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Tokyo, the world's largest metropolis
São Paulo, the largest metropolis of the Southern Hemisphere

A metropolis is a large city or urban area which is a significant economic, political, and cultural center for a country or region, and an important hub for regional or international connections, commerce, and communications. The term is Greek and means the "mother city" of a colony (in the ancient sense), that is, the city which sent out settlers. This was later generalized to a city regarded as a center of a specified activity, or any large, important city in a nation.

A big city belonging to a larger urban agglomeration, but which is not the core of that agglomeration, is not generally considered a metropolis but a part of it. The plural of the word is most commonly metropolises.[1]

For urban centers outside metropolitan areas that generate a similar attraction at smaller scale for their region, the concept of the regiopolis, short regio, was introduced by German professors in 2006.[2]


The Colosseum at night

In the past, metropolis was the designation for a city or state of origin of a colony. Many large cities founded by ancient civilizations have been considered important world metropolises of their times due to their large populations and importance. Some of these ancient metropolises survived until the modern days and are among the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities.

Using modern criteria, Rome is considered the first ever metropolis, containing one million people around year 1 and an urban culture that included architectural achievements unsurpassed for centuries.[3]

Etymology and modern usage

This is a Greek word, coming from μήτηρ, mḗtēr meaning "mother" and πόλις, pólis meaning "city" or "town", which is how the Greek colonies of antiquity referred to their original cities, with whom they retained cultic and political-cultural connections. The word was used in post-classical Latin for the chief city of a province, the seat of the government and, in particular, ecclesiastically for the seat or see of a metropolitan bishop to whom suffragan bishops were responsible. This usage equates the province with the diocese or episcopal see.

In modern usage the word has come to refer to a metropolitan area, a set of adjacent and interconnected cities clustered around a major urban center. In this sense, metropolitan usually means "spanning the whole metropolis" (as in "metropolitan administration") or "proper of a metropolis" (as in "metropolitan life", and opposed to "provincial" or "rural").

Global city

The concept of a global city (or world city) is of a city that has a direct and tangible effect on global affairs through socioeconomic means. The term has become increasingly familiar, because of the rise of globalization (i.e., global finance, communications, and travel). An attempt to define and categorize world cities by financial criteria was made by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group & Network (GaWC), based primarily at Loughborough University in England. The study ranked cities based on their provision of "advanced producer services" such as accountancy, advertising, finance and law. The inventory identifies three levels of world cities and several sub-ranks (see GaWC study).

A metropolis is not necessarily a global city—or, being one, it might not be among the top-ranking—due to its standards of living, development, and infrastructures. A metropolis that is also a global city is a global metropolis.

By country


A wide angle shot of the Mediterranean coastline of Alexandria.
Cairo Skyline


Cairo and Alexandria are considered Egypt's biggest metropolises.


Lagos is Nigeria's biggest metropolis.

South Africa

In South Africa, a metropolitan municipality or "Category A municipality" is a municipality which executes all the functions of local government for a conurbation. This is by contrast to areas which are primarily rural, where the local government is divided into district municipalities (comparable to a "county" in the US) and local municipalities. There are eight metropolitan municipalities in South Africa. Big cities belonging to a larger urban agglomeration, but which are not the core of that agglomeration, are not generally considered a metropolis but a part of it. The plural of the word is most commonly metropolises.[1]

Dhaka is the largest city in Bangladesh



In the People's Republic of Bangladesh, there are seven metropolitan areas: Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Barisal and Rangpur. Lands are highly priced and residents are considered to have a better urban lifestyle. Special police departments are allotted for the metropolitan cities, and there are city corporations for which mayors are elected for five-year regimes. Most of these cities have population density of 35,000/square mile or more. Dhaka is considered a mega city because its population surpasses 10 million.[4]


Mumbai is India's largest city

In India, there are 47 metropolitan cities. As of 2011 census, the top-ten metropolitan cities based on their population are Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, Surat, Pune and Jaipur. The Census Commission defines the qualification for metropolitan city as, "the cities having a population of more than 10 lakhs (one million) and above" and Megacity as, "the cities having a population of more than 40 lakhs (four million) and above".[5]


Jakarta, the largest and busiest city in Indonesia

In Indonesia, the metropolitan cities are in Jabodetabek (Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, Bekasi), the biggest metropolitan area in Southeast Asia and the fifth metropolitan area in the world (2007). The other cities are Surabaya, Bandung, Semarang and Medan.


In Iran, the metropolitan cities are in Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad, Karaj, Tabriz and other cities such as Ahvaz, Qom and Urmia.


In Israel there are four main metropolitan areas: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beer Sheva. "Israel Central Bureau of Statistics" has defined the boundaries of metropolitan areas of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva, and divided the metropolitan area concentric rings that define the intensity of the main city links.


