A flag is a (mostly) unique design that identifies a nation and sometimes showcases part of its history. However, there’s only so much you can show on a piece of cloth, which is why many flags have powerful emblems and symbols that have deep meaning for the people they represent. Any flag, whether it’s national or regional, has some reasoning behind the choice of colors, images, etc. Sometimes the symbolism is well-known even to people in other countries; for instance, the American flag has 50 stars to represent its states, 13 stripes to represent the original colonies, and so on. In fact, many national flags have emblems like stars, stripes, and blocks of colors that represent their story.
Sometimes, though, the emblem on a certain flag is quite unusual and relatively more complex than the ones we’re used to. They include more than blocks of bright colors or geometric designs. Let’s now have a look at some of the most eye-catching examples and learn what they mean:
1. Andorra: Two Red Cows With Blue Horns
Andorra is a landlocked principality high up between Spain and France, within the Pyrenees Mountains. It may only measure a mere 180 miles at its widest point, but it’s still an independent nation (albeit among the smallest). Think of it this way; this whole country could sit six times over in the area of Rhode Island alone.
The flag of Andorra does have a straightforward background, there are three solid shades there–yellow, red, and black. However, right in the middle of the yellow part is a coat of arms. In the coats of arms’ bottom-right corner, there are two red cows displayed with navy blue hooves or horns.
The reason behind this inclusion is that the coat of arms actually represents four coats of arms from the two former feudal lords and two Andorran prices. The French Viscount of Béarn had a coat of arms with such cows in it, so it also came on the Andorran flag.
There’s also another theory surrounding the depiction of cows, which says that they’re a pun on the Vaccaei’s name. The Vaccaei are an ancient Celtic tribe who were the ancestors of the Béarns. The Latin word for a cow was vacca, hence the little inside joke on the national flag.
2. Albania: An Eagle With Two Heads
A two-headed eagle is not a very bizarre choice for an emblem; since ancient times, it has symbolized nationalism, empire, and fortitude. However, the use of this emblem was usually on national or local coats of arms. The Albanian flag has quite a striking example of it, as it’s a solid orange background with a black silhouette of a two-headed eagle.
The two heads of this eagle represent both extremes of Albania–the north and the south. Local folklore tells us that the Albanian name of the country is Shqipëria, which means ‘the land of the eagles’.
3. Angola: A Machete
We’ve seen the hammer and sickle represent the working classes in the Soviet Union flag, but Angola’s flag represents a lot of different concepts. This flag was officially adopted back in 1975, due to the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola. The MPLA started out as a guerrilla group and eventually became the top political party leading the nation towards independence.
As a result, the Angolan flag has a black and red background to symbolize the bloodshed during colonization. In the middle, a star represents solidarity while a cog represents industry. Last but not least, there’s also a machete in there to respect both the war of independence and the agriculture of the country. This central design of three emblems might be reminiscent of the Soviet Union flag. This makes sense, as the Society Union did lend support to the MPLA at the time the flag was made.
4. Bermuda: A Shipwreck
One can see why a regular, sailing ship might be a logical emblem for a flag; it can represent trade, power, war, and a lot of other things that make up a country’s identity. So why would anyone want their national flag to have a wrecked ship on it?
While this image might mystify some, the choice makes sense when you delve into it. The Bermuda island combines the Union Jack and a red lion with a shield. The shield, in turn, depicts a galleon ship running aground on the face of a cliff. This ship represents the Sea Venture, which was the Virginia Company’s flagship. The flagship used to operate between colonial American and England at the start of the 17th century.
As the story goes, there was a fateful crossing back in 1609, when the shop ran into a hurricane. Admiral Sir George Somers had to intentionally go towards the Bermuda reefs. This was the only sight of land the crew could see for several weeks. His aim was to get to land and take shelter until the bad weather passed. It was a miracle that everyone on the ship managed to survive. This way, the Bermuda island was also settled. Incidentally, this was also a part of history which inspired William Shakespeare to write ‘The Tempest’.
If that little Shakespeare tidbit piqued your interest, here are some more interesting facts about the Bard.
5. Bhutan: A Dragon With Four Gemstones
The flag of Bhutan has an orange and saffron-colored background. The most interesting thing about it is the white dragon in the center. The dragon holds four gemstones, and is called the thunder dragon or Druk in Bhutan. It’s also a known character in Bhutanese mythology. The jewels are meant to represent wealth.
The gemstones may also represent perfection. The color of the dragon was originally green, but it was later changed to white. This change was meant to symbolize purity as well as the loyalty of the ethnic groups within this country.
6. El Salvador: A Stick Wearing a Hat, and Five Volcanoes
Just reading the description of the El Salvador flag makes one curious. The design in the middle of the mostly blue and white flag depicts five volcanoes and a crimson hat on a long staff. The volcanoes are finally straightforward, they repent each of the founder nations within the former Federal Republic of Central America. These were Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador itself.
Above the middle volcano rises a hat, which is conical in shape and originated from the Eastern Mediterranean. This is also known as a Phrygian cap, and was once mistakenly said to symbolize emancipation and liberation. There was some confusion here with Pileus hats, which are made of linen or felt. Pileus hats were given to freed slaves in the time of Ancient Rome.
While the type of hat was an error, the image has since stuck. Today, we can see Phrygian caps in quite a lot of places, the U.S Senate’s official seal has it, along with the state flags of New York, New Jersey, and West Virginia. The flash of Nicaragua, Haiti, and Bolivia also bear this emblem.
7. Croatia: A Pine Marten
The Croatian flag contained a sort of checkerboard shield in the center. This represents the country’s coat of arms and traditional colors as well. Above this shield, there are another five coats of arms, representing the regions of Dalmatia, Slovenia, Istria, Dubrovnik, and Croatia itself.
The Slavonia coat of arms depicts a pine marten in a running position. This animal is a mammal and a carnivorous member of the weasel family. At one point in history, the skins of pine martens were a significant revenue stream for the country. In fact, it’s such a major symbol for Croatia that the kuna (Croatian currency) means ‘marten’ in the local language. Hence, this emblem represents the main industry of the country in the past. Additionally, it’s also meant to symbolize wealth and prosperity.
8. Turkmenistan: Five Traditional Carpets
The flag of Turkmenistan has the green coloring and crescent to represent their majority religion: Islam. In addition to this, however, there’s a red stripe a bit inset from the left that depicts five guls. These guls are traditional designs in a medallion or oval shape.
These designs are usually weaved into the rugs and carpets that central Asia is so famous for. Each design is unique to a founding person or tribe of the area. The designs are not just complex and cultural, but they’re also downright beautiful. It’s because of their inclusion that the flag of Turkmenistan is said to be among the most complex of national flags in the whole world. It’s also easily counted among the most beautiful flags in the world
A strange and unusual flag design might be hard to draw, but it’s certainly eye-catching and memorable. Each emblem, symbol, and color tells us about a little bit of history, so we should pay attention to these designs. If nothing else, knowing more about flags reminds us of the unique history and culture of every country, no matter how big or small it might be.