A country’s borders can take many shapes and sizes, but only three countries in the world can be considered enclave nations.
An enclave is territory of one state surrounded by territory of another, and enclave nations are those that exist wholly within another country’s borders on all sides. In Europe, Italy surrounds two of these enclave nations — Vatican City, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, and San Marino, a microstate located on the northeastern slopes of the Apennine Mountains. The world’s other enclave nation is Lesotho, a country completely enclosed by South Africa, and which owes at least part of its long history of independent rule to its incredibly mountainous, hard-to-conquer terrain.
Enclaves are not to be confused with exclaves, which are a different territorial phenomenon. An exclave is a portion of one country that’s completely cut off from the rest of the same nation. One of the world’s most famous exclaves is also one of its most gorgeous: The county around the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, perched on the Adriatic Sea and filled with 16th-century charm, is separated from the rest of its mother country by a strip of land belonging to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An example of an exclave much closer to home is Alaska, which is completely surrounded on land by Canada. However, Alaska is technically considered a “pene-exclave,” because it can be reached via water without going through another nation’s territory. With Alaska being nearly one-fifth the size of the contiguous United States, the Vatican being home to one of the world’s most influential religious leaders, and Dubrovnik being a major filming location for Game of Thrones, it’s clear that enclaves and exclaves have been key players in world history — however confusing their geography.