Skyline of Tokyo, with Mount Fuji in the background

The Japanese legal term to (都) is by designation to be translated as "metropolis".[6] however existing translations predate the designation. Structured like a prefecture instead of a normal city, there is only one to in Japan, namely Tokyo. As of 2008, Japan has 11 other cities with populations greater than one million. The same Kanji character in Chinese, or in generic Japanese (traditional or non-specific), translates variously—city, municipality, special municipality—all qualify.


Beirut, Sidon, and Tripoli are three of the main metropolitan areas along the Lebanese coast. Most of Lebanon's metropolitan areas and biggest cities are situated along the coast.


Karachi is the Pakistan's largest city with about 23.5 million population

In Pakistan, the major metropolitan cities are Karachi, Lahore, Faislabad, the twin cities of capital Islamabad and Rawalpindi.


Metro Manila, the most populous metropolitan area in the Philippines

Metropolitan Manila, or simply Metro Manila, is the metropolitan region encompassing the city of Manila and its surrounding areas in the Philippines. It is composed of 17 cities namely Manila, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Pasay, Pasig, Parañaque, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela and Pateros. The region is the political, economic, social, cultural, and educational center of the Philippines. As proclaimed by Presidential Decree No. 940, Metro Manila as a whole is the Philippines' seat of government but the city of Manila is the capital. The largest city in the metropolis is Quezon City, while the largest business district is the Makati Central Business District.

South Korea

In the Republic of Korea there are seven special and metropolitan cities at autonomous administrative levels include: Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Gwangju, Daejeon and Ulsan.


Bosnia and Herzegovina

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country's capital Sarajevo is the only metropolis. Sarajevo is a political, economical, educational, cultural and infrastructural center. Moreover, Sarajevo has a region-wide influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science, and the arts. With a metropolitan area of over 680 thousand, it is the forth largest city in the region of former Yugoslavia and the fifth largest in the Balkans.[7]

Sarajevo, capital and biggest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also its metropolis.


In Denmark the only metropolis is Greater Copenhagen,[8] consisting of the capital, Copenhagen, situated in the Capital Region of Denmark along with the neighboring regions Region Zealand and Skåne County (Sweden). Greater Copenhagen has an approximate population of 3.9 million people.[9][10] This area is the most densely populated area in the Nordic Region [11]


Finland's capital, Helsinki, along with the neighboring areas form an area of Greater Helsinki, with an approximate population of 1,4 million people. This area is the only metropolis in the country.


For France's national statistics institute, the INSEE, there are 12 "metropolitan cities" in France. Paris, Lyon, Marseille are the biggest but there are 9 other big cities : Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Rennes, Grenoble and Montpellier.


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Berlin is Germany's largest city

The largest German city by administrative borders is Berlin, while Rhine-Ruhr is the largest metropolitan area (with more than 10 million people). The importance of a city is measured with three groups of indicators, also called metropolitan functions: The decision making and control function, the innovation and competition function and the gateway function. These functions are seen as key domains for metropolitan regions in developing their performance.

In spatial planning a metropolis is usually observed within its regional context, thus the focus is mainly set on the metropolitan regions. These regions can be mono central or multi central. Eleven metropolitan regions have been defined due to these indicators: Berlin-Brandenburg, Bremen-Oldenburg, Dresden-Halle-Leipzig, Frankfurt-Rhine-Main, Hamburg, Hannover-Braunschweig-Göttingen-Wolfsburg, Munich, Nuremberg, Rhine-Neckar, Rhine-Ruhr (with Cologne/Bonn), and Stuttgart.[12]


Starting January 1, 2015, there will be 14 "metropolitan cities" in Italy. Rome, Milan, Naples and other big cores will take in urban zones from their surrounding areas and merge them into the new entities, which will be home for one out of three Italians. The provinces will remain in the parts of the country not belonging to any Città Metropolitana.[13]


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The Union of Polish Metropolises (Polish: Unia Metropolii Polskich), established in 1990, is an organization of the largest cities in the country. Currently twelve cities are members of the organization, of which 11 have more than a quarter-million inhabitants. The largest metropolitan area in Poland, if ranked solely by the number of inhabitants, is the Silesian Metropolis (in fact a metroplex), with 2 million inhabitants (5 million inhabitants in the Silesian metropolitan area), followed by Warsaw, with 1.7 million inhabitants in the city proper and 2.7 million in the Warsaw metropolitan area. The Silesian Metropolis is an initiative of recent years attempting to unite a large conurbation into one official urban unit. Other Polish metropolises are Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Tricity, Szczecin and Bydgoszcz.


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Edificio Metrópolis in downtown Madrid

Spain has around 15 metropolitan areas with a population greater than 500,000 people. The largest metropolises with populations greater than a million people are Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Sevilla, respectively.


