Vatican City

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The official name is the Vatican City State.

Vatican City is an independent city-state enclaved within Rome, Italy.

With an area of 49 hectares and a population of about 825, it is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population.

Official languages: Latin and Italian.
Official currency is euro: 1 EUR = 0,85 USD (2021)
Time zone in the Vatican: GMT+2

The Vatican, established with the Lateran Treaty (1929), is distinct from, yet under “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” of the Holy See.

The Vatican City is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state (a type of theocracy) ruled by the pope who is the bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now Vatican City, although at times residing instead in the Quirinal Palace in Rome or elsewhere.

The unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and souvenirs, fees for admission to museums, and sales of publications.

Geography & Administrative division

The name “Vatican” predates Christianity and comes from the Latin Mons Vaticanus, meaning “Vatican Mount”. The territory of Vatican City is part of the Mons Vaticanus, and of the adjacent former Vatican Fields. It is in this territory that St. Peter’s Basilica, the Apostolic Palace, the Sistine Chapel, and museums were built, along with various other buildings.

Origin of the name & Local symbols

The name Vatican City was first used in the Lateran Treaty, signed on 11 February 1929, which established the modern city-state named after Vatican Hill, the geographic location of the state.

“Vatican” is derived from the name of an Etruscan settlement, Vatica or Vaticum located in the general area the Romans called Ager Vaticanus, “Vatican territory”.

The official Italian name of the city is Città del Vaticano or, more formally, Stato della Città del Vaticano, meaning “Vatican City State”.

Although the Holy See (which is distinct from the Vatican City) and the Catholic Church use Ecclesiastical Latin in official documents, the Vatican City uses Italian. The Latin name is Status Civitatis Vaticanae; this is used in official documents by the Holy See, the Church, and the Pope.

History & Timeline

The Holy See dates back to early Christianity and is the primate episcopal see of the Catholic Church, with 1.3 billion Catholic Christians around the world distributed in the Latin Church and 23 Eastern Catholic Churches.

The independent Vatican City-state, on the other hand, came into existence on 11 February 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, which spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870), which had previously encompassed much of central Italy.

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The name “Vatican” was already in use in the time of the Roman Republic for the Ager Vaticanus, a marshy area on the west bank of the Tiber across from the city of Rome, located between the Janiculum, the Vatican Hill, and Monte Mario, down to the Aventine Hill and up to the confluence of the Cremera creek.

Because of its vicinity to their arch-fiend, the Etruscan city of Veii (another naming for the Ager Vaticanus was Ripa Veientana or Ripa Etrusca) and for being subjected to the floods of the Tiber, the Romans considered this originally uninhabited part of Rome insalubrious and ominous.

The toponym Ager Vaticanus is attested until the 1st century AD: afterward, another toponym appeared, Vaticanus, denoting an area much more restricted: the Vatican hill, today’s St. Peter’s Square, and possibly today’s Via della Conciliazione.

Under the Roman Empire, many villas were constructed there, after Agrippina the Elder (14 BC–18 October AD 33) drained the area and laid out her gardens in the early 1st century AD.

In AD 40, her son, Emperor Caligula (31 August AD 12–24 January AD 41; r. 37–41) built in her gardens a circus for charioteers (AD 40) that was later completed by Nero, the Circus Gaii et Neronis, usually called, simply, the Circus of Nero.

The Vatican Obelisk was originally taken by Caligula from Heliopolis in Egypt to decorate the spina of his circus and is thus its last visible remnant.

This area became the site of martyrdom of many Christians after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. Ancient tradition holds that it was in this circus that Saint Peter was crucified upside-down.

Opposite the circus was a cemetery separated by the Via Cornelia. Funeral monuments and mausoleums, and small tombs, as well as altars to pagan gods of all kinds of polytheistic religions, were constructed lasting until before the construction of the Constantinian Basilica of St. Peter in the first half of the 4th century.

A shrine dedicated to the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis remained active long after the ancient Basilica of St. Peter was built nearby.

Remains of this ancient necropolis were brought to light sporadically during renovations by various popes throughout the centuries, increasing in frequency during the Renaissance until it was systematically excavated by orders of Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1941.

The Constantinian basilica was built in 326 over what was believed to be the tomb of Saint Peter, buried in that cemetery.

From then on, the area became more populated in connection with activity at the basilica. A palace was constructed nearby as early as the 5th century during the pontificate of Pope Symmachus (reigned 498–514).

Popes gradually came to have a secular role as governors of regions near Rome. They ruled the Papal States, which covered a large portion of the Italian peninsula, for more than a thousand years until the mid-19th century, when all the territory belonging to the papacy was seized by the newly created Kingdom of Italy.

For most of this time, the popes did not live at the Vatican. The Lateran Palace, on the opposite side of Rome, was their habitual residence for about a thousand years. From 1309 to 1377, they lived at Avignon in France. On their return to Rome, they chose to live at the Vatican.

They moved to the Quirinal Palace in 1583, after work on it was completed under Pope Paul V (1605–1621), but on the capture of Rome in 1870 retired to the Vatican, and what had been their residence became that of the King of Italy.

In 1870, the Pope’s holdings were left in an uncertain situation when Rome itself was annexed by the Piedmont-led forces which had united the rest of Italy, after a nominal resistance by the papal forces. Between 1861 and 1929 the status of the Pope was referred to as the “Roman Question”.

Italy made no attempt to interfere with the Holy See within the Vatican walls. However, it confiscated church property in many places.

