[Note: this post got picked up through a reblog on Reddit and I’ve been getting quite a bit of traffic from it. Apparently, I touched a nerve with some of the people that found it, but harshness aside, there are some important corrections they’ve pointed out. I inserted their comments into my original post below. If I have other errors, I’d love to get your feedback. The thrust of my blog is primarily to entertain with … as Reddit user sylban says … “lame-ass ‘jokes'”, but I always appreciate getting feedback, particularly if it improves the information I’ve posted. I do have to disagree with sylban though. Corporal punishment for inserting my lame-ass jokes seems a bit extreme. I will, however, accept “chucklehead” and “childish gibber.” Reddit user tmcroissant indicates my post contains racism, which I take more seriously. I cover a lot of geography (albeit poorly according to Reddit User Calls-you-at-3am-), so I’m not sure what wording is of particular concern to tmcroissant. As for the other condemnatory comments, I can’t disagree in principle. After all, as my tagline indicates, I am an irresponsible blogger. Lastly, regarding excluded flags, Reddit user AlexSud asks why the Georgian flag isn’t on the list. Obviously, this list is completely subjective to my tastes and everyone else’s list is likely to be different. The flag of Georgia is a beautiful flag, I have to admit.]
There are between 165-270 countries in the world depending on how one defines the word “country.” The United Nations recognizes 190 undisputed “sovereign countries.” In other words, the U.N. congregates agree that there are 190 entities with no claims by other countries challenging that sovereignty (sovereignty is a fancy way of saying “you’re not the boss of me”). There are an additional 16 states whose sovereignty is disputed. Some of the disputes are silly, like Pakistan disputing the independence of Armenia? The reason for the dispute is friendly support by Pakistan for Azerbaijan, who has been in conflict with Armenia over territory and the results of war, even though Azerbaijan itself doesn’t dispute Armenia’s independence. The most famous disputes are Taiwan vs. Republic of China and Israel vs. Palestine. The most bizarre one is North Korea and South Korea because they both claim each other.
I’m really loose with my criteria. For the most part, the look of the flag, with a minor nod to symbolism and history, is what drove me to compile the list. I scoured through flags of sovereign countries, autonomous states, partially self-governed territories, and even dependencies. Why? Because some of the best flags are hidden in there. I’m no vexillologist (someone who studies flags) so I’m not going to pretend I have the depth of knowledge about flags acquired by those that study them. A couple of the negative comments were pretty arrogant, so I’m hoping they aren’t representative of the community at large. This is a list of interesting flags. I can’t think of anything more subjective than “interest,” so what’s interesting to me may not be interesting to you.
So, that said, here is my list of the Top 20 Most Interesting Flags of the World. Your list may differ.
20. Marshall Islands
To me, the flag looks more like a product brand than a flag. The big sun with all the sharp rays kind of catch the eye. Marshall Islands is a Trust Territory of the United States and calls the southwest Pacific Ocean its home. [Correction: Reddit User KarlPilkingtonsBrain points out that the islands are no longer a Trust Territory of the United States. Marshall Islands became fully sovereign in 1986.] The territory is made up over 1,100 islands and it’s located about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. It’s also famous for being the home of U.S. nuclear bomb testing. Death by radiation was not uncommon.
Territory Population: 68,000
19. Christmas Island
Christmas Island makes my list partially because its flag has a beautiful looking Golden Bosun bird on it. Just looks pretty. Maybe I had the beaches on my mind, but the island’s shape reminds me of a bikini bottom. We deducted a point and dropped Christmas Island’s flag lower on this list since the Australian territory’s name was based on the fact that an explorer passed it on Christmas Day in 1643 and dubbed it accordingly. Lazy. And that’s even lazy for us. It’s located to the northwest of Australia and just south of Indonesia.
Territory Population: 2,072
This country’s flag is simple but its square shape sets it apart from the typically rectangular flags of other nations. The red cross symbol is found on the Victorinox knifes I carried around as a Scout so maybe there’s some nostalgia there. Switzerland is also home to holey cheese (not to be confused with the holy cheese housed in Vatican City), pretty nurses, wooden clocks, Alpine horns (see Asterix in Switzerland), craggy mountains, discreet banks, and avoiding getting involved in wars. Switzerland is located in Europe in the area between Germany, France, and Italy. Update: I forgot to mention that Switzerland is also famous for chocolate. Duh! What’s wrong with me?! That’s like making a list of objects in the Solar System and forgetting to list the Sun! Geez.]
