Vatican City, which is one of the holiest places in Christianity, is a sign of a long and important spiritual journey. This small state is home to a unique collection of works of art and buildings that are works of art and architecture in their own right. In 1984, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famous European Landmarks
In the middle is St. Peter’s Basilica, which has a double colonnade and a round piazza in front of it. Palaces and gardens surround it on all sides. The basilica was built over the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle. It is the largest religious building in the world and was designed by Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, and Maderno.
What is the Vatican
1. The smallest country in the world is Vatican City. It is an independent city-state with a 2-mile border with Italy. It is just over 100 acres, which is one-eighth the size of New York’s Central Park. The pope is in charge of everything in Vatican City because it is a monarchy.
The Vatican makes its own euros, stamps, passports, and license plates. It also runs its own media outlets and has its own flag and anthem. One thing the government doesn’t do is tax. The Vatican gets money from museum admission fees, sales of stamps and souvenirs, and donations.
2. St. Peter’s Basilica sits on top of a city of the dead, including the tomb of its namesake. Before Christianity, there was a Roman cemetery on Vatican Hill. When a big fire burned down a lot of Rome in 64 AD, Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for starting the fire to take the blame off himself.
He killed them by setting them on fire, tearing them apart with wild animals, and putting them on a cross. St. Peter, who was a follower of Jesus Christ, the leader of the Apostles, and the first bishop of Rome, was one of the people who were put to death. It is said that he was buried in a shallow grave on Vatican Hill.
Vatican City History
In the fourth century, when Christianity was officially recognized in Rome, Emperor Constantine started building the first basilica on top of an old cemetery, with what was thought to be the tomb of St. Peter at its center. The current basilica, which began to be built in the 1500s, sits on top of a maze of catacombs and what is thought to be the grave of St. Peter.
3. Caligula took possession of the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square. Caligula was a nickname for Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. He was the third Roman emperor and ruled from 37 to 41, when he was killed. Caligula built a small circus in his mother’s gardens at the base of Vatican Hill. Charioteers trained there, and Nero may have killed Christians there.
Caligula had his army bring a pylon from Egypt that had been in Heliopolis and put it in the middle of the amphitheater. The obelisk was built for an Egyptian pharaoh more than 3,000 years ago. It is made of a single piece of red granite that weighs more than 350 tons. It was moved to its current spot in St. Peter’s Square in 1586, where it serves as a giant sundial.
4. During the 1800s and 1900s, popes refused to leave the Vatican for nearly 60 years. Papal States were independent countries in central Italy that were ruled by the popes until 1870, when Italy became one country. All of the land of the Papal States except for a small patch in the Vatican was taken over by the new secular government. This led to a sort of cold war between the church and the Italian government.
Popes refused to acknowledge that the Kingdom of Italy was in charge, so the Vatican stayed out of Italian control. Pope Pius IX called himself a “prisoner of the Vatican,” and for almost 60 years, popes refused to leave the Vatican and submit to the authority of the Italian government. When Italian troops were in St. Peter’s Square, popes wouldn’t even bless people or come out on the balcony that looked down on the square.
5. Benito Mussolini ratified the establishment of Vatican City. The Italian government and the Catholic Church ended their fight by signing the Lateran Pacts in 1929. This gave the Vatican the right to be its own sovereign state and gave the church $92 million (more than $1 billion in today’s money) for the Papal States. The Vatican used the money to start building up its funds again. The treaty was signed on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III by Mussolini, who was in charge of the Italian government.
6. Before the 14th century, popes did not live at the Vatican. Even after the first St. Peter’s Basilica was built, most popes still lived at the Lateran Palace across Rome. In 1309, when King Philip IV arranged for a French cardinal to be elected pope, the papal court moved to Avignon, France, and they left the city for good.
Vatican City Facts
Seven French popes ruled from Avignon, and it wasn’t until 1377 that the papacy moved back to Rome. By that time, the Lateran Palace had burned down, so the popes moved into the Vatican. But there was a lot of work to be done because the Vatican was in such bad shape that wolves dug in the cemetery for bodies and cows walked around the basilica.
7. The Swiss Guard were hired as mercenaries. The Swiss Guard has been protecting the pope since 1506. You can recognize them by their armor and bright Renaissance-style uniforms. That’s when Pope Julius II did what many other European courts did at the time and hired a Swiss mercenary force to protect him.
In Vatican City, the Swiss Guard’s only job is to keep the pope safe. Even though the world’s smallest standing army seems to only be there for show, its soldiers are well trained and very good at shooting. And yes, the whole force is made up of Swiss people.
8. Popes have used a secret passageway to get out of the Vatican more than once in its history. The Passetto di Borgo, a half-mile-long elevated covered passageway, was built between the Vatican and the fortified Castel Sant’Angelo on the banks of the Tiber River in 1277.
It was a way for popes to get away, and it probably saved Pope Clement VII’s life during the sack of Rome in 1527. As the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ransacked the city and killed priests and nuns, the Swiss Guard held off the enemy long enough for Pope Clement to reach the Castel Sant’Angelo safely, though 147 of the pope’s soldiers died in the battle.
9. Most of Vatican City’s 600 people live outside of it. As of 2011, there were 594 people who were citizens of the Vatican. Inside the Vatican walls, that number included 71 cardinals, 109 Swiss Guard members, 51 clergy members, and one nun.
But the 307 members of the clergy who worked as diplomats around the world made up the largest group of citizens. Since Benedict XVI is still living in the Vatican as a pope emeritus, the population will grow by one when a new pope is chosen.
10. A telescope in Arizona is owned by the Vatican Observatory. As Rome grew, light pollution from the city made it harder for astronomers at the Vatican Observatory, which is 15 miles from the city at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, to see the night sky. In 1981, the observatory opened a second research center in Tucson, Arizona. The Vatican uses a state-of-the-art telescope on top of Mount Graham in southeast Arizona to study the stars.