Vatican City, or Vatican City State, an independent state ruled by the Roman Catholic pope. It lies within Rome, Italy. Vatican City is the world's smallest sovereign state, having an area of 108.7 acres (44 hectares). The population is about 760.
Vatican City is the world's only state concerned entirely with religion. It is the residence of the pope, the site of St. Peter's, and the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church. Millions of pilgrims and tourists visit Vatican City every year. It has no manufacturing or agriculture. As a sovereign state, Vatican City has its own flag and postal system. It has diplomatic relations with nations throughout the world, including many countries that are not predominantly Roman Catholic.
Vatican City stands on a low hill in northwestern Rome on the west bank of the Tiber River. The little state is shaped roughly like a triangle and is enclosed by a high stone wall. Three gates give entry. About half of the state's area is covered by the Vatican gardens.
St. Peter's, with its piazza (square) and colonnades, occupies much of Vatican City. Near the majestic church stands the papal palace, a large group of interconnecting three- and four-story buildings. The palace, called the Vatican, houses the pope's apartments, those of the papal household, a library, and a number of museums and chapels. The largest palace in the world, it has about 1,400 rooms and covers 13 acres (5.5 hectares), including 6 acres (2.4 hectares) of interior courtyards. Most of the palace is open to the public.
The pope also has jurisdiction over several churches and buildings outside Vatican City. Among them is St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the pope as bishop of Rome. Another is Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, about 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Rome.
The many chapels and museums of Vatican City house some of the world's greatest art and archeological treasures. Its library is internationally famous.
The celebrated Sistine Chapel is private chapel of the pope. It was built in the late 15th century for Pope Sixtus IV. The side walls bear priceless frescoes by Signorelli, Botticelli, and other Renaissance masters. Michelangelo painted the altar wall with the magnificent Last Judgment and covered the vaulted ceiling with frescoes based on the Book of Genesis. (For picture,
The Vatican's vast art collection is displayed in numerous galleries in the palace complex. It contains art objects from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome as well as 20th-century religious painting and sculpture. Famous ancient sculptures include the Laocoön Group, the Belvedere Torso, and the Apollo Belvedere. (For pictures, In the Pinacoteca (picture gallery) are paintings by Giotto, Fra Angelico, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Titian. On the second floor of the palace are the Raphael Stanze—four rooms that contain a magnificent series of frescoes by Raphael, including the School of Athens and the Disputa (Dispute over the Sacrament).
The Vatican Library, founded in 1447, has about 65,000 manuscripts, 7,000 books printed before the 16th century, and 900,000 other printed volumes. It is open only to qualified scholars.
Vatican City has its own radio and television stations. Vatican City's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano (The Roman Observer), has worldwide circulation.
The pope has absolute legislative, executive, and judicial power. The actual administration of affairs, however, is handled by the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City, whose members are appointed by the pope. The Cardinal Secretary of State, also selected by the pope, presides over the Pontifical Commission and represents Vatican City in foreign affairs. Papal nuncios are sent to those countries with which the Vatican has diplomatic relations, and they carry the rank of ambassador. Apostolic delegates, or observers, are often sent as personal representatives of the pope to countries with which the Vatican does not have official relations, and also to international organizations such as the United Nations.
Although Vatican City has no army, it does have a small military unit, the Swiss Guards, to act as the pope's bodyguard, perform ceremonial functions, and, with the help of a civilian security force, police the city.
The Vatican has been the permanent residence of the pope since 1377. From the 14th to the late 19th century, when the pope had temporal (political) power, the Vatican was head of the Papal States.
After Italy broke the temporal power in 1870, the popes for 60 years confined themselves to the Vatican. On February 11, 1929, Italy's government and the papacy signed the Lateran Treaty, which recognized the pope's sovereignty over Vatican City. To compensate the papacy for loss of temporal power, Italy paid the Vatican about $92,000,000.