Vatican City

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Status Civitatis Vaticanae
Stato della Città del Vaticano

State of the Vatican City
Flag of Vatican City Coat of arms of Vatican City
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: Inno e Marcia Pontificale
(Latin: Hymn and Pontifical March)
Location of Vatican City
Capital Vatican City1
41°54′N 12°27′E
Largest city Vatican City
Official languages Latin2, Italian
Government Absolute elective3 monarchy
 - Head of State Pope Benedict XVI
 - Secretary of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone
 - Governor Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo
Independence from the Kingdom of Italy 
 - Lateran Treaty 11 February 1929 
 - Total 0.44 km² ( 232nd)
0.17 sq mi 
 - 2005 estimate 783 ( 229th)
 - Density 1,780/km² ( 6th)
4,610/sq mi
Currency Euro (€)4 ( EUR)
Time zone CET ( UTC+1)
 - Summer ( DST) CEST ( UTC+2)
Internet TLD .va
Calling code +395
1 Vatican City is a city-state.
2 Used for official purposes. De facto languages are Italian, German, English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, with Italian the most commonly used. The language of the Papal Swiss Guard is German.
3 Suffrage limited to the College of Cardinals (see #Government section below).
4 Prior to 2002, the Vatican lira (on par with the Italian lira).
5 ITU-T assigns code 379 to Vatican City. However, Vatican City is included in the Italian telephone numbering plan and uses the Italian country code 39.

Coordinates: 41°54′10″N, 12°27′9″E Vatican City, formally the State of the Vatican City (Latin: Status Civitatis Vaticanae; Italian: Stato della Città del Vaticano) is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome. At approximately 44 hectares (108.7 acres), it is the smallest independent nation in the world. See microstates.

It was created in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty as a vestige of the much larger former Papal States (AD 756 to 1870). Although governed by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), the Vatican City is officially a monarchy. The highest state functionaries are all clergymen of the Catholic Church. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See (Latin:Sancta Sedes) and the location of the Apostolic Palace – the Pope's official residence – and the Roman Curia. Thus, although the principal ecclesiastical seat of the Holy See (the Basilica of St. John Lateran) is located outside of its walls, in Rome, the Vatican City can be said to be the governmental capital of the Catholic Church.

The territory

The name Vatican is ancient and predates Christianity, coming from the Latin Mons Vaticanus, Vatican Hill. It is part of the 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 until 1929 was part of the Roman rione of Borgo. Being separated from the city and on the west bank of the Tiber river, it 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 Lateran Pacts of 1929 that gave the state its present form were being prepared, the fact that a good part of the proposed territory was all but enclosed by this loop led to the present territorial definition being adopted. For some tracts of the frontier there was no wall, but the line of certain buildings supplied part of the boundary, and for a small part of the frontier a modern wall was constructed. The territory included St. Peter's Square, which was not possible to isolate from the rest of Rome, and therefore a largely imaginary border with Italy runs along the outer limit of the square where it touches on Piazza Pio XII and Via Paolo VI. St. Peter's Square is reached through the Via della Conciliazione connecting it with Rome via the Ponte Sant Angelo. This grand approach was constructed by Mussolini after the conclusion of the Lateran Treaty.

According to the Lateran Treaty, certain properties of the Holy See which are located in Italian territory, most notably Castel Gandolfo and the Patriarchal Basilicas, enjoy extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies. These properties, scattered all over Rome and Italy, 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.

View of St. Peter's Square from the top of Michaelangelo's dome.
View of St. Peter's Square from the top of Michaelangelo's dome.

The Head of State

The Pope is ex officio head of state and head of government of Vatican City. He is simultaneously and primordially the bishop of the Diocese of Rome, the Holy See, and the leader of the Catholic religion. His official title with regard to Vatican City is Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City.

The pope is a non-hereditary monarch who exercises absolute authority, that is to say supreme legislative, executive and judicial power over the Vatican City. He is the only absolute monarch in Europe.

The pope is elected for a life term in conclave by cardinals under the age of 80. His principal subordinate government officials for Vatican City are the Secretary of State, the President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, and the Governor of Vatican City.