Country Population: 8,000,000
17. South Korea
OK, remember how I said these are the most interesting flags in the world to me? Right. So, this is a good example of a completely arbitrary choice because it’s just catches my eye. The flag looks kinda like a biplane’s piston engine. And I like biplanes. That’s it. Stupid. But the flag is still interesting. Anyway, whereas North Korea has typically been run by lunatics, the South has been run by small, affordable, lightweight automobiles that have given the Japanese car makers a run for their money. Incidentally, I’ve enjoyed some South Koreans films recently but have to admit they are pretty twisted. Try Oldboy or I Saw the Devil on for size. South Korea juts out from the Chinese mainland and is southwest of Japan.
Country Population: 50,004,441
A parrot on a festive flag gives Dominica a placer on our list. The Sisserou Parrot is a huge beautiful bird native to the former colony of the United Kingdom and is located in the Caribbean. By the way, Dominica has nothing to do with Dominican Republic, a larger nation also located in the area. Dominica is in an area called the Antilles which is at the outer eastern edge of the Sea heading into the Atlantic Ocean.
Country Population: 72,660
Like a lot of the flags on the African continent, Zimbabwe’s flag carries multiple colors that signify agriculture (green), minerals (yellow), blood (red), and heritage (black). The bird on the flag is a soapstone statuette representing the heyday of the magnificent ancient city of Great Zimbabwe (go read about it on Wikipedia). The Marxist star represents misguided revolutionary efforts to make a go at the real world after years of colonial repression. Instead of democracy, however, the country ended up with one of the worst tyrants in modern history (hello Robert Mugabe). As Roger Daltrey sings “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Country Population: 12,619,600
We just like it because of the hands. There aren’t too many flags with human body parts on them, so hurrah for the Bruneians. The hands symbolize the benevolence of the Sultanate’s Islamic government. That’s a problem for me since countries run by religious autocracies tend to have poor human rights records, although Brunei appears to be more tolerant than others. Also, the flag has a “parisol” representing the monarchy and a crescent representing Islam. Brunei is located in the South China Sea in an area carved out of Malaysia. [Correction: Reddit User oalsaker referenced the fact that Malaysia was created through arrangements made between the Sultan of Brunei and a short lived dynasty of Englishmen called the White Rajahs, so it wasn’t Brunei that was carved out — it was Malaysia. I had meant to say that Brunei was essentially a landmass “carved” out of the larger landmass of Malaysia but that confuses the actual history of Brunei and Malaysia as oalsaker points out.]
Country Population: 408,786
Big. Red. Dot. Simple and geometrically perfect. Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Reddish Sun … Japan is located east of China, the Koreas, and Russia. Japan is getting back to work on Monday at the same time as some parts of the United States are getting ready to go to church on Sunday. See, this is why we’re always running to catch up with Asia. [I got some criticism for not pointing out that Bangladesh and others aren’t getting attention here. Again, my list. I just like the look of red on white and the color of other flags that are similar just don’t jump out at me. I do have to say that if I did the list over again, I would have placed Greenland somewhere on it. It’s not as simple as Japan’s, but again, red and white. Plus it has an interesting horizon concept].
Country Population: 126,659,683
Hey, another sun flag, this time from a European country. I like the yellow rays on the red background. Just different. Macedonia is one of the countries that sprang forth after Yugoslavia blew up. It’s on the southern end of Europe. Incidentally, Greece and Macedonia both claim the name “Macedonia” as their own and this has been a source of contention between the two countries. Smells like another war opportunity. [Reddit user Calls-you-at-3am– added that Macedonia is also referred to as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” due to the naming dispute with Greece.]
Country Population: 2,058,539
Another colorful African flag with a bird. This time, the bird is a Grey Crowned Crane. The colors represent Africa (black), sunshine (yellow), and the blood of brotherhood (red). Uganda is a landlocked country (meaning it has no shoreline to access an ocean or sea) and it’s located in the same vicinity as Kenya and Congo. Sadly, Uganda has experienced its fair share of political and tribal violence, and it doesn’t appear that it will be abating anytime soon.
Country Population: 35,873,253
Not one, not two, not three, but four snakes! It’s even cooler that they are vipers. The flag of this overseas region of France apparently isn’t really an official flag. So what. It merits attention anyway. Martinique is located in the Caribbean, just south of Dominica (see above).
