World Travel GuidesVatican City, Holy See

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Vatican City is a city state within the city of Rome, Italy. It is approximately 44 hectares (110 acres) in size, and has a population of around 900. Vatican City is considered the smallest country in the world by both area and population. It came into existence in 1929. It is distinct from the central authority of the Roman Catholic Church, also known as the Holy See, which has existed long before 1929.

The difference between the Vatican City and the Holy See is that ordinances of Vatican City are published in Italian whereas official documents of the Holy See are issued mainly in Latin. These two entities even have distinct passports: the Holy See, not being a country, only issues diplomatic and service passports; the state of Vatican City issues normal passports. In either case the passports issued are very few.

Vatican City
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The Vatican City was created through the Lateran Treaty of 1929. It is considered a new creation and not a vestige of the much larger Papal States that had previously encompassed central Italy. Most of the Papal territory was absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. The final portion of the Papal States, namely the city of Rome with a small area close to it, became part of Italy ten years later, in 1870.

Vatican City is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state. It is ruled by the Pope, who is the bishop of Rome. The highest state functionaries are all clergymen of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See and the location of the Apostolic Palace, which is the Pope's residence. Popes have resided in the area that in 1929 became the Vatican City since the return from Avignon in 1377. Previously, they resided in the Lateran Palace on the Caelian Hill on the opposite side of Rome, which was out of repair in 1377. The signing of the agreements that established the new state took place in the latter building, giving rise to the name of Lateran Pacts, by which they are known.

Vatican Museum staircase
Vatican Museum staircase" style="text-decoration:none" target="_blank">Andreas Tille
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The name "Vatican" is an ancient name that is older even than Christianity. It is derived from Mons Vaticanus, which is Latin for Vatican Mount. The territory of Vatican City is part of Mons Vaticanus, and of the adjacent former Vatican Fields where St. Peter's Basilica, the Apostolic Palace, the Sistine Chapel, and museums were built, along with various other buildings. The area was part of the Roman rione (subdivision of Rome) of Borgo until 1929. Being separated from the city, on the west bank of the Tiber river, the area was an outcrop of the city that was protected by being included within the walls of Leo IV, and later expanded by the current fortification walls of Paul III/Pius IV/Urban VIII.

When the Lateran Treaty of 1929 that gave the state its present form was being prepared, the boundaries of the proposed territory was influenced by the fact that much of it was all but enclosed by this loop. Some tracts of the frontier were not demarcatede by wall, but rather by the line of certain buildings forming part of the boundary. Additionally, a modern wall was constructed to denote a small part of the frontier. The territory includes St. Peter's Square, distinguished from the territory of Italy only by a white line along the limit of the square, where it touches Piazza Pio XII. St. Peter's Square is reached through the Via della Conciliazione which runs from the Tiber River to St. Peter's. This grand approach was constructed by Benito Mussolini after the conclusion of the Lateran Treaty.

According to the Lateran Treaty, certain properties of the Holy See which are on Italian territory, most notably Castel Gandolfo and the major basilicas, enjoy extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies. These properties can be found all over Rome and Italy. They house essential offices and institutions necessary to the character and mission of the Holy See. Castel Gandolfo and the named basilicas are patrolled internally by police agents of the Vatican City State and not by Italian police. St. Peter's Square is ordinarily policed jointly by both.

Getting there

You can reach the Vatican by taxi, bus or on foot. Take the Metro line A to Cipro for the Museums, or Ottaviano for St. Peter's, or the tram to Piazza del Risorgimento.

Unesco Inscription

The Vatican City is a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1984 under criteria i, ii, iv and vi.

View Vatican City in a larger map

Books on Vatican City

Looking for books on Vatican City? Click here to view a selection of Books on Vatican City at Amazon.

Photo Album

  1. Vatican City Photo Album

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