The current Pope is Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany. Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone of Italy is the Secretary of State. Italian Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo serves as both the President of the Pontifical Commission and Governor. Both Bertone and Lajolo were appointed by Pope Benedict in September 2006.


Territory of Vatican City according to the Lateran treaties.
Territory of Vatican City according to the Lateran treaties.

Even before the arrival of Christianity, it is supposed that this originally uninhabited part of Rome (the ager vaticanus) had long been considered sacred, or at least not available for habitation. The area was also the site of worship to the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis during Roman times. Agrippina the Elder (14 BC – 18 October AD 33) drained the hill and environs and built her gardens there in the early 1st century AD. Emperor Caligula (b. Aug. 31, AD 12 - d. Jan. 24, AD 41, emperor AD 37 to AD 41) started construction of a circus in AD 40 that was later completed by Nero, the Circus Gaii et Neronis. The Vatican obelisk was originally taken by Caligula from Heliopolis 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 St. Peter (Simon Peter Bar-Jona) 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's in the first half of the 4th century AD. 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.

In 326, the first church, the Constantinian basilica, was built over the site that Catholic apologists as well as noted Italian archeologists argue was the tomb of Saint Peter, buried in a common cemetery on the spot. From then on the area started to become more populated, but mostly only by dwelling houses connected with the activity of St. Peter's. A palace was constructed near the site of the basilica as early as the 5th century during the pontificate of Pope Symmachus (b. ?? - d. Jul. 19, 514, pope 498 - 514).

Popes in their secular role gradually came to govern neighbouring regions and, through the Papal States, ruled a large portion of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid 19th century, when most of the territory of the Papal States was seized by the newly created Kingdom of Italy. For much of this time the Vatican was not the habitual residence of the Popes, but rather the Lateran Palace, and in recent centuries, the Quirinal Palace, while the residence from 1309–1377 was at Avignon in France.

In 1870, the Pope's holdings were left in an uncertain situation when Rome itself was annexed by the Piedmontese after a nominal resistance by the papal forces. Between 1861 and 1929 the status of the pope was referred to as the " Roman Question". They were undisturbed in their palace, and given certain recognitions by the Law of Guarantees, including the right to send and receive ambassadors. But they 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. Other states continued to maintain international recognition of the Holy See as a sovereign entity. In practice Italy made no attempt to interfere with the Holy See within the Vatican walls. However, they confiscated church property in many other places, including, perhaps most notably, the Quirinal Palace, formerly the pope's official residence. Pope Pius IX (b. May 13, 1792-d. Feb. 7, 1878, pope 1846-1878), the last ruler of the Papal States, said that after Rome was annexed he was a " Prisoner in the Vatican". This situation was resolved on February 11, 1929 between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy. The treaty was signed by Benito Mussolini and Pietro Cardinal Gasparri in behalf of King Victor Emanuel III and Pope Pius XI (b. May 31, 1857-d. Feb. 10, 1939, pope 1922-1939), respectively. The Lateran Treaty and the Concordat established the independent State of the Vatican City and granted Catholicism special status in Italy. In 1984, a new concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain provisions of the earlier treaty, including the position of Catholicism as the Italian state religion.

St. Peter's Square in the early morning.
St. Peter's Square in the early morning.


Political system

For historical reasons, the government of Vatican City has a unique structure. As noted, the principal figures are the Secretary of State, the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, and the Governor of Vatican City. These, like all other officials, are appointed by the Pope and can be dismissed by him at any time.

During a sede vacante (papal vacancy), the Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church, former Secretary of State, and former President of the Pontifical Commission form a commission that performs some of the functions of the head of state; while another made up of the Chamberlain and three cardinals (one being chosen by lot every three days from each order of cardinals), performs other functions of the head of state. All decisions of these commissions must be approved by the College of Cardinals.