In Turkey the metropolitan cities are described as "büyükşehir belediyesi". There are 30 metropolitan municipalities in Turkey now. The largest by far is İstanbul, followed by Ankara and İzmir.

United Kingdom

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London is the largest city in the UK

In the UK, the term the Metropolis was used to refer to London, or the London conurbation. The term is retained by the London police force, the Metropolitan Police Service (the "Met"). The chief officer of the Metropolitan Police is formally known as the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Since 1974 six conurbations (outside London) have been known as metropolitan counties, each divided into metropolitan districts. Other conurbations in the United Kingdom are also sometimes considered to be metropolitan areas, most notably the West Midlands (centred on the city of Birmingham), West Yorkshire (centred on the city of Leeds), Greater Manchester and Greater Glasgow which make up the most densely populated areas in the British Isles outside London.

North America


Toronto is Canada's largest city

Statistics Canada defines a census metropolitan area as one or more adjacent municipalities situated around a major urban core where the urban core has a population of at least 100,000.[14] Canada's largest metropolises are Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton.


In Mexico, the term metropolis is used to refer to an urban area of economic, political, and cultural importance. Mexico City represents all three factors as it is the country's capital and financial center. Other metropolis are Monterrey and Guadalajara, both metropolitan areas population over 4,000,000 inhabitants.

United States

New York City is the largest city in the U.S.

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In the United States, an incorporated area or group of areas having a population more than 50,000 is required to have a metropolitan planning organization in order to facilitate major infrastructure projects and to ensure financial solvency. Thus, a population of 50,000 or greater has been used as a de facto standard to define a metropolis in the United States. A similar definition is used by the United States Census Bureau. The bureau defines a metropolitan statistical area as "at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more inhabitants." The six largest metropolitan cities in the USA are New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Philadelphia, with New York City being the largest.



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Sydney is Australia's largest city and metropolis

The Government of Australia defines a metropolitan area as any statistical division or district with a population of more than 100,000.[15] According to this definition, there are at least 16 metropolitan areas in Australia, including every state capital. By population the largest of these metropolitan areas is Sydney, New South Wales (urban area population at 2013 Census of 4,757,083) and the smallest is Darwin, Northern Territory (Urban area population at 2011 census of 103,016).

South America


São Paulo is Brazil's largest city

In Brazil, São Paulo is the principal metropolis with over 20 million inhabitants. In the larger cities, such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (6.3 million), favelas (slums) grew over decades as people migrated from rural areas in order to find work. The term used in Brazilian Portuguese for a metropolitan area is Região Metropolitana. Others metropolises in Brazil that feature over one million inhabitants include: Belém, Belo Horizonte, Campinas, Curitiba, Florianópolis, Fortaleza, Goiânia, João Pessoa, Manaus, Porto Alegre, Recife etc.


Bogotá is Colombia's largest city

In Colombia, Bogotá is the main metropolis with over 13 million inhabitants by its Metropolitan Area which includes boroughs like Soacha, Mosquera, Cota and Chía. The second metropolis in Colombia is Medellín which has boroughs too like Envigado, Itagüi, La Estrella and Sabaneta. This metropolitan area is known by having the first and only Metro in Colombia, the Medellín Metro. Bogotá has the Transmilenio, a Rapid Transit Metro-bus system.


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Aerial view of Buenos Aires

In Argentina, Buenos Aires is the principal metropolis with a population of around fifteen and a half million.[16] The Greater Buenos Aires conurbation, which also includes several Buenos Aires Province districts, constitutes the third-largest conurbation in Latin America.[17] Buenos Aires is the main political, financial, industrial, commercial, and cultural hub of Argentina. Its port is one of the busiest in South America. Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the "Paris of South America". The city has the busiest live theatre industry in Latin America, with scores of theaters and productions, as well as the largest amount of theatres in the world.[17] There are more than 300 active theatres in Buenos Aires.[18] The number of cultural festivals with more than 10 sites and 5 years of existence also places the city as 2nd worldwide, after Edinburgh.[19]

Metropolis as a mainland area

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In France, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands metropolis (métropole (Fr.) / metrópole (Port.) / metrópoli (Spa.) / metropool (Dutch)) designates the mainland part of a country near or on the European continent; in the case of France, this would mean France without its overseas departments. For Portugal and Spain during the Spanish Empire and Portuguese Empire period, the term was used to designate Portugal or Spain except its colonies (the Ultramar). In France métropole is also used to refer to large agglomerations.

See also

Other city types
Planning theories


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  2. Prof. Dr. Iris Reuther (FG Stadt- und Regionalplanung, Universität Kassel): Presentation "Regiopole Rostock". 11 December 2008, retrieved 13 June 2009 (pdf).
  3. Old Age in Ancient Rome
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Further reading