In 1871, the Quirinal Palace was confiscated by the King of Italy and became the royal palace. Thereafter, the popes resided undisturbed within the Vatican walls, and certain papal prerogatives were recognized by the Law of Guarantees, including the right to send and receive ambassadors.

But the Popes did not recognize the Italian king’s right to rule in Rome, and they refused to leave the Vatican compound until the dispute was resolved in 1929; Pope Pius IX (1846–1878), the last ruler of the Papal States, was referred to as a “prisoner in the Vatican”. Forced to give up secular power, the popes focused on spiritual issues.

This situation was resolved on 11 February 1929, when the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy was signed by Prime Minister and Head of Government Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III and by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri for Pope Pius XI.

The treaty, which became effective on 7 June 1929, established the independent state of Vatican City and reaffirmed the special status of Catholic Christianity in Italy.

The Holy See, which ruled Vatican City, pursued a policy of neutrality during World War II, under the leadership of Pope Pius XII. Although German troops occupied the city of Rome after the September 1943 Armistice of Cassibile, and the Allies from 1944, they respected Vatican City as neutral territory.

One of the main diplomatic priorities of the bishop of Rome was to prevent the bombing of the city; so sensitive was the pontiff that he protested even the British air dropping of pamphlets over Rome, claiming that the few landed within the city-state violated the Vatican’s neutrality.

The British policy, as expressed in the minutes of a Cabinet meeting, was: “that we should on no account molest the Vatican City, but that our action as regards the rest of Rome would depend upon how far the Italian government observed the rules of war”.

After the US entered into the war, the US opposed such a bombing, fearful of offending Catholic members of its military forces, but said that “they could not stop the British from bombing Rome if the British so decided”. The US military even exempted Catholic pilots and crew from air raids on Rome and other Church holdings, unless voluntarily agreed upon.

Notably, with the exception of Rome, and presumably the possibility of the Vatican, no Catholic US pilot or aircrew refused a mission within German-held Italy. The British uncompromisingly said, “they would bomb Rome whenever the needs of the war demanded”.

In December 1942, the UK’s envoy suggested to the Holy See that Rome be declared an “open city”, a suggestion that the Holy See took more seriously than was probably meant by the UK, who did not want Rome to be an open city, but Mussolini rejected the suggestion when the Holy See put it to him.

In connection with the Allied invasion of Sicily, 500 US aircraft bombed Rome on 19 July 1943, aiming particularly at the railway hub. Some 1,500 people were killed; Pius XII himself, who had been described in the previous month as “worried sick” about the possible bombing, viewed the aftermath.

Another raid took place on 13 August 1943, after Mussolini had been ousted from power. On the following day, the new government declared Rome an open city, after consulting the Holy See on the wording of the declaration, but the UK had decided that they would never recognize Rome as an open city.

Pius XII had refrained from creating cardinals during the war. By the end of World War II, there were several prominent vacancies: Cardinal Secretary of State, Camerlengo, Chancellor, and Prefect for the Congregation for the Religious among them. Pius XII created 32 cardinals in early 1946, having announced his intentions to do so in his preceding Christmas message.

The Pontifical Military Corps, except for the Swiss Guard, was disbanded by the will of Paul VI, as expressed in a letter of 14 September 1970. The Gendarmerie Corps was transformed into a civilian police and security forces.

In 1984, a new concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain provisions of the earlier treaty, including the position of Catholic Christianity as the Italian state religion, a position given to it by a statute of the Kingdom of Sardinia of 1848.

Construction in 1995 of a new guest house, Domus Sanctae Marthae, adjacent to St Peter’s Basilica was criticized by Italian environmental groups, backed by Italian politicians.

They claimed the new building would block views of the Basilica from nearby Italian apartments. For a short while, the plans strained the relations between the Vatican and the Italian government.

The head of the Vatican’s Department of Technical Services robustly rejected challenges to the Vatican State’s right to build within its borders.

Tourism & What to do in the Vatican?

Within the Vatican City are religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures.

Local traditions

  • Torture and burn at the stake
  • Install weird rituals and pray to ancient mythology characters
  • Abuse children and protect priests involved in child sex abuse

Climate & Best time to visit Vatican

Vatican City’s climate is the same as Rome’s: a temperate, Mediterranean climate Csa with mild, rainy winters from October to mid-May and hot, dry summers from May to September. Some minor local features, principally mists, and dews, are caused by the anomalous bulk of St Peter’s Basilica, the elevation, the fountains, and the size of the large paved square.

In July 2007, the Vatican accepted a proposal by two firms based respectively in San Francisco and Budapest, whereby it would become the first carbon-neutral state by offsetting its carbon dioxide emissions with the creation of a Vatican Climate Forest in Hungary, as a purely symbolic gesture to encourage Catholics to do more to safeguard the planet. Nothing came of the project.

On 26 November 2008, the Vatican itself put into effect a plan announced in May 2007 to cover the roof of the Paul VI Audience Hall with solar panels.

Tourist information

There are no passport controls for visitors entering Vatican City from the surrounding Italian territory. There is free public access to Saint Peter’s Square and Basilica and, on the occasion of papal general audiences, to the hall in which they are held. For these audiences and for major ceremonies in Saint Peter’s Basilica and Square, tickets free of charge must be obtained beforehand.

The Vatican Museums, incorporating the Sistine Chapel, usually charge an entrance fee. There is no general public access to the gardens, but guided tours for small groups can be arranged to the gardens and excavations under the basilica. Other places are open to only those individuals who have a business to transact there.

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