The State of the Vatican City, as created by the Lateran Treaty, enables the Holy See (the Diocese of Rome) to exist with a temporal jurisdiction, territorial identity, recognition, and independence within a small territory as a true nation-state in the eyes of other nations after the loss of the Papal States in 1870. The Vatican City State is not the Holy See. The Vatican City can thus be deemed a trivial subset of the Holy See, very significant but not essential. The Holy See has existed continuously as a juridical entity since Roman Imperial times and had been recognized by other sovereigns, nations and foreign powers as a powerful and independent sovereign (even suzerain) entity since late antiquity to the present, even during periods when it held no territory (e.g. 1870 to 1929). The Holy See has the oldest active continuous diplomatic representation or service in the world. Indeed, other nations have their diplomatic relations with the Holy See, never the Vatican City State. Thus, as far as the nation-state of the Vatican is concerned, its Head of State, the Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, is the pope. As far as it is concerned, the pope is its absolute monarch — who just happens to be a priest.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church as governed by the Holy See is the proper ecclesiastical government. This is not necessarily the case for the Vatican City State. In fact, prior to the reforms made by Pope Paul VI (b. Sep. 26, 1897-d. Aug. 6, 1978, pope Jun. 21, 1963-Aug. 6, 1978), a large number of nobles existed within the government of the Vatican. A noble class still exists today that continues to form part of the papal court drawn from the ranks of Roman and European nobility. The size of the papal court, however, had been reduced to a great extent after the reforms made by Pope Paul VI in the 1970s. All cardinals, however, continue to have the royal rank of prince of the blood. Its royal character is a vestige of the temporal power of the popes who have ruled the Papal States for more than a thousand years and, prior to the Papal States, as the highest civil and religious authority of the Roman and Byzantine empires in Rome since late antiquity. Therefore, within this context, the State of the Vatican City is a true monarchy in every sense of the word.

Administration of Vatican City

The Governor of Vatican City, sometimes known as the President of Vatican City, has duties similar to those of a mayor or city executive, concentrating on material questions concerning the state's territory, including local security, but excluding external relations. The Vatican City maintains two modern security corps, the Swiss Guards, a voluntary military force drawn from male Swiss citizens, and the Corpo della Gendarmeria dello Stato della Città del Vaticano.

Legislative power is vested in the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, led by a president. Members are cardinals appointed by the pope for terms of five years.

The judicial functions are handled by three tribunals — the Apostolic Signatura, the Sacra Rota Romana, and the Apostolic Penitentiary, which are also the judicial arm of the Holy See (see below). The legal system is based on canon, or ecclesiastical, law; if Canon Law is not applicable, special laws of the territory apply, often modelled on Italian provisions.

Swiss Guard.
Swiss Guard.


The Vatican City State has the distinction of having the smallest and oldest regular army in the world, the Swiss Guard. It was founded by Pope Julius II on January 22, 1506 originally made up of Swiss mercenaries from the Swiss Confederation. They currently number a little over 100 men and are also the personal bodyguards of the Pope. Recruitment is restricted to Catholic male Swiss citizens.

The Palatine Guard of Honour and the Noble Guard were disbanded during the reign of Pope Paul VI.

The Vatican gendarmes act as the internal police force.

The Vatican has no navy and no air force. External defense is handled by the surrounding state of Italy.


Vatican City has its own post office, fire brigade, police service, commissary (supermarket), bank (the automatic teller machines are the only ones in the world to offer customers service in Latin, among other languages), railway station, electricity generating plant, and publishing house. The Vatican also controls its own Internet domain ( .va).

Vatican Radio, which was organized by Guglielmo Marconi himself, today offers not only short-wave service around the world, but also television services through Vatican Television and is available on the Internet. The actual transmitter for the shortwave station is in Italy. The Vatican has also been given a radio ITU prefix, HV, and this is sometimes used by amateur radio operators.

L'Osservatore Romano is the semi-official newspaper, published daily in Italian, and weekly in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French (plus a monthly edition in Polish). It is published by a private corporation under the direction of Catholic laymen but carries official information. Acta Apostolicae Sedis is the official publication of the Holy See, carrying the official texts of Church documents, but is little read other than by scholars and Church professionals.


Map of Vatican City
Map of Vatican City

The Vatican City, one of the European microstates, is situated on the Vatican Hill in the north-western part of Rome, several hundred metres west of the Tiber river. Its borders (3.2 km or 2 miles in total, all within Italy) closely follow the city wall constructed to protect the Pope from outside attack. The situation is more complex at the famous St. Peter's Square in front of the St. Peter's Basilica, where the correct border is just outside the ellipse formed by Bernini's colonnade. The Vatican City is the smallest sovereign state in the world at 0.44 square kilometres (108.7  acres).

