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A province is a territorial unit, almost always an administrative division, within a country or state.


The English word "province" is attested since about 1330 and derives from the 13th-century Old French "province," which itself comes from the Latin word "provincia," which referred to the sphere of authority of a magistrate; in particular, to a foreign territory.

A possible Latin etymology is from "pro-" ("on behalf of") and "vincere" ("to triumph" or "to take control of"). Thus a "province" was a territory or function that a Roman magistrate held control of on behalf of his government. This, however, does not tally with the Latin term's earlier usage as a generic term for a jurisdiction under Roman law.


In geology, the term "province" refers to a specific physiogeographic area that comprises a grouping of like bathymetric or former bathymetric elements (now sedimentary strata above water) whose features are in obvious contrast to the surrounding regions, or other "provinces." The term usually refers to sections or regions of a craton recognized within a given time-stratigraphy, i.e., recognized within a major division of time within a geologic period.

History and culture

In France, the expression "en province" still tends to mean "outside the Paris region." Equivalent expressions are used in Peru ("en provincias," "outside the city of Lima"), Mexico ("la provincia," "lands outside Mexico City"), Romania ("în provincie," "outside the Bucharest region"), Poland ("prowincjonalny," "provincial") and Bulgaria ("в провинцията," "v provintsiyata," "in the provinces"; "провинциален," "provintsialen," "provincial"). Similarly, in Australia "provincial" refers to parts of a state outside of the state capital.

Before the French Revolution, France comprised a variety of jurisdictions (e.g., Île-de-France, built around the early Capetian royal demesne), some being considered "provinces," though the term was also used colloquially for territories as small as a manor (châtellenie). Most commonly referred to as "provinces," however, were the Grands Gouvernements, generally former medieval feudal principalities, or agglomerations of such. Today the expression "province" is sometimes replaced by "en région," " région" now being the term officially used for the secondary level of government.

In Italy, "in provincia" generally means "outside the biggest regional capitals" (like Rome, Milan, Naples, etc.).

The historic European provinces—built up of many small regions, called "pays" by the French and "cantons" by the Swiss, each with a local cultural identity and focused upon a market town—have been depicted by Fernand Braudel as the optimum-size political unit in pre-industrial Early Modern Europe. He asks, "Was the province not its inhabitants' true 'fatherland'?"[1] Even centrally-organized France, an early nation-state, could collapse into autonomous provincial worlds under pressure, as during the sustained crisis of the French Wars of Religion (1562—98).

To 19th- and 20th-century historians, in Europe, centralized government was a sign of modernity and political maturity. In the late 20th century, as the European Union drew nation-states closer together, centripetal forces seemed simultaneously to move countries toward more flexible systems of more localized, provincial governing entities under the overall European Union umbrella. Spain after Francisco Franco has been a "State of Autonomies," formally unitary but in fact functioning as a federation of Autonomous Communities, each exercising different powers. (See Politics of Spain.)

While Serbia, the rump of former Yugoslavia, fought the separatists in the province of Kosovo, the United Kingdom, under the political principle of "devolution," produced (1998) local parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Strong local nationalisms have surfaced or developed in Britain's Cornwall, France's Brittany, Languedoc and Corsica, Spain's Catalonia and the Basque Country, Italy's Lombardy, Belgium's Flanders; and, east of Europe, in Abkhazia, Chechnya and Kurdistan.

Legal aspects

In many federations and confederations, the province or state is not clearly subordinate to the national or central government. Rather, it is considered to be sovereign in regard to its particular set of constitutional functions. The central- and provincial-government functions, or areas of jurisdiction, are identified in a constitution. Those that are not specifically identified are called "residual powers." In a decentralized federal system (such as the United States and Australia) these residual powers lie at the provincial or state level, whereas in a centralized federal system (such as Canada) they are retained at the federal level. Some of the enumerated powers can be quite important. For example, Canadian provinces are sovereign in regard to such important matters as property, civil rights, education, social welfare and medical services.

