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What is an Enclave?

An enclave is a distinct territory or region entirely surrounded by another territory, often with cultural or ethnic differences from the surrounding area. Think of it as an island of uniqueness within a sea of diversity. How do these enclaves shape identities and politics within their borders? Join us as we explore the intricate dynamics of these fascinating geopolitical pockets.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In geography, an enclave is a country which is entirely enclosed by another nation. Most commonly, an enclave is also an exclave, meaning that it is actually the satellite of a larger mother state. Enclaves may be formed for a number of a reasons, but they often result in administrative and political issues, and attempts are frequently made to eliminate them. The term is also used to refer to a clustered religious or ethnic group within a larger one, as is the case with San Francisco's Chinatown.

The word comes from the Old French enclaver, which means “to enclose.” This word was derived from a Latin word, clavis, meaning “key.” Many enclaves were formed when official national boundaries were drawn, sometimes resulting in pockets of people of a different nationality trapped inside another country. This often led to political upheaval, as the people within the enclave could be cut off from their mother nation. In some cases, an enclave may be occupied by people with a different ethnic, religious, or political background from the surrounding country, which can lead to tensions.

A section of a community that is primarily home to one ethnic group, like a Chinatown, might be called an enclave.
A section of a community that is primarily home to one ethnic group, like a Chinatown, might be called an enclave.

Two of the most well known examples of an enclave are Lesotho, which is enclosed within the boundaries of the Republic of South Africa, and Vatican City, an independent entity inside Italy. West Berlin is a historic example of an enclave, since it was located entirely within East Germany. West Berlin is an excellent illustration of the most common type of enclave, which usually consists of a small village or town of a separate nationality located inside another country.

Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, is surrounded by the Italian city of Rome.
Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, is surrounded by the Italian city of Rome.

In many former colonies, enclaves exist in large numbers. India, for example, has over 80 Bangladeshi enclaves within its border. Several islands are also enclaves, since they are surrounded by the territorial waters of another nation. Many of these island enclaves were seized for political or military advantage, and the occupying nation is reluctant to cede the land.

When an enclave is an exclave, agreements are usually reached between the mother nation and the country which surrounds the exclave. These agreements ensure that the citizens of the enclave are not entirely cut off, and typically include measures to protect airspace and the ability to pass freely between borders. In some cases, the citizens of an enclave may lobby to be absorbed into the surrounding nation, especially if the enclave is small, and residents have adopted the language and culture of their neighbors.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is an enclave?

An enclave is a territory, or a part of a territory, that is entirely surrounded by the territory of one other state. Enclaves are unique geopolitical phenomena that can occur for various historical, political, or geographical reasons. A well-known example is Vatican City, which is an enclave within Rome, Italy. Enclaves can sometimes lead to complex jurisdictional scenarios and may require special arrangements for access and governance.

How does an enclave differ from an exclave?

An enclave is a territory completely surrounded by another country, whereas an exclave is a part of a country's territory that is separated from the main part and is surrounded by foreign territory. An exclave may also be an enclave if it is surrounded by a single country, but not all exclaves are enclaves. For instance, Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave bordered by Lithuania and Poland but is not an enclave because it has access to the Baltic Sea.

Can an enclave exist within an enclave?

Yes, an enclave can exist within another enclave, a situation known as a "counter-enclave" or "second-order enclave." A famous example is the town of Nahwa, which is part of the United Arab Emirates but is an enclave within an Omani enclave called Madha, itself surrounded by the UAE. These rare territorial arrangements often arise from historical treaties and land exchanges.

What are some challenges faced by residents of enclaves?

Residents of enclaves may face logistical challenges such as restricted access to the main country, limited transportation options, and dependency on the surrounding state for trade and transit. Additionally, political and security issues can arise, especially if relations between the enclave and the surrounding country are tense. Access to services like healthcare and education may also be complicated due to the enclave's unique status.

How are enclaves created?

Enclaves are typically created through historical circumstances such as treaties, wars, or colonialism. For example, changes in political borders can leave a portion of a country's territory isolated from the main part. The creation of new countries or the redrawing of borders can also result in enclaves. Historical documents like the Treaty of Versailles have contributed to the formation of enclaves in various parts of the world.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon119335

No. San Marino is its own sovereign state. It is surrounded by Italy, just as much as Gambia may be surrounded by Senegal, or Lesotho by South Africa - but this condition does not detract from its own sovereign status.

anon70695

is San Marino an enclave of Italy?

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    • A section of a community that is primarily home to one ethnic group, like a Chinatown, might be called an enclave.
      By: Guillaume Baviere
      A section of a community that is primarily home to one ethnic group, like a Chinatown, might be called an enclave.
    • Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, is surrounded by the Italian city of Rome.
      By: SergiyN
      Vatican City, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, is surrounded by the Italian city of Rome.