Its climate is the same as Rome's; a temperate, Mediterranean climate with mild, rainy winters from September to mid-May and hot, dry summers from May to August. There are some local features, principally mists and dews, caused by the anomalous bulk of St Peter's Basilica, the elevation, the fountains and the size of the large paved square.


This unique, non-commercial economy is also supported financially by contributions (known as Peter's Pence) from Catholics throughout the world, the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications. The incomes and living standards of lay workers are comparable to, or somewhat better than, those of counterparts who work in the city of Rome.

The Vatican City issues its own coins. It has used the euro as its currency since January 1, 1999, owing to a special agreement with the EU (council decision 1999/98/CE). Euro coins and notes were introduced in January 1, 2002. Due to their rarity, Vatican euro coins are highly sought by collectors. Until the adoption of the Euro, Vatican coinage and stamps were denominated in their own Vatican lira currency, which was on par with the Italian lira.

It also has its own bank, Istituto per le Opere di Religione (also known as the Vatican Bank, and with the acronym IOR).

  • Budget: Revenues (2003) $252 million; expenditures (2003) $264 million.
  • Industries: printing and production of few mosaics and staff uniforms; worldwide banking and financial activities.


Swiss Guard
Swiss Guard

Population and languages

Almost all of Vatican City's roughly 600 citizens either live inside the Vatican's walls or serve in the Vatican's diplomatic corps in embassies (called "nunciatures"; a papal ambassador is a "nuncio") around the world. The Vatican citizenry consists mainly of clergy, including high dignitaries, priests, nuns, as well as the Swiss Guard. Most of the 3,000 lay workers who comprise the majority of the Vatican work force reside outside the Vatican and are citizens of Italy. All of the City's actual citizens are Catholic and the Catholic religion is, rather obviously, the State religion of the country. There are no other places of worship inside the Vatican City other than private Catholic Chapels and St Peter's Basilica.

The official language is Latin. Italian and, to a lesser extent, other languages are generally used for most conversations, publications, and broadcasts. German is the official language of the Swiss Guard. The Vatican's official website languages are Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.


Citizenship of the Vatican City is granted ius officii, which means it is conferred upon those who have been appointed to work at the Vatican, and it is usually revoked upon the termination of their employment. During the period of employment citizenship may also be extended to a Vatican citizen's spouse (unless the marriage is annulled or dissolved, or if a conjugal separation is decreed) and children (until they turn 25 if they are capable of working, or in the case of daughters, if they marry). Terms of citizenship are defined in the Lateran Treaty, and laws concerning the creation of the Vatican state in 1929 sought to restrict the number of people who could be granted Vatican citizenship. The only passports issued by the Vatican are diplomatic passports.

On 31 December 2002 there were 555 people with Vatican citizenship, of whom all are dual-citizens of other countries (the majority being Italian). The Lateran Treaty states that in the event a Vatican citizen has their original nationality revoked and also lose their Vatican citizenship, they will be automatically granted Italian citizenship.

Among the 555 were:

  • The Pope
  • 57 Cardinals
  • 293 Members of the clergy who serve as diplomatic envoys abroad
  • 56 Lesser ranking clergy members who work in the Vatican
  • 104 Officers, NCOs and men of the Papal Swiss Guard.
  • 44 Lay persons

Foreign relations

Providing a territorial identity for the Holy See, the State of the Vatican City is a recognized national territory under international law. However, it is the Holy See that is the legal body that conducts diplomatic relations for the Vatican City in addition to the Holy See's usual diplomacy, entering into international agreements and both receives and sends diplomatic representatives. Due to the very limited territory of the Vatican state, foreign embassies to the Holy See are located in the Italian part of Rome; Italy actually hosts its own Embassy of Italy.

The Holy See is currently the only European political entity that has formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Despite its minuscule size, as the headquarters of the Catholic Church, the Vatican's influence on world affairs is disproportionately immense by virtue of its moral and spiritual authority.

Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum


The Vatican City is itself of great cultural significance. Buildings such as St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are home to some of the most famous art in the world, which includes works by artists such as Botticelli, Bernini and Michelangelo. The Vatican Library and the collections of the Vatican Museums are of the highest historical, scientific and cultural importance. In 1984, the Vatican was added by UNESCO to the List of World Heritage Sites; it is the only one to consist of an entire country.

