Vatican City: What to Know?

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Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state, surrounded by Italy and with a population of just over 800 people. It is the secular capital of the Catholic Church, with the Pope as its head of state and the only absolute monarch in Europe. The city includes important Catholic landmarks such as St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Most citizens are members of the Catholic clergy or Swiss Guard, and the economy is supported by Catholic tithes and tourism. Vatican City offers many tourist opportunities and a rich history.

Vatican City is the smallest independent state on the planet, with an area of ​​just under 110 acres. Completely surrounded by Italy, it is also one of three nations enclosed entirely by a single country – San Marino and Lesotho being the other two. Vatican City has a population of just over 800 people, ahead of only the Pitcairn Islands, which is an overseas territory of Great Britain.

As a modern state, Vatican City was created in 1929, building on earlier incarnations of the Papal States that sometimes encompassed large swathes of Italy. The city is essentially the secular capital of the Catholic Church – in fact, the current religious seat of the Bishop of Rome is in the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano outside the city walls, in Rome proper. Due to the fundamentally Catholic nature of the state, all high-ranking government officials are also high-ranking members of the Catholic Church.

The Pope is the head of state of Vatican City and is elected by the College of Cardinals, excluding those over eighty. The Pope is elected for life, and while in office he is absolute sovereign. Indeed, the Pope is the only absolute monarch left in Europe. While the College of Cardinals and other bodies may exercise a certain degree of influence, the Pope acts with full authority. In addition to his title of secular governor of the city, the Pope also acts as Bishop of Rome and as Supreme Pontiff of the Church. The term Holy See is sometimes used interchangeably with Vatican City, but in reality it refers to both the secular and religious domain of the Pope.

Due to the fundamentally Catholic nature of the city, the most widely used language for official documents is Latin. It should be noted, however, that due to the Pope’s powers, this language can be changed at any time, and therefore treating it as an “official” language is somewhat misleading. Italian, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese and French are also widely used throughout the city and many documents are translated into some, if not all, of these languages.

Vatican City includes many of the most important places of the Catholic Church. The Apostolic Palace, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square are all part of the city. Most of the city itself is separated from the rest of Rome by a large wall, although in some areas – such as St. Peter’s Square – the wall is not present and the territorial division is not based on a physical object. Furthermore, with the many properties that the Church owns scattered throughout the rest of Italy, it has been granted a special status. These properties – like the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo – are treated similarly to embassies, with Vatican control over them.

Virtually all citizens are members of the Catholic clergy or members of the Swiss Guard. While many lay people work within the Vatican, they are rarely actually citizens, instead residing outside the walls of Rome itself. Some citizens also reside in other parts of the world, serving as ambassadors of the Vatican City state and the Catholic Church. Due to its small size and unique nature, the Vatican does not have an economy in the traditional sense. Most of the projects are supported by the tithe of Catholics from around the world, with tourist paraphernalia and postage stamps adding additional income.
Vatican City is easy to visit, with daily flights arriving in Rome. Many tours tour the area during the day, focusing on different aspects of the city’s culture. The Vatican Museums are an especially popular tourist destination, with over a thousand rooms of art spanning 3,000 years of history, sections of the Papal Palace and the Sistine Chapel. St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Gardens, St. Peter’s Dome and Castel Sant’Angelo are also popular attractions, as are the many traditional Swiss Guards dotted around the city. General audiences with the Pope are held every Wednesday, although tickets are compulsory, and every Sunday the Pope blesses the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square. In short, Vatican City offers many interesting tourist opportunities and a rich and fascinating history.

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