Region Population: 403,795
9. Vatican City
This flag is rather bland, but it is interesting because, like Switzerland, it’s square. The keys really strike our fancy. They represent heavenly (gold) power and earthly (white) power. Ha! I just realized that I wrote that the key symbolizes white power. That’s controversial in a way, I suppose, although one doesn’t typically associate the Catholic Church with white supremacy … or does it, Herr Ratzinger? There is a dubious history of some within the Catholic Church’s hierarchy colluding with Nazis. Vatican City is located in Rome, Italy and is an independent nation, technically, but relies on resources from outside its walls.
City-State Population: 836
8. United States
OK, this is where I’m torn. I’m American so naturally I have been enveloped by my flag so much more than other countries’ flags. So, with my bias I’m not really sure if this flag should be higher or lower or even on this list. But the reason I think it deserves attention is that there is a lot packed into Old Glory. And, just so you don’t think I only pick on other countries, I acknowledge that my country is the only one to have used nuclear weapons against human beings in wartime. We also still execute people (the United States was the only country to do so in the entire Western Hemisphere in 2012). We hate communism but don’t mind hypocritical tax subsidies for major private corporations. Many, if not most, of our citizens would be hard-pressed to identify the majority of the flags on this list (and lest I be charged with hypocrisy I admit that I could not identify in any way nine of the flags on this list until I started researching for this post). Ours is a country of massive contradictions. But, I have to openly and firmly admit that I love my country, just as most of you love yours. I’m not going to assume, by the way, that the U.S. is the leader of global morality as some of my fellow citizens believe. Leadership from around the world has collectively made our world a better place over the generations. There is still much to do and I’m hoping my country will be a part of it. [Note: Reddit user Zarorg states that “Ugh, this is so heavily Americanised.” Yes, that is correct, so I’m not sure about his/her point. Maybe Zarorg didn’t complete the sentence and intended to say “… and that’s a bad thing.” That’s Zarorg’s opinion, just as this post is mine.]
Country Population: 315,706,000
The fact that one of the primary versions of the flag has so much black on it makes it unusual. A big sun with curved rays, sugar cane, and three fleurs-de-lis make it even more distinct. Like Martinique, Guadeloupe is a French region so the flag is unofficial. Guadeloupe is located in the Caribbean Sea north of Dominica and Martinique (see above).
Region Population: 405,500
Swaziland is a landlocked country located mostly within South Africa and is bordered on the east by Mozambique. It’s a small country and relies heavily on trade and economic aid from South Africa. The flag is relatively new and was adopted after independence from Britain in 1968. The weaponry on the flag recalls its militaristic history. Like many of Africa’s flags, vibrant colors call out many different meanings: blue for peace and stability, red for previous wars, and yellow for the country’s resources. Swaziland is run by the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
Country Population: 1,185,000
The distinctive triangular shapes are super interesting to me and make this an instantly recognizable flag. The shape represents both the mountainous region it occupies and the two predominent religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. The symbols represent the sun and the moon. Nepal is a landlocked country that is sandwiched between India and China. Well, not really China. Tibet is its north neighbor. But who are we to stir the political pot? Oh, hell. Here we go. Long live the Dalai Lama! Sorry Nepal. We stole your thunder.
Country Population: 26,494,504
A dragon on rollerballs. Can you imagine? Actually, they’re jewels. Like Nepal, Bhutan is a landlocked Asian country that has the misfortune of being surrounded by Tibet and India. We’d hate to be in the middle of that mess. Bhutan had its own nastiness to deal with, though. It was guilty of ethnic cleansing (without the wholesale murder like in the former Yugoslavian nations) by booting out hundreds of thousands of Nepalese Hindus in the name of their flavor of Buddhism. So much for peace and acceptance.
Country Population: 742,737
3. United Kingdom
The Union Jack or Union Flag (see comment from Dylan below). A significant number of the world’s flags have the crosses of the British empire on them. It’s that cool. Or it represents the UK’s conquering colonial reach. Either way, it’s a sweet design. Even if it isn’t the most interesting, it’s probably my favorite flag overall. Again, I feel like I have to make a justification for my list — it represents the most interesting flags to me. I don’t have the same history as many of you do with the flag or the country so you either may feel the same, better, or worse about this flag when you make your own list.
Country Population: 63,181,775
2. British Indian Ocean Territory
Before you cry foul that I’ve double dipped, keep this in mind. The fact that the British crosses are on the flag is actually only a part of what makes this interesting. What really gets us are the wavy stripes. Maybe I’m a bit jaded because I love the ocean so much. Anyway, can you imagine how crazy the flag looks when it’s fluttering in the breeze? Waves upon waves. Top it off with the British royal crown and palm tree and the semi-official flag of this British territory has it all going on. The additional fact that it flies over an area with no formal population (it’s a military zone) and that the British and Americans booted out the native population and that it’s a disputed territory (Seychelles also lays claim) just makes it even more crazy.
