In countries which have French as one of their administrative languages (such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland or many African countries) and in some other countries (such as Italy, cf. cognate capoluogo), a chef-lieu (French pronunciation: [ʃɛfljø], plural form chefs-lieux (literally "chief place" or "head place"), is a town or city that is pre-eminent from an administrative perspective. The ‘f’ in chef-lieu is pronounced, in contrast to chef-d'oeuvre where it is mute.
The capital of an Algerian Province is called a chef-lieu. The capital of a district, the next largest division, is also called a chef-lieu. While the capital of the lowest division, the municipalities, is called agglomeration de chef-lieu (chef-lieu agglomeration) and is abbreviated as A.C.L.
Luxembourg is divided into two judicial arrondissements (Luxembourg City, Diekirch), three administrative districts (Luxembourg City, Diekirch, Grevenmacher), four electoral circonscriptions (constituencies), twelve cantons and one hundred and five communes (municipalities; Luxembourgish: Gemengen).
Arrondissements, districts and cantons have each a chef-lieu and are named after it. The same is true for each commune which is composed of more than one town or village. Usually (with a few exceptions), the commune is named after the communal chef-lieu.
The chef-lieu of a département is known as the préfecture. This is the town or city where the prefect of the départment (and all services under his/her control) is situated, in a building known as the prefecture. In every French region, one of the départments has pre-eminence over the others, and the prefect carries the title of Prefect of region X…, Prefect of Department Z… and the city where the regional prefect is found is known as chef-lieu of the region or, more commonly, Regional prefecture. The services are, however, controlled by the prefecture of the départment.
The chef-lieu of an arrondissement, commonly known as the sous-préfecture is the city or town where the sub-prefect of the arrondissement (and the services directly under his/her control) is situated, in a building called the sub-prefecture. The arrondissement where the département prefecture is located does not normally have a sub-prefect or sub-prefecture, the administration being devolved usually to the Secretary-general of the departmental prefecture, who functions as sub-prefect for the arrondissement.
The chef-lieu of a canton is usually the biggest city or town within the canton, but has only a nominal role. No specific services are controlled by it. In past decades, there was always a Gendarmerie, a treasurer and a justice of the peace.
The chef-lieu of a commune is the principal area of the town or city that gives the commune its name, the other areas of the town being called hamlets. French typographers will use a capital for the ‘Le’ or ‘La’ preceding the name of places having ‘chef-lieu of town’ status, and lowercase ‘le’ or ‘la’ for hamlets.
In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the administrative centres are known as "chief towns" or nahias. Nahias may be in charge of a sub-district (qda), a district (liwa), or a governorate (muhafazah).
The chef-lieu indicates the principal city of the provinces of New Caledonia. So Nouméa is the chef-lieu of South Province. But the chef-lieu can also mean the principal area within a town. So Wé is part of the town of Lifou, but is the chef-lieu of Lifou. In the Loyalty Islands and the other islands, the name of the chef-lieu differs from that of the name of the town. For the towns of the mainland, the chef-lieu has the same name as the town. Nouméa is a town composed only of Nouméa.
Many of the West African states which gained independence from France in the mid-20th century also inherited the French administrative structure of Departments and Communes, headed by a Chief-Lieu. States still using Chief-Lieu to identify the administrative headquarters of a government subdivision include Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, and Nigerl.
Taking Niger and Mali as examples, the administrative subdivisions down to the Commune level each have a formal place of administrative headquarters, titled the chef-lieu. The larger portion of the terminology of administrative division is inherited from colonial rule as part of French West Africa, and has survived and been somewhat modified over time. In both nations there have been remarkably parallel histories. With the decentralization process begun in both nations in the 1990s, the chef-lieu has transitioned from the location of the Governor, Commandant, or Prefect and their staff, to the location of Commune, Cercles of Mali/Departments of Niger, and Regional Councils and a variety of decentralized bodies. The chefs-lieux of a Region, Cercle or Département, is usually also a Communal chef-lieu. Both nations collect these councils in a "High Council of Collectivites" seated at the nation's capital. Smaller sub-divisions in Mali's Communes (Villages, Tribal councils, Quarters) are administered from or identified as a Place/Site (Site in French), so the chef-lieu is literally the Chief-Place even at the lowest level.
In Russia, the term is applied to the inhabited localities, which serve as a seat of government of entities of various levels. The only exception to this rule is the republics, for which the term "capital" is used to refer to the seat of government. The capital of Russia is also an entity to which the term "administrative centre" does not apply. A similar arrangement exists in Ukraine.
The term chef-lieu is applied to the capital of each Swiss canton. In 16 of the 26 cantons, the territory is subdivided into districts. Every district also has a city nominated as chef-lieu and each has a prefect.
The term chef-lieu is used to designate the capital of each gouvernorat (department). Each of the 24 gouvernorats is subdivided into delegations (districts) which each have a central city as chef-lieu of delegation.