The evolution of federations has created an inevitable tug-of-war between concepts of federal supremacy versus "states' rights". The historic division of responsibility in federal constitutions is inevitably subject to multiple overlaps. For example, when central governments, responsible for foreign affairs, enter into international agreements in areas where the state or province is sovereign, such as the environment or health standards, agreements made at the national level can create jurisdictional overlap and conflicting laws. This overlap creates the potential for internal disputes that lead to constitutional amendments and judicial decisions that alter the balance of powers.

Though foreign affairs do not usually fall under a province’s or a federal state’s competency, some states allow them to legally conduct international relations on their own in matters of their constitutional prerogative and essential interest. Sub-national authorities have a growing interest in paradiplomacy, be it performed under a legal framework or as a trend informally admitted as legitimate by the central authorities.

In unitary states such as France and China, provinces are subordinate to the national, central government. In theory, the central government can create or abolish provinces within its jurisdiction.

Current provinces

Not all second-level political entities are termed "provinces." In Arab countries, the secondary level of government, called a muhfazah, is usually translated as a "governorate."

In Poland, the equivalent of "province" is "województwo," sometimes rendered in English as "voivodeship."[2]

In Peru, provinces are tertiary units of government, as the country is divided into twenty-five regions, subdivided into 194 provinces. Chile follows a similar pattern, being divided into 15 regions, subdivided into 53 provinces, each run by a governor appointed by the president.

Historically, New Zealand was divided into provinces, each with its own Superintendent and Provincial Council, and with considerable responsibilities conferred on them. However, the colony (as it then was) never developed into a federation; instead, the provinces were abolished in 1876. The old provincial boundaries continue to be used to determine the application of certain public holidays. Over the years, when the central Government has created special-purpose agencies at a sub-national level, these have often tended to follow or approximate the old provincial boundaries. Current examples include the 16 Regions into which New Zealand is divided, and also the 21 District Health Boards. Sometimes the term the provinces is used to refer collectively to rural and regional parts of New Zealand, that is, those parts of the country lying outside some or all of the "main centres"—Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Dunedin.

Modern provinces

In many countries, a province is a relatively small non-constituent level of sub-national government, varying in size from that of a UK county to that of a U.S. state – an autonomous level of government and a constituent element of a federation or confederation, often with a large territory. In China, a province is a sub-national region within a unitary state; this means that a province can be created or abolished by the central government.

A province is a distinct unit of government in the Philippines, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Italy; and a large constituent autonomous area in Canada, Congo and Argentina.

In Italy and Chile, a province is an administrative sub-division of a region, which is the first-order administrative sub-division of the state. Italian provinces are mainly named after their principal town and comprise several administrative sub-divisions called comuni (communes). In Chile, they are referred to as comunas.

Five Canadian provinces – Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – have "counties" as administrative sub-divisions. The Canadian province of British Columbia has "regional districts" which function as equivalents of the aforesaid counties.

The island of Ireland is divided into four historic provinces (see Provinces of Ireland), each of which is sub-divided into counties. These provinces are Connacht (in the west), Leinster (in the east), Munster (in the south) and, perhaps most famously (due to The Troubles), Ulster (in the north). Nowadays these provinces have little or no administrative function, though do have sporting significance.

Some overseas parts of the British Empire bore the colonial title of "province" (in a more Roman sense), such as the Province of Canada and the Province of South Australia (the latter, to distinguish it from the penal "colonies" elsewhere in Australia). Similarly, Mozambique was a "province" as a Portuguese colony.


The term "province" is sometimes used to refer to the historic governorates (guberniyas) of Russia. This terms also refers to the provinces (провинции), which were introduced as the subdivisions of the governorates in 1719 and existed until 1775. In modern parlance, the term is commonly used to refer to the oblasts and krais of Russia.


The world's most populous province is Uttar Pradesh, India, population 220,000,000.

The world's largest province by area is Quebec, Canada (1,500,000 km²).