Territory Population: 3,000 personnel
1. Saint Pierre and Miquelon
This was a hard one. I really, really like the British Indian Ocean Territory flag, but in the end I felt this one was more interesting. Since “interesting” is the operative word in the title of this list, interestingly enough, it belongs right here. Saint Pierre and Miquelon is a self-governing French territory (not a region like Martinique and Guadeloupe) that’s situated in the North Atlantic near Canada. What makes this flag the most interesting on my list is only partially because of the big yellow ship. As I said above, I may be jaded because I love the ocean, but I think that anyone would be drawn to this flag because of this unique artistic element. But it doesn’t end there. This flag has the flags of three other nations on it: Basque Country, Brittany, and Lower Normandy. How cool is that? And those other flags are interesting because …
- The Basque flag has a cool name (ikurrina). Its colors represent the Basque people (red), the famous oak tree of Guernica (green), and a cross to symbolize a fierce devotion to Catholicism (which is odd, since the Basques were originally and natively pagans until they were conquered by foreigners (Romans) that brought a foreign religion with them; we know the Basque people so we don’t understand how a fiercely independent nation now swears fierce fealty to the religion from faraway Palestine and Rome.
- The Breton flag also has an interesting name (Gwenn-ha-du). The black and white colors are unusual on a flag, and the shapes are ermine coats (i.e., fur from stoats, an animal that is part of the weasel family; this makes me sad, but, well, there it is).
- The Lower Norman flag: It is a provincial banner from a northern region of France and displays two leopards. Yes, leopards!
So, yeah. There you have it. And of course, what complicated list wouldn’t be complete without honorable mentions:
Isle of Man: three armored legs running around in a circle based on an ancient symbol from the Turko-Grecian region. The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Dependency.
Dependency Population: 84,655
Albania: It just looks so sinister (that’s not a commentary on the country, just the look of the flag). Therefore, it’s very cool and interesting to me. Albania is a Balkan country located next to the former Yugoslavian countries and faces into the Mediterranean Sea.
Country Population: 2,821,977
Mozambique: Like the flag of Zimbabwe, a Marxist star represents the historical push by Mozambicans (is that the right name) to shed colonial rule through a popular uprising based on Marxist principles. The country no longer aligns itself with Marxism but the flag hasn’t been changed. A book symbolizes the value of education, and the hoe represents agriculture. The Mozambique flag is the only one in the world that uses a modern rifle (in this case an AK-47). Mozambique is located along the southeastern shores of the African continent and faces into the Indian Ocean, although it’s blocked by Madagascar and a bunch of confused former zoo animals (movie reference, anyone?).
Country Population: 23,929,708
Turkmenistan: The intricate design of the carpets is fascinating. Turkmenistan was reborn out of the death of the U.S.S.R. It’s population is mostly Muslim although one can argue that many are also Niyazovists given the cult-like endearing feelings engendered by the former president/dictator. We won’t bother with the details here. Go read up on him somewhere else. He was nutty and cruel. His legacy’s tragedy is a reminder that horrors can be caused by ruthless autocracy perpetuated through a cult of personality … like that of the Kims in North Korea. Turkmenistan is located north of Iran and is surrounded by a bunch of other Stans to the east.
Country Population: 5,125,693
Ceuta: This flag of the autonomous Spanish city is actually fantastically interesting to me. [Correction: the flag is Portuguese. The Spanish retained it after the city chose to remain on Spain’s side after a war in 1640]. I love the black and white gyronny (a shield design) behind the coat of arms. I considered putting this flag into the list but it really stretched the general criteria of showcasing flags of countries and territories. Vatican City is an autonomous city but a separate state as well, so it’s different. Ceuta is located on the tip of Morocco at the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea.
City Population: 75,241
Since I’m American, I’ll go ahead and highlight the most interesting State flag. Maryland’s flag is by far the most unique in my opinion. It’s design is based on the coats of arms of a prominent family that founded Maryland.
State Population: 5,884,563
[If you made it all the way to the bottom, you may agree with Reddit User NewleyLostAgain that “the wording of this article is complete shit.” Perhaps. Anyway, I’ll take that as a compliment since shit is often a good fertilizer and the cursory knowledge you gained today by ready this shit may be of some use to you as you make your own list of “interesting flags.”]