohammad KibriaShahabuddin AhmedKanak Chanpa ChakmaKafil AhmedSaifuddin AhmedQayyum ChowdhuryRashid ChoudhuryQuamrul HassanRafiqun Nabi and Syed Jahangir, among others. Novera Ahmed and Nitun Kundu were the country’s pioneers of modernist sculpture.

The Chobi Mela is the largest photography festival in Asia.


The oldest evidence of writing in Bangladesh is the Mahasthan Brahmi Inscription, which dates back to the 3rd century BCE.[356] In the Gupta Empire, Sanskrit literature thrived in the region. Bengali developed from Sanskrit and Magadhi Prakrit in the from the 8th to 10th century. Bengali literature is a millennium-old tradition; the Charyapadas are the earliest examples of Bengali poetry. Sufi spiritualism inspired many Bengali Muslim writers. During the Bengal Sultanate, medieval Bengali writers were influenced by Arabic and Persian works. The Chandidas are the notable lyric poets from the early Medieval Age. Syed Alaol was a noted secular poet and translator from the Arakan region. The Bengal Renaissance shaped the emergence of modern Bengali literature, including novels, short stories and science fiction. Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature and is described as the Bengali Shakespeare.[357] Kazi Nazrul Islam was a revolutionary poet who espoused political rebellion against colonialism and fascism. Begum Rokeya is regarded as the pioneer feminist writer of Bangladesh.[358] Other renaissance icons included Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. The writer Syed Mujtaba Ali is noted for his cosmopolitan Bengali worldview.[359] Jasimuddin was a renowned pastoral poet. Shamsur Rahman was the poet laureate of Bangladesh for many years. Al Mahmud is considered one of the greatest Bengali poets to have emerged in the 20th century. Farrukh AhmedSufia Kamal, and Nirmalendu Goon are important figures of modern Bangladeshi poetry. Ahmed Sofa is regarded as the most important Bangladeshi intellectual in the post-independence era. Humayun Ahmed was a popular writer of modern Bangladeshi magical realism and science fiction. Notable writers of Bangladeshi fictions include Mir Mosharraf Hossain, Akhteruzzaman EliasSyed WaliullahShahidullah KaiserShawkat OsmanSelina HossainTaslima NasreenHaripada DattaRazia KhanAnisul Hoque, and Bipradash Barua. Many Bangladeshi writers, such as Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, and Farah Ghuznavi are acclaimed for their short stories.

The annual Ekushey Book Fair and Dhaka Literature Festival, organised by the Bangla Academy, are among the largest literary festivals in South Asia.

Women in Bangladesh

Women make up most of the workforce of Bangladesh’s export oriented garment industry that makes the highest contribution to the country’s economic growth.[360]

Although, as of 2015, several women occupied major political office in Bangladesh, its women continue to live under a patriarchal social regime where violence is common.[361] Whereas in India and Pakistan women participate less in the workforce as their education increases, the reverse is the case in Bangladesh.[361]

Bengal has a long history of feminist activism dating back to the 19th century. Begum Rokeya and Faizunnessa Chowdhurani played an important role in emancipating Bengali Muslim women from purdah, prior to the country’s division, as well as promoting girls’ education. Several women were elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in the British Raj. The first women’s magazine, Begum, was published in 1948.

In 2008, Bangladeshi female workforce participation stood at 26%.[362] Women dominate blue collar jobs in the Bangladeshi garment industry. Agriculture, social services, healthcare and education are also major occupations for Bangladeshi women, while their employment in white collar positions has steadily increased.