Polities translated "province"

Country local name(s) language Number of entities
Provinces of Afghanistan wilayat Pashto, Dari 34
Provinces of Algeria wilaya Arabic 48
Provinces of Angola província Portuguese 18
Provinces of Argentina provincia Spanish 23
Provinces of Armenia marz Armenian 11
Provinces of Belarus voblast Belarusian 7
Provinces of Belgium (Flemish Region) provincie Dutch 5
Provinces of Belgium (Walloon Region) province French 5
Provinces of Bolivia provincia Spanish 100
Provinces of Bulgaria oblast Bulgarian 28
Provinces of Burkina Faso province French 45
Provinces of Burundi province French 17
Provinces of Cambodia khaet Khmer 20
Provinces of Canada province English, French 10
Provinces of Chile provincia Spanish 54
Provinces of China sheng (省) Mandarin Chinese 22 + 1[3]
Provinces of Costa Rica provincia Spanish 7
Provinces of Colombia provincia Spanish
Provinces of Cuba provincia Spanish 15
Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo province French 26
Provinces of the Dominican Republic provincia Spanish 33
Provinces of Equatorial Guinea provincia Spanish 7
Provinces of Fiji yasana Fijian 14
Provinces of Finland läänit or län Finnish, Swedish 6
Provinces of Gabon province French 9
Provinces of Greece επαρχία (eparchia) Greek 73
Provinces of Indonesia provinsi or propinsi Indonesian 33
Provinces of India Praant Hindi 46
Provinces of Iran ostan Persian 30
Provinces of Ireland cúige Gaelic 4
Provinces of Italy provincia Italian 110
Provinces of Kazakhstan oblasy Kazakh 14
Provinces of Kenya province English 8
Provinces of Kyrgyzstan oblasty Kyrgyzian 7
Provinces of Laos khoueng Lao 16
Provinces of Madagascar faritany Malagasy 6
Provinces of Mongolia aimag or aymag (Аймаг) Mongolian 6
Provinces of Mozambique província Portuguese 10
Provinces of the Netherlands provincie Dutch 12
Provinces of North Korea do or to (도) Korean 10
Provinces of Oman wilaya Arabic appr. 60
Provinces of Pakistan suba; plural: subai Urdu 5
Provinces of Panama provincia Spanish 9
Provinces of Papua New Guinea province English 19
Provinces of Peru provincia Spanish 195
Provinces of the Philippines lalawigan or probinsya Filipino 80
Provinces of Rwanda intara French 5
Provinces of São Tomé and Príncipe província Portuguese 2
Provinces of Saudi Arabia mintaqah Arabic 13
Provinces of Sierra Leone province English 3
Provinces of the Solomon Islands 9
Provinces of South Africa province English 9
Provinces of South Korea do or to (도/道) Korean 10
Provinces of Spain provincia Spanish 50
Provinces of Sri Lanka පළාත/palaatha,மாகாணம்/maahaanam & province Sinhala, Tamil, English 9
Provinces of Tajikistan veloyati, from Arabic wilaya Tajik 3
Provinces of Thailand changwat (จังหวัด) Thai 76 + 1[4]
Provinces of Turkey il Turkish 81
Provinces of Turkmenistan welayat (plural: welayatlar) from wilaya Turkmeni 5
Provinces of Ukraine oblast Ukrainian 24
Provinces of Uzbekistan viloyat (plural: viloyatlar) from Arabic wilaya 12
Provinces of Vanuatu 6
Provinces of Vietnam tỉnh Vietnamese 58
Provinces of Zambia province English 9
Provinces of Zimbabwe province English 8

Historic provinces

Ancient, medieval and feudal

Colonial and Early Modern

See also


  1. The Perspective of the World, 1984, p. 284.
  2. Also spelled "voivodship," "voievodship," "voievodeship".
  3. The People's Republic of China (PRC) claims it has 23 provinces, one of them being Taiwan, which the PRC does not control. The Republic of China (frequently referred to as Taiwan) controls all of Taiwan Province and several small islands of Fujian Province.
  4. 76 provinces + 1 special governed district (Bangkok). However, Thai people usually presume Bangkok as another province for convenience.


External links

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