The smallest country in the world, Vatican City is located in the heart of Rome (how random is that) and has a tiny population. Compact as it is, the Vatican City has a lot to offer to visitors, and it has a unique history too.
Curious to learn more about this small state? Continue reading, as I have selected the most interesting facts about Vatican City for you!
The Most Interesting Facts About Vatican City
Vatican City was created in 1929
Though it may seem like a very old institution, the Vatican City as an independent state hasn’t even been around 100 years.
It was created on 11th February 1929 as part of the Lateran Treaty which came about because of the then-powerful Papal States’ resistance to being part of the unification of Italy in the mid-19th century.
It was the solution to an awkward “Roman Question” of, basically, the Pope recognizing the new Italian king’s right to rule the area of Rome.
The Holy See isn’t the Vatican City
The Holy See refers only to the Pope’s duties as the bishop of Rome, not to his function as “ruler” of the Vatican City itself. What does it mean? “See” just comes from the Latin sedes, meaning “seat”.
Vatican City is the smallest country in the world
In both area and population, Vatican City is the smallest state in the world. With an area of 49 hectares (121 acres), or 0.49 square miles. The next smallest country – Monaco, at two square miles – is more than double the size of the Vatican. The population slightly exceeds 800 people.
It’s also the only country in the world that’s situated inside a city
Other small nations, such as Monaco, Andorra and San Marino, have their borders surrounded by other countries – that’s normal. However, the Vatican City is the only one that isn’t just surrounded by another country – it’s surrounded by another city entirely.
The Holy See is right in the heart of Rome giving it a unique position – this is definitely one of the most curious facts about Vatican City!
But the Vatican Palaces are enormous
With over 1,000 rooms, the Vatican Palaces are made up of a series of several connected buildings. Inside, you’ll find museums, meeting rooms, chapels, residential apartments, and offices, as well as the residence of the Pope himself. There is an estimated nine miles’ worth of artwork too.
Women make up 5.5% of Vatican City’s population
While elsewhere in the world women make up roughly half of every country’s population (49.6% worldwide), the demographics of the Vatican are “slightly” more skewed towards men.
Vatican City has no official language
You may have already been guessing that Latin was the official language of the Vatican City, being the language of Catholicism and all, but actually, one of the most interesting facts about Vatican City is that no – there is actually no official language.
Italian is used for official communication and much everyday communication; Swiss-German is used for commands within the Swiss Guards; and there are other languages used besides.
To gain citizenship, you have to be an employee
With no hospitals where children can be born, nobody becomes a Vatican City citizen by birth. Instead, you become a citizen once you become an employee of the tiny nation. Once you move jobs, you lose your citizenship.
There is a Vatican Soccer Team
How’s that for random facts about Vatican City? The soccer team is called FC Guardia and it’s made up of Swiss Guards, but even more astounding is the Vatican City Championship. Founded in 1972, it consists of eight teams comprising workers from the Vatican’s various state departments.
Vatican City has the highest crime rate in the world
It’s one of those statistics that’s blurred a bit by just how small the population is, but it’s technically true – the Vatican has a high crime rate. This is mainly down to misdemeanors and petty crimes by tourists and visitors – shoplifting, for example, and pickpocketing in St Peter’s Square.
There are a lot of tombs inside St Peter’s Basilica
There are well over 100. Ninety-one of these are of past Popes – most recently, John Paul II. Non-Popes laid to rest here include Queen Christina of Sweden, who had to abdicate in order to convert to Catholicism; and James Stuart – Prince of Wales and pretender to the British crown.
The armed forces of Vatican City are Swiss
To be a member of the Vatican’s elite military unit, the Swiss Guards, you have to be Swiss. You also have to be Catholic and must have undertaken basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces. Founded in 1506, the Swiss Guards is one of the oldest military units in continuous operation. The modern guards today are the bodyguards of the Pope.
Vatican City is one of the world’s few elective monarchies
While most monarchies around the world are hereditary, the Pope – effectively the monarch of the Vatican – is elected by the College of Cardinals from among their number. The other countries are Malaysia, Cambodia and (sort of) United Arab Emirates.
Vatican City is home to the busiest pharmacy in the world
The people of Vatican City also need to keep healthy, which is why they have their very own pharmacy. Simply called “Vatican Pharmacy”, it was founded in 1874 by a monk. The pharmacy stocks a range of health products, from perfume to painkillers, but it doesn’t stock certain products: contraceptives, for example, or Viagra. It is, however, duty free (around one to 25% cheaper than pharmacies just outside the walls), and with over 2,000 visitors a day, it’s the busiest in the world.
There’s a Latin ATM
Latin may not be the official language of the Vatican City, but here in the state itself there’s an ATM with instructions in Latin. It belongs to the Vatican Bank, and it’s unknown how useful it is, but wouldn’t it be fun to give it a try?
And it mints its own Euro
Vatican City mints its own special Euros – but only coins, not notes. It’s been the currency since 1999. The coins are decorated with images of different Popes and are definitely collectibles. Previous to the Euro, Vatican City used the Vatican Lira.
It has its own railway
Vatican City opened its very own railway in 1934 and, at just 300 meters long, with two front sidings, it is the world’s shortest national railway. In 2015, it started its first passenger service, but mostly it’s for freight.
Part of the Vatican City isn’t in Vatican City
As per the terms of the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran – officially called “Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran” – is part of the Vatican itself. Despite being four kilometers outside the tiny state, this important church is not officially part of Italy, and is presided over by the Pope.
