The territory has a population of about 955,000 inhabitants, distributed within an area of approximately 15,000 km². The national capital is Dili.
In 1908, Portugal divided the Timorese territory into 15 military commands, responsible for the decentralization of the civil administration.
One decade later, the Portuguese metropolis created the first civil circumscriptions, which divided military power, since it had become superfluous after the signing of the Arbitral Sentence in 1914 with the Netherlands.
The first municipality – Dili – was only created in 1940. After that, many other municipalities and circumscriptions coexisted, until the last circumscription (Oecussi-Ambeno) was given the status of municipality in August 1973.
By the mid-1960s, the Portuguese administration was organized into 11 municipalities, namely Bobonaro, Cova-Lima, Liquiça, Ermera, Dili, Ainaro, Same, Manatuto, Baucau, Viqueque and Lautem; and one circumscription, the enclave of Oecussi-Ambeno.
The borders of these divisions were similar to those of present-day districts; however, there are three differences: the municipality of Aileu was separated from Dili during the last years of the Portuguese administration; and, under the Indonesian administration, the subdistrict of Turiscai, formerly a part of the Ainaro district, was transferred to Manufahi.
As a result, Hato Udo was taken from Manufahi and given to Ainaro. Among all of the districts in Timor-Leste, Viqueque is the largest, with an area of 884 km², and Dili the smallest (364 km²).
As far as administrative division is concerned, Timor-Leste is split into 13 districts: Bobonaro, Liquiçá, Díli, Baucau, Manatuto and Lautém on the north coast; Cova-Lima, Ainaro, Manufahi and Viqueque, on the south coast; Ermera and Aileu, the two landlocked districts; and Oecussi-Ambeno, the enclave in Indonesian territory.
The borders determining the 13 districts have been more or less the same since the last years of Portuguese administration.
Each district comprises one capital city and various subdistricts whose number can vary between three and seven, with an average of five subdistricts per district.
Demographically, Dili is the district where the majority of the population is concentrated, while Aileu registers the lowest population rate, although its area is superior to Dili’s.
The 13 districts are subdivided into 67 sub-districts, with one designated as the capital, and administrative subdivisions – the so-called sukus (villages) – which vary between 2 and 18 per subdistrict.
The largest subdistrict is Lospalos, in Lautem, with an area of 635 km², while Nain Feto in Dili is considered to be the smallest, with 6 km².
Fatululik, one of the smallest subdistricts, is the less populated with approximately two thousand inhabitants.
The subdistricts which present higher demographic rates are the ones belonging to the district of Dili, specifically those surrounding the national capital.
The smallest administrative division in Timor-Leste is the suku (village), which can comprise one or many aldeias (hamlets).
The territory is divided into 498 villages, an average of seven per subdistrict. Baucau has more villages (63) than any other district, while Ainaro is the district with the least divisions (21 villages).
Based on the average number of villages per subdistrict, the most central districts are the ones with more administrative segments. Aileu and Ermera have the highest average number, 11 villages per district, and Ainaro and Oecussi-Ambeno the lowest, with five villages per subdistrict.
The most central and mountainous subdistricts with the highest number of villages are: Aileu, in the Aileu district, and Bobonaro, in the Bobonaro district, with 18 divisions each; however, the subdistricts of Hato Udo, in Ainaro, and Tutuala, in Lautem, which lie near the coast, have only two villages each.
In regards to area, the largest villages lie on the easternmost part of Timor-Leste, specifically Laline in the subdistrict of Lacluta, Viqueque, with 212 km².
Dili comprises the smallest villages (15 altogether), similar to neighborhoods (the so called bairos), with areas between 2 km² and 0.06 km2.
The population distribution is highly uneven. Among the four villages that constitute the subdistrict of Fatululik, in Cova-Lima, two have a population of less than 500 inhabitants.
One of these villages has only 135 people, being the least populated village in Timor-Leste.
As expected, the villages with high demographic rates (over 5,000 inhabitants per square kilometer) belong to the Dili district, namely to the Dom Aleixo subdistrict.
The most populated village is Fuiloro in Lospalos, in the Lautem district, with a population of 10,000 inhabitants.