Vatican City

views updated Jun 11 2018


The Holy See

Santa Sede


Vatican lira. One lira equals 100 centesimi. There are coins of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 lire. The Vatican lira is at par with the Italian lira, which also circulates as valid currency within the Holy See. Conversely, Vatican coinssimilar in value, size and denomination to those of Italy, but carrying an image of the head of the Popeare legal tender in Italy, and in San Marino, another tiny city-state in Italian territory. Despite this reciprocal arrangement between Italy and the Holy See, their monetary systems are separate.


Despite having no balance of trade figures, the Holy See registers a gross domestic product (GDP), which was estimated at US$21 million for 1999. The singular nature of the Holy See's economic structure has yielded considerable sums of money. In 1997, the CIA World Factbook recorded state revenues of US$209.6 million, against expenditures (including capital outlays) of US$198.5 million, thus registering an impressive budget surplus of US$11.1 million.


The Holy See imports almost all agricultural produce and other foodstuffs and all manufactured goods from Italy, which supplies all its water, gas, and electricity. It has no agricultural or industrial sectors and exports nothing. It therefore has no balance of trade statistics.



A Southern European state, the Holy See, or State of the Vatican City, is a landlocked urban enclave, situated entirely within the Italian capital city of Rome, which forms its only borders. With an area of only 0.44 square kilometers (0.17 square miles), it is approximately 0.7 times the size of The Mall in Washington, D.C. Outside the Vatican's walls, in Rome itself, is the Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, together with 13 other buildings that belong to Vatican City and fall under its jurisdiction. The length of the country's border, formed by medieval and renaissance walls except for St. Peter's Square in the southeast, is 3.2 kilometers (2.0 miles). The state, city, and capital are one and the same.


In July 2001, the population of Vatican City was estimated at 890, with an estimated growth rate of 1.15 percent. The birth rate is extremely low by the very nature of the Holy See, which exists primarily as the center of authority over the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. Its citizenry is, therefore, largely ecclesiastical (relating to the Church), supplemented by (often elderly) officers and servants of the Church. However, other dignitaries, as well as priests, nuns, guards, and some 3,000 lay workers actually reside outside the Vatican. There is no such thing as Vatican nationality, although rights of citizenship are conferred on non-Italians, such as members of the Swiss Papal Guard who are the traditional sentries at the city gates. Passports, issued by the Holy See rather than the Vatican state, are for diplomatic purposes only, and possession of a Holy See diplomatic passport does not automatically entitle the holder to rights of entry, residency, or citizenship.

The official language of the state is Italian; the Papal Guard's language, which is made up of Swiss nationals, is German. Several other languages are spoken, and the official acts of the Holy See are documented in Latin.


The Holy See, often referred to as Vatican City or simply the Vatican, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and its ruler, the Supreme Pontiff or Pope. The Holy See is not only the world's smallest independent state, but the workings of its government and financial affairs are unique, as are its non-commercially based economic structures, which do not conform to any conventional pattern. It is therefore not possible to examine or analyze the economy in terms of the usual sectors.

There is much confusion regarding the country's names, the Holy See and Vatican City. According to the country's permanent mission to the United Nations, the term Vatican City refers "to the physical or territorial base of the Holy See, almost a pedestal upon which is posed a much larger and unique independent and sovereign power: that of the Universal [Catholic] Church. The State of Vatican City itself . . . possessed a personality under international law and, because of such, enters into international agreements. However, it is the Holy See which internationally represents Vatican City State." Since 1957, most agreements have been entered into by the Holy See as the supreme authority of the Catholic Church. The Holy See, then, refers to the governing bodies of the nation, while the term Vatican City refers to the physical nation.

The Holy See generates its substantial wealth through worldwide donations to the Church. These voluntary contributions are made by individuals of the Roman Catholic faith, and are known as Peter's Pence. The term dates back to the 8th century, when the custom of collecting money for the Church originated in the early English kingdom of Wessex, which imposed an annual tax of 1 penny (or pence) on each family to send to Rome. The custom spread, and nowadays, the largest sums are given by Catholics in the United States.