The Vatican can be said to be the de facto custodian of the Latin language through its Latinitas Foundation.

The permanent population of the Vatican City is predominately male, although two orders of nuns live in the Vatican. A minority are senior Catholic clergy; the remainder are members of religious orders. Many workers and embassy personnel in the Vatican City live outside its walls.

Entrance to Vatican Museum
Entrance to Vatican Museum

Tourism and pilgrimages are an important factor in the daily life of the Vatican. The Pope leads weekly Mass and other services, and appears on religious holidays such as Easter. On significant events, such as beatification ceremonies, he leads open-air Mass in Saint Peter's Square.

Dress code

A dress code is enforced for entry into St. Peter's Basilica. The code is based upon what is considered "modest" and "appropriate" dress for visiting a Catholic religious venue, and tourists and visitors are reminded that, although St. Peter's is an architectural and artistic monument, it is first a church. The dress code forbids:

  • hats for lay men inside the basilica
  • shorts/skirts above the knees
  • sleeveless shirts
  • shirts exposing the navel
  • shirts for women which exposes the cleavage
  • shirts which contain profanity
  • excessive jewellery


As a result of the Vatican having a small resident population, but millions of visitors every year, the state has the highest per capita crime rate of any nation on earth, more than twenty times higher than that of Italy. In his 2002 report to the pontifical court, Chief Prosecutor Nicola Picardi quoted statistics of 397 civil offenses and 608 penal offenses. Each year, hundreds of tourists fall victim to pickpockets and purse snatchers. The perpetrators, who are also visitors, are rarely caught, with 90% of crimes remaining unsolved.

The Vatican police force is the Corpo Della Vigilanza

As per the 1929 Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, the Italian government handles the prosecution and detention of criminal suspects.

The most recent murders to occur in the Vatican were in 1998, when a member of the Swiss Guard killed two people before committing suicide.

The Vatican abolished capital punishment in 1969, but its last execution was performed by its predecessor, the Papal States on the 9th of July 1870 at Palestrina, when Agabito (or Agapito) Bellomo was decapitated (probably by guillotine) for murder.

Transport and communications

Mussolini demolished a spina of medieval housing to create an avenue leading into St. Peter's Square.
Mussolini demolished a spina of medieval housing to create an avenue leading into St. Peter's Square.

The Vatican City has no airports. There is one heliport and an 852 metre (932 yd) standard gauge (1435 mm or 4 ft 8½ in) railway that connects to Italy's network at Rome's Saint Peter's station. The station building by architect Giuseppe Momo was constructed during the reign of Pius XI after the conclusion of the Lateran Treaties and opened in 1933 but now houses shops. The railway was originally planned to transport pilgrims, as was intended during the reign of Pius XI, but has only been rarely used to transport passengers. Pope John XXIII was the first to make use of the railway, and Pope John Paul II was known to have used it as well very rarely. The railway is mainly used only to transport freight. Rome's metro line A passes about 10 minutes walk north of the Vatican.

The City is served by an independent, modern telephone system and post office. A bit of conventional wisdom in Rome is that international mail dropped in a mailbox in the Vatican will reach its destination more quickly than one dropped only a few hundred metres away in an Italian mailbox. To quote an article from the New York Times on June 27, 2004:

"As a result, more mail is sent each year, per inhabitant, from the Vatican's 00120 post code than from anywhere else in the world - 7,200, compared with about 660 in the United States or 109 in Italy - said Juliana Nel, a spokeswoman for the Universal Postal Union, a United Nations agency based in Berne, Switzerland.
She called the Vatican's service "probably one of the best postal systems in the world."

People sending mail to the Vatican are advised not to write anything other than Vatican City State for the destination on the envelope. The reason for this is that this enables mail to be sent directly to the Vatican - otherwise it would go through the postal systems of other countries, which would cause a delay in shipment to the Vatican. The Vatican has an official website, radio station, and satellite TV channels.

One lucrative source of income for the state is a two-pump gasoline station where Italians can buy gas at prices up to 30% lower than in Italy, because the gas is not taxed. However, only people with special residence or work permits may use the station.

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