The Ahsan Manzil is one of the largest residences in Old Dhaka, where there are many Indo-Saracenic buildings

The architectural traditions of Bangladesh have a 2,500-year-old heritage.[363] Terracotta architecture is a distinct feature of Bengal. Pre-Islamic Bengali architecture reached its pinnacle in the Pala Empire, when the Pala School of Sculptural Art established grand structures such as the Somapura Mahavihara. Islamic architecture began developing under the Bengal Sultanate, when local terracotta styles influenced medieval mosque construction. The Adina Mosque of United Bengal was the largest mosque built on the Indian subcontinent.[364]

The Sixty Dome Mosque was the largest medieval mosque built in Bangladesh, and is a fine example of Turkic-Bengali architecture. The Mughal style replaced indigenous architecture when Bengal became a province of the Mughal Empire and influenced the development of urban housing. The Kantajew Temple and Dhakeshwari Temple are excellent examples of late medieval Hindu temple architectureIndo-Saracenic Revival architecture, based on Indo-Islamic styles, flourished during the British period. The zamindar gentry in Bangladesh built numerous Indo-Saracenic palaces and country mansions, such as the Ahsan ManzilTajhat PalaceDighapatia PalacePuthia Rajbari and Natore Rajbari.

The bungalow, which originated in Bengal, is a common sight. The roof style seen in the picture is common in the hilly areas of Sylhet and Chittagong

Bengali vernacular architecture is noted for pioneering the bungalow. Bangladeshi villages consist of thatched roofed houses made of natural materials like mudstraw, wood and bamboo. In modern times, village bungalows are increasingly made of tin.

Muzharul Islam was the pioneer of Bangladeshi modern architecture. His varied works set the course of modern architectural practice in the country. Islam brought leading global architects, including Louis KahnRichard NeutraStanley TigermanPaul RudolphRobert Boughey and Konstantinos Doxiadis, to work in erstwhile East Pakistan. Louis Kahn was chosen to design the National Parliament Complex in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. Kahn’s monumental designs, combining regional red brick aesthetics, his own concrete and marble brutalism and the use of lakes to represent Bengali geography, are regarded as one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. In more recent times, award-winning architects like Rafiq Azam have set the course of contemporary architecture by adopting influences from the works of Islam and Kahn.

Performing arts

A Baul from Lalon Shah’s shrine in Kushtia

Theatre in Bangladesh includes various forms with a history dating back to the 4th century CE.[365] It includes narrative forms, song and dance forms, supra-personae forms, performances with scroll paintings, puppet theatre and processional forms.[365] The Jatra is the most popular form of Bengali folk theatre. The dance traditions of Bangladesh include indigenous tribal and Bengali dance forms, as well as classical Indian dances, including the KathakOdissi and Manipuri dances.

The music of Bangladesh features the Baul mystical tradition, listed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Intangible Cultural Heritage.[366] Numerous lyric-based musical traditions, varying from one region to the next, exist, including GombhiraBhatiali and Bhawaiya. Folk music is accompanied by a one-stringed instrument known as the ektara. Other instruments include the dotaradhol, flute, and tabla. Bengali classical music includes Tagore songs and Nazrul Sangeet. Bangladesh has a rich tradition of Indian classical music, which uses instruments like the sitar, tabla, sarod and santoor.[367] Musician Ayub Bachchu is credited with popularising Bengali rock music in Bangladesh.[368]


Embroidery on Nakshi kantha (embroidered quilt), centuries-old Bengali art tradition

The Nakshi Kantha is a centuries-old embroidery tradition for quilts, said to be indigenous to eastern Bengal (i.e. Bangladesh). The sari is the national dress for Bangladeshi women. Mughal Dhaka was renowned for producing the finest Muslin saris, including the famed Dhakai and Jamdani, the weaving of which is listed by UNESCO as one of the masterpieces of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.[369] Bangladesh also produces the Rajshahi silk. The shalwar kameez is also widely worn by Bangladeshi women. In urban areas some women can be seen in western clothing. The kurta and sherwani are the national dress of Bangladeshi men; the lungi and dhoti are worn by them in informal settings. Aside from ethnic wear, domestically tailored suits and neckties are customarily worn by the country’s men in offices, in schools and at social events.