The Holy See has a special department to administer the funds that arrive annually and to distribute them according to the needs of organizations, charities, and individuals. However, because there are no rules governing when, how, or how much money is sentor spentit is not possible to give an accurate assessment of this income.

Additional revenues flow in from the massive number of tourists who visit the Vatican, and from international banking and financial activities that yield interest from substantial investments worldwide. A handful of small light-manufacturing enterprises within the state cater to particular domestic requirements such as printing of church publications, the production of uniforms for Vatican staff, the manufacture of religious mementos and mosaics for the tourist market, collectible items such as stamps and coins, and Vatican telephone cards.

Although the Vatican has never developed or promoted an organized tourist industry, tourism contributes significantly to the economy of the tiny state. The Vatican is one of Europe's outstanding tourist attractions. The city is rich in history and priceless cultural treasures, and its unique geographical location makes for its effortless inclusion in the itinerary of any visitor to Rome. Aside from the Basilica of St. Peter's, visitors flock to the Sistine Chapel, whose magnificent ceiling frescoes by the Renaissance artist Michelangelo have been restored, and to the extensive Vatican museums and libraries. Substantial sums come from tourists' purchases of souvenirs (most of them religious in nature), postage stamps, coin issues, and publications, and from admission charges to the Vatican museums, which can accommodate 20,000 visitors daily.

The sale of stamps, in particular the sale of special series to stamp dealers and collectors, has turned into a sizable enterprise since these have great appeal and increase in value within weeks of their issue. A limited number of each series is sold to private dealers and collectors who place advance orders, and the rest to religious orders and other church institutions, which, in turn, sell them on to dealers at a handsome profit. Thus, both the Holy See and the Church as a whole derive considerable gain from the trade in stamps.

State expenditure relates to the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure , the financing of foreign visits made by the Pope or his emissaries, the running costs of diplomatic missions and overseas offices, financing of charities, and the publication of the state's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano .


The Holy See is a monarchical-sacerdotal state, which is to say that it operates as a monarchy in which the Pope is the "king" (monarchical), with senior members of the church hierarchy, appointed by the Pope, as the governing body (sacerdotal). The Pope himself is elected from candidates worldwide by 120 members of the College of Cardinals and is the chief of state as well as head of the Church. Appointed to office for life (the Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtila, became Pope John Paul II in 1978 and was still on the throne in 2001), the Pope has supreme executive, legislative, and judicial power over both the State of the Vatican City and the universal Roman Catholic Church. Given the wide scope of the Pontiff's authority, an intricate and complex structure of official agencies has been established to administer power within carefully designed categories. This structure is commonly known as the Roman Curia and its members are appointed and granted authority by the Pope.

The Holy See is recognized under international law and enters into certain international agreements, but, strictly speaking, it is not a civil state operating under civil laws, but an absolute monarchy in control of the Roman Catholic Church, ruling according to the Apostolic Constitution of 1967. It is as the Holy See rather than the State of the Vatican that the country sends and receives diplomatic representatives to and from around the world. The head of government, generally a cardinal or archbishop whose appointment and authority is conferred by the Pope, is the secretary of state. He presides over the Pontifical Commission, or cabinet. The legal system governing church matters is founded in canon, or ecclesiastical, law but judicial matters outside the Church are dealt with by the Italian judiciary in Rome.

There are no political parties in the country, but all cardinals under the age of 80 have the vote in electoral issues within the Church. Internally, the Swiss Guard has been responsible for the personal safety of the Pope since 1506, but in reality, its function is ceremonial and policing of the state is left to the Civil Guard. There is no military arm, and Italy takes responsibility for defense.

There are no taxes, no restrictions on the import or export of funds, and no customs or excise duties payable in the Vatican City. Employees of the Vatican pay no income tax and no customs duty on gasoline or goods that they buy in the Vatican. Non-Italians enjoy allowances on their monthly salaries.