The word “Vatican” comes from the Etruscans
Wondering about the name? Well, the name “Ager Vaticanus” was already used in the time of the Roman Republic and described the general area where the country now sits. It’s thought to come from the Etruscan settlement here called Vaticum.
The obelisk in St Peter’s Square is ancient
With the cross on top and the decorations at its base, the obelisk in the center of the square looks quite, well, Catholic. That would be wrong. Moved here in 1586, it was originally brought to Rome on the orders of Emperor Caligula in 37 AD.
St. Peter was crucified on Vatican Hill
According to historical documents, it’s thought that St Peter was crucified near the Neronian Gardens on Vatican Hill. It’s also believed that he is buried at the foot of this hill, atop which now stands St Peter’s Basilica. Excavations that began in 1940 found what is believed to be his tomb.
The Pope owns a telescope in the USA
Vatican City has its own observatory, the Vatican Observatory, which is one of the oldest astronomical research institutes in the world – that’s cool enough, right? But because of light pollution in Rome, the Holy See decided to purchase a top-of-the-range telescope elsewhere in the world. Specifically, this would be at the top of Mount Graham in Arizona, USA. It’s called the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope,
Vatican City is the only entire country to be classed a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Most UNESCO World Heritage Sites are parts of countries, but the whole of the Vatican City is actually recognized as one by UNESCO. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. Given its long history, the libraries, the art, the gardens, the architecture, it makes sense to just make the whole place a heritage site.
Vatican City drinks more wine per capita than anyone in the world
Because of its small population, and with (probably) a high proportion of them being wine drinkers, the country ends up drinking a lot of wine. Plus, it’s also used for religious purposes, so it all adds up.
The Pope hasn’t alway lived there
For more than a thousand years, Popes didn’t live in the Vatican Palaces. Sometimes they didn’t even live in Rome. Sometimes as close by as the Aventine Hill at the Santa Sabina Basilica, at the Quirinal Palace, and the Lateran Palace at the other side of the city.
At various points in history, the Pope lived much further away – from 1309 to 1377, the Popes lived in Avignon in France. Even today, the Pope spends a lot of the summer at the Castel Gandolfo Papal Palace.
But you can visit Vatican City on a Wednesday to try and spot him
For those who want to catch a glimpse of the Pope, your best bet is to visit the Vatican City on Wednesday mornings. This is when the Pontifex himself rides through St Peter’s Square – here he addresses the general public before blessing the crowd. You need a ticket to attend, but you can get them online and they are free.
Alternatively, you can go listen to the Angelus on Sundays at 12:00 pm. That’s when the Pope addresses the audience from the window of his apartments. It’s a truly touching experience, even for non-religious persons like myself. You will have to head to St. Peter’s Square about 30 minutes early and line for security.
St. Peter’s is not a cathedral
St Peter’s Basilica may be the second largest Christian church in the world, but it is not – in fact – a cathedral. It’s a basilica: this is a higher authority than a cathedral, which is run by the bishop of wherever the cathedral is located. How’s that for random facts about Vatican City?
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome
Speaking of which, one of the Pope’s many titles is the Bishop of Rome. This means, as well as being the head of the Roman Catholic church, he also has jurisdiction over the Catholic goings-on in the city of Rome itself.
There is a Vatican City flag
Being its own city state, the Vatican needs its own flag, of course. The national flag consists of two vertical stripes: gold (yellow) on the left; white on the right, with the keys of St Peter crossing each other and the Papal tiara above them. It was officially adopted on 7th June 1929 after the signing of the Lateran Treaty. Not only is it used in the Vatican, but it’s also on display in many Catholic churches around the world.
A lot of the Vatican City’s economy is based on postage stamps
The Vatican has a unique economy of its very own. Because visitors far outnumber the actual citizens of the microstate, it is able to make a lot of money out of things like souvenirs and postage stamps – for all the philatelists out there.
Vatican City even has its own postal service
The country’s postal service is separate to that of Rome – it’s an independent state, so it makes sense. It’s marked with yellow postboxes, which differ to the red post boxes of Rome. The service claims to be the best in the world, and faster than that of Rome. If you want to learn more about it (and the stamps and currency), head to the Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State, a museum dedicated to all things money and mail.
And its own newspaper, top level domain, and radio station
There’s a lot of other Vatican-specific media, too. As well as its own top-level domain (.va), there is also a daily multilingual newspaper: L’Osservatore Romano, which was actually founded in 1861. It prints information about what’s going on inside the Vatican and various events taking place. Then there’s Vatican Radio, which also broadcasts online.
Vatican City claimed it would be the first carbon neutral country
In 2007, the Holy See announced that it would become the first carbon-neutral state. This would be done by offsetting its carbon dioxide emissions by planting a forest – the “Vatican Climate Forest” – in Hungary. However, no trees have been planted, and the offsets have not materialized.
For more facts about Vatican City and Rome, check out these posts:
- A Guide To The Vatican Gardens
- A Guide To June 29th In Rome
- How To Visit The Sistine Chapel
- Where To See The Works Of Michelangelo In Rome
- The Most Beautiful Churches In Rome
- A Quick Guide To St. Peter’s Square
- The Best Statues To See In Rome
- The Most Impressive Obelisks In Rome
- The Seven Hills Of Rome