The handloom industry supplies 60–65% of the country’s clothing demand.[370] The Bengali ethnic fashion industry has flourished in the changing environment of the fashion world. The retailer Aarong is one of the most successful ethnic wear brands in South Asia. The development of the Bangladesh textile industry, which supplies leading international brands, has promoted the production and retail of modern Western attire locally, with the country now having a number of expanding local brands like Westecs and Yellow. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garments exporter. Among Bangladesh’s fashion designers, Bibi Russell has received international acclaim for her “Fashion for Development” shows.[371]


Traditional Bangladeshi Meal: Mustard seed Ilish Curry, Dhakai Biryani and Pitha

White rice is the staple of Bangladeshi cuisine, along with many vegetables and lentils. Rice preparations also include Bengali biryanispulaos, and khichurisMustard sauce, gheesunflower oil and fruit chutneys are widely used in Bangladeshi cooking. Fish is the main source of protein in Bengali cuisine. The Hilsa is the national fish and immensely popular across Bangladesh. Other kinds of fish eaten include rohubutterfish, catfish, tilapia and barramundiFish eggs are a gourmet delicacy. Seafood holds an important place in Bengali cuisine, especially lobstersshrimps and dried fish. Meat consumption includes chicken, beef, muttonvenisonduck and squab. In Chittagong, Mezban feasts are a popular tradition featuring the serving of hot beef curry. In Sylhet, the shatkora lemons are used to marinate dishes. In the tribal Hill Tracts, bamboo shoot cooking is prevalent. Bangladesh has a vast spread of desserts, including distinctive sweets like RôshogollaRôshomalaiChomchomMishti Doi and KalojaamPithas are traditional boiled desserts made with rice or fruits. Halwa is served during religious festivities. Naanparathaluchi and bakarkhani are the main local breads. Black tea is offered to guests as a gesture of welcome. Kebabs are widely popular across Bangladesh, particularly seekh kebabschicken tikka and shashliks.

Bangladesh shares its culinary heritage with the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal. The two regions have several differences, however. In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, meat consumption is greater; whereas in Hindu-majority West Bengal, vegetarianism is more prevalent. The Bangladeshi diaspora dominates the South Asian restaurant industry in many Western countries, particularly in the United Kingdom.


The annual Bengali New Year parade

Pahela Baishakh, the Bengali new year, is the major festival of Bengali culture and sees widespread festivities. Of the major holidays celebrated in Bangladesh, only Pahela Baishakh comes without any preexisting expectations (specific religious identity, culture of gift-giving, etc.). Unlike holidays like Eid al-Fitr, where dressing up in lavish clothes has become a norm, or Christmas where exchanging gifts has become an integral part of the holiday, Pahela Baishakh is really about celebrating the simpler, rural roots of the Bengal. As a result, more people can participate in the festivities together without the burden of having to reveal one’s class, religion, or financial capacity. Other cultural festivals include Nabonno, and Poush Parbon both of which are Bengali harvest festivals.

The Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-AdhaMilad un NabiMuharramChand RaatShab-e-Barat; the Hindu festivals of Durga PujaJanmashtami and Rath Yatra; the Buddhist festival of Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, and Christian festival of Christmas are national holidays in Bangladesh and see the most widespread celebrations in the country.

Alongside are national days like the remembrance of 21 February 1952 Language Movement Day (International Mother Language Day created by UNESCO in 1999),[372] Independence Day and Victory Day. On Language Movement Day, people congregate at the Shaheed Minar in Dhaka to remember the national heroes of the Bengali Language Movement, and at the National Martyrs’ Memorial on Independence Day and Victory Day to remember the national heroes of the Bangladesh Liberation War. These occasions are observed with public ceremonies, parades, rallies by citizens, political speeches, fairs, concerts, and various other public and private events, celebrating the history and traditions of Bangladesh. TV and radio stations broadcast special programs and patriotic songs, and many schools and colleges organise fairs, festivals, and concerts that draw the participation of citizens from all levels of Bangladeshi society.[373]