The Holy See is a member of numerous international organizations and institutions, such as the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), although its status is sometimes that of an observer only. The Holy See is especially active within the framework of the United Nations (UN) and has permanent observer status at the UN's New York headquarters and Geneva offices. This also includes specialized UN branches such as the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, and the Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris. The Holy See has a member delegate attached to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, and engages in diplomatic relations with the European Union (EU) in Brussels.


Vatican City has a heliport connecting to the Rome airport for the convenience of foreign visitors, and an 862-meter (about half a mile) rail track that connects to the Italian network at Rome's Saint Peter's station. This is used solely for carrying freight.

Regular telephone services within the Vatican began after it gained independence in 1929, when a number of telephones were installed via Rome's urban network to link various Vatican offices and residences. The state's first central telephone exchange, donated by American Catholics, was installed in 1930 and provided telephone service to approximately 360 end users. In 1960, this exchange was replaced by a new exchange with a capacity of 1,500 numbers, later expanding to 3,000. In June 1992, the Vatican's third central exchange was inaugurated, providing the city with a highly advanced state-of-theart network, connecting 5,120 terminals, via optic fiber, to TelecomItalia's network and a radio link to extra-territorial zones.

The Vatican has its own post office, pharmacy, publishing house, influential radio station (Radio Vatican broadcasting throughout Europe), an Internet web site, an important observatory that hosts international astronomers' conferences, and a unique banking system that is central to the finances of the state.


There is no conventional service sector in the Holy See although, quite obviously, public service is provided by retail sales people, museum attendants, and other workers necessary to the smooth operation of the city. Financial services provide the most significant economic component of the sector, but again, they operate primarily to generate wealth for Church and state, benefitting only a few handpicked individuals outside of this. No opportunities for private business organizations or enterprises to operate independently are provided within the Vatican's confines.

The Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA) manages the Holy See's cash and investments, including its patrimony and pension fund. There is a growing demand for public financial reporting, and Pope John Paul II has partly met this demand. A report, Consolidated Financial Statements of the Holy See, is prepared by the president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, who acts as the Pope's treasurer. This report, however, only reveals details of the financial administration in the Holy See, a partial disclosure that conceals details of other accounts such as the Vatican Bank and the Vatican City State. It is known, though, that about half the income of the Vatican City State is used to help finance the Holy See.

The heart of the Vatican's finances is the Vatican Bank. The bank's official designation is that of The Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), a title that reveals its original purpose as a body charged with the financing of religious works. However, the Vatican Bank has evolved into a major financial institution, responsible for the investment and administration of all state funds, as well as dealing with the banking requirements of church officials, diplomats, and other servants of the state. The bank is not open to any individuals or corporations outside Vatican City.

The Holy See engages in substantial investments worldwide, which yield huge revenues in interest payments. Details of the state's financial activities tend to be shrouded in secrecy, but it is known that the main avenues of investment are banking, insurance, real estate, utilities, and building. The Holy See also has financial interests in the lucrative production of flour and spaghetti. Investment is largely directed towards companies that cater to basic human needs and are thus fundamentally sound, which contributes to the state's reputation as a prudent investor.

Apart from shares in private enterprise, the Holy See holds a large amount of government bonds and debentures ( titoli and obbligazioni ), and derives a percentage of its income from the rentals of apartments and shops. It owns several thousand hectares of land including some valuable building sites, particularly in the vicinity of Rome, and has gold reserves in Fort Knox.


While it is not known how much personal wealth Vatican citizens have, the state is free of poverty. Although it is the smallest of all countries in terms of population, its estimated GDP per capita of $21,198 makes Vatican City the 18th wealthiest nation in the world per capita. Health and pension provisions are good, and average incomes and living standards of lay workers are generally comparable toand in some cases, better thanthose enjoyed by employees in Rome. No individual, whether or not they are a citizen of the Vatican, may own land within the borders of the state because it is the private domain of the Holy See.

