Which countries have been under foreign rule for more than a century?

Colonialism has shaped the world we live in. For many centuries, powerful countries sought to extend their authority over other territories and people. While it was mainly for economic dominance, colonizers also imposed their culture, religion, and other practices on the countries they had ruled, aiming to benefit from their people and resources. Here’s a list of the nations that have been under foreign rule for a century, from longest to shortest.


As part of their domination, the Swedish Kingdom took over the Finnish territory starting in the 12th century. It was due to the Northern Crusades, the endeavor of the Roman Catholic Church to extend its faith to the pagan areas situated around the Baltic Sea. Moreover, the favorable climate phase in Europe resulted in population growth, causing the need to emigrate. The Swedish power, however, collapsed in the 18th century. Finland lost its war against Russia, and the former became a part of the latter’s territory. It was only on December 6, 1917, when it finally gained its independence after Russia fell under the Bolsheviks. (Number of years under foreign rule: 763)

Cape Verde Islands

The Portuguese explorers discovered the uninhabited Cape Verde Islands in 1456 and giving birth to the first European settlement in the tropics. In 1495, the island nation became an official part of the Portuguese empire. Situated on an ideal trade route between Europe, Africa, and the New World, it has become the center of the slave trade, attracting privateers, merchants, and pirates. The transatlantic slavery, however, ended in 1876, due to emigration and economic decline. Cape Verde recovered and transformed as a shipping port and commercial center. While it was still considered as Portugal’s overseas department in 1951, the peninsula, which covers a combined area of 4,033 square kilometers, continued to fight their independence and achieved it in 1975. (Number of years under foreign rule: 519.)

Sri Lanka

The colonization of Sri Lanka started with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. For 443 years since then, the country also gained its independence in 1948. During the said period, Sri Lanka has been ruled by the Portuguese from 1505-1658, Dutch from 1658-1976, and British from 1967-1948. The Sri Lankans never revolted against their last oppressors, but their freedom was provided to them by default after India’s independence. The British then regarded it pointless to continue governing Sri Lanka. (Number of years under foreign rule: 443)


Albania first fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1479. Serious Albanian revolts transpired for over a decade. However, their force was too futile to counter the powerful Ottoman empire. In 1488, the Ottomans finally controlled the entire country. Albania found its freedom from the Turks after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1912. (Number of years under foreign rule: 433)


Syria was another country that was colonized by the Ottoman Empire during its prime. In July 1516, Selim I of the Ottomans declared war against the Mamluks of Syria. A year after, Syria became under the full control of Turks. However, the Ottoman Empire succumbed after the First World War. Syria soon became under the French mandate for 26 years and gained its independence in April 1946. (Number of years under foreign rule: 429)


Before Christopher Columbus first arrived in Cuba in 1492, the island of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea was inhabited by different Amerindian people. Upon returning from his expedition, Spain claimed Cuba and sent Spanish governors in Havana, Cuba’s capital city, and took advantage of the country’s prosperous sugar, coffee, and tobacco production. While there were a series of aggressive rebellions against Spain, it wasn’t enough to halt the Spanish rule. It was only in 1898 when the Spanish-American war commenced and resulted in the Spanish withdrawal from Cuba. The country became a U.S. protectorate for three-and-half years prior to gaining its freedom in 1902. (Number of years under foreign rule: 410)


The Europeans first recorded arrival in the Philippines happened on March 16, 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan sighted Samar Island and landed on Homonhon Island the day after. Magellan, however, lost his life in a battle with the native Filipinos. It then took 44 years after when Spanish colonization took place in the 7,100-island Philippine archipelago. In 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in the Philippines and established their first permanent settlement in Cebu. The Spaniards ruled the country until 1898 when the Spanish-American war commenced. Spain lost to the American Navy and ceded the Philippines to the United States. While the Philippines consider 1898 as their year of independence, it was on July 4, 1946, when they gained independence from the United States. (Number of years under foreign rule: 381)


Gambia is an African country surrounded by Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean. What enticed colonizers to occupy the region is the Gambia River that runs 1,120 kilometers. Half of its length is navigable, making it an ideal communications highway for trading gold and slaves. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth acknowledged its value of and in the same year, the British empire first established its colony in Gambia. However, they did not consider it as a nation and stayed mainly near the riverbanks. On February 18, 1965, Gambia gained its political independence from Britain. Today, the geographical map of Gambia appears strange as it only spans 59 kilometers but runs 322 kilometers long. (Number of years under foreign rule: 377)


Caribs and Arawaks first inhabited Barbados prior to its European colonization in 1627. The Portuguese first came into the nation while on their way to Brazil. It was then when explorer Pedro A Campos named the 430 square kilometers island was ‘Los Barbados’ or the bearded-ones, which is said to be due to the abundant fig tree in Barbados giving it its beard-like appearance. In 1625, an English expedition examined the potential of the island. Two years later, the ship William and John disembarked on the island with around 80 Englishmen and 10 Africans. Barbados was put under British rule and became independent in 1966. (Number of years under foreign rule: 339)


After being governed by the king of Denmark, Sweden rule and the Russian tsar, Estonia first tasted independence in 1918 and found its national awakening. It was short lived, however, as they have been placed under Soviet occupation for almost half a century after World War II. The European nation, which serves as the gateway to the East and the West, reclaimed its independence in 1991 through the ‘Singing Revolution’ and after the dissolution of the USSR. (Number of years under foreign rule: 259)


Argentina was colonized by Spain in the late 16th century and gained its independence in 1816. Its people are a mixture of diverse ethnic and national groups, tracing from Italian and Spanish roots. While it gained its freedom in 1816, it experienced a lot of political conflicts between civilian and military groups and the conservative and liberal parties. It was in 1983 when democracy finally ruled the country and numerous elections after that that solidified Argentina’s progress in political consolidation. (Number of years under foreign rule: 236)


Bahrain became a protectorate of Britain in 1861 and played a significant role in protecting its Ruling Family. Britain then assumed the country’s defense and foreign relations. While Britain and the Ottoman government signed a treaty in 1913, declaring Bahrain’s independence, the country remained under British rule. It was only in 1971 when it gained political independence from Britain, with Sheikh Isa becoming the first Emir and the Council of State becoming the first cabinet. (Number of years under foreign rule: 110)

Other countries were put under foreign rule and deserved mention. Yet what matters most is that the colonial era has come to an end and is now only a part of our rich world history. We’re blessed enough to have the air of independence, democracy, and freedom we have today.

Colonialism in Culture

While the colonial era has ended, it left marks and shaped most of the countries that have been subjugated by foreign rule. Today, the remnants of colonialism can be seen in the culture, tradition, infrastructures, and people of the once oppressed nations. These nations are ideal travel destinations as they would take you back through time and help you learn more about the world’s rich history.

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