Several hundred lay persons are engaged in secretarial, domestic, trade, and service jobs in the Vatican. The working week is reasonable, although high officials of the Secretariat of State keep longer hours then many senior business executives in other countries. Workers in the Vatican benefit from the numerous religious holidays, and Italians who work in the Holy See are exempt from military service. Swiss Guards are paid a relatively low salary, but are usually young men with private incomes. Civil Guards have higher salaries plus family allowances.

The most highly paid Vatican officials are the cardinals of the Curia. Immediately after appointment to the Curia, a cardinal has two-thirds of his first month's plate (as his salary is known, from the days when he was paid with gold and silver coins presented on a silver plate) deducted and kept aside for his funeral expenses.


The papacy has a very long and complex history, dating back to medieval times. Over the centuries, successive popes came to rule in Papal States across Europe (notably in France) as well as taking control of much of Italy in a secular as well as religious capacity for 1000 years. The present-day Italian capital of Rome was the capital of the Italian Papal State. In the 5th century, the Emperor Constantine I built the Basilica of St. Peter's. After this, Pope Symmachus built a palace nearby, but this did not become the Papal residencethe Vatican Palaceuntil 1377 when the papacy returned from its period of exile in Avignon, France.

It was from this time that a succession of popes most notable among them Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Leo X, and Clement VIIproved to be committed patrons of the arts, and were variously responsible for building and stocking the magnificent libraries and museums that can be seen today. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the Papal residence was transferred to the Quirinal Palace, later Italy's royal palace, and now the official residence of the Italian president.

Papal rule ended with the Unification of Italy in 1870, when Victor Emmanuel became king of Italy, and the Papal territories, including Rome, were incorporated into the newly formed Italian state. The papacy retreated to the Vatican, where a succession of popes disputed their position with the Italian government.

In 1929, the Italian government and the Holy See finally reached agreement and signed a treaty recognizing the independence of the Holy See and creating the sovereign State of the Vatican City. Under this agreement, known as the Lateran Accords, the Italian government also awarded the Vatican 750 million lire in cash and 1 billion lire in government bonds as partial compensation for the papal territories annexed by Italy during the process of unification.

In 1984, a major reshuffle of offices in the Roman Curia resulted in the delegation of the routine administration of Vatican City to a pontifically appointed commission of 5 cardinals headed by the Secretariat of State.


Despite the importance of the papacy to the Catholic Church and its role in international affairs, the Holy See's internal workings are little known to Catholics, to world leaders, or to the public at large. The Vatican Bank was the focus of several major financial scandals during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and while much effort has gone into repairing the damage to its reputation, the Vatican may well have to address public disquiet at its secrecy.

The question of who succeeds Pope John Paul II must, as with any papal succession, lend uncertainty to the Vatican since each successive pope rules according to his own principles. Perhaps the major cause for concern, therefore, is whether the papacy learns to adapt far more radically than it has done in the past to the huge changes in society at large. Increasingly, modern-day Catholics are finding the Church stance on issues such as birth control repressive, and if the Church is to retain the loyalty of its billion followers, it will have to modernize certain of its practices.


Vatican City has no territories or colonies.


Bull, George. Inside Vatican. London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1982.

Coppa, Frank J. Encyclopaedia of the Vatican and Papacy. London: Aldwych Press; Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

The Holy Father. <>. Accessed October 2001.

Holy See Mission: The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. <>. Accessed October 2001.

Hutchinson, Robert. When in Rome: An Authorized Guide to the Vatican. London: HarperCollins, 1999.

Pallenberg, Corrado. Vatican Finances. London: Peter Owen, 1971.

Tully, S. "The Vatican's Finances." Fortune. 21 December 1987.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: The Holy See, July 2000. <>. Accessed October 2001.

Olga Kuznetsova

Vatican City

views updated May 21 2018

Vatican City

ROMAN CATHOLIC 100 percent

Country Overview


The State of the Vatican City, occupying just 0.17 square miles in the center of Rome, is the world's smallest country. It stands on the Vatican Hill, west of the Tiber River and the famed Seven Hills of Rome. The terms Vatican City and the Holy See are often used interchangeably, but they are administratively and functionally distinct from each another. Vatican City is the name of the country, while the Holy See, located within Vatican City, is the central administrative body of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City is also the home of the pope, who is both the bishop of Rome and the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

For more than a thousand years the pope ruled various Papal States on the Italian Peninsula, but these lands were annexed during the reunification of Italy in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1870, following the conquest of Rome (including the remaining papal territories) by Italian forces, Rome became the capital of Italy. Pope Pius IX thereupon declared himself a prisoner of the Vatican. The independent Vatican City, with the pope as head of state, was created in 1929 as a result of the three Lateran Treaties signed by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI.


Religious tolerance is not an issue within Vatican City. All permanent residents are Catholic. The million or so yearly visitors, who come from all religious backgrounds, are welcome in Vatican City.

As the head of a religion with about a billion adherents, the pope, however, has increasingly faced questions of religious tolerance. Pope John Paul II (1978–2005) sought to promote Christian unity and peace between members of different religions. At the same time, he consistently stated that the Catholic Church is the true church and that non-Christians are at a disadvantage in seeking salvation when compared with Christians in general and Catholics in particular.

Major Religion


DATE OF ORIGIN First century c.e.


The early bishops of Rome probably established their see even before the time of Saint Peter, who is recognized as the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Peter died on the Vatican Hill in about 64 c.e., and his likely burial place later became the site of Saint Peter's Basilica. Over the years the bishops of Rome, who acquired the title of pope, assumed greater secular power as the Western Roman Empire disintegrated. This secular power led to an accumulation of land and wealth.

In the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation challenged the supremacy of the pope. Further weakening the church's secular influence and its monopoly in European religious affairs were a series of bloody religious wars, particularly the Thirty Year's War (1618–48); the French Revolution (1789), which resulted in a secularization of many aspects of Christendom; and the rise of the modern secular state.

By the mid-nineteenth century, with the unification of Italy and the seizure of the Papal States, the pope had lost secular control of all his territories, leading Pope Pius IX to declare he was a prisoner in the Vatican. This "imprisonment," maintained by five popes, ended in 1929, when the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the three Lateran Treaties, which established Vatican City, on just 109 acres, as an independent state; compensated the Vatican for territories lost in 1870; established Roman Catholicism as the state church of Italy; and defined other relations between the two countries, forbidding the clergy, for example, from taking part in Italian politics. In 1984 changes were made to the treaties, and Catholicism ceased to be Italy's official religion. The pope, however, retained his secular and religious authority in Vatican City.


The following popes have served as leaders of Vatican City since its creation in 1929: Pius XI (1922–39), Pius XII (1939–58), John XXIII (1958–63), Paul VI (1963–78), John Paul I (1978), John Paul II, (1978–2005), and Benedict XVI (beginning 2005). Other important leaders include those in the Roman Curia, made up of various offices that assist the pope in administering the church. Its members are drawn from the Sacred College of Cardinals. Before being elected Benedict XVI in 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was especially influential in the Curia as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.


In 1969 Pope Paul VI set up the International Theological Commission to assist the Holy See in examining doctrinal questions. Its members are selected from among outstanding theologians throughout the world.


Saint Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Palace are the best known of the Vatican's houses of worship. The work of famous artists, such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Brunelleschi, are contained in these sanctuaries. Other important Vatican churches are Saint Paul's, Saint Mary Major, and Saint John Lateran. The last is used by the pope in his capacity as the patriarch of Rome.


The Vatican, like the rest of the Roman Catholic world, views the seven sacraments, the Bible, and the great tradition of the church to be sacred. Saints, especially Mary, the mother of Christ, are venerated as exemplars for the living. Within Vatican City the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica is given sacred status. The Vatican Museums also contain many relics, a large number of them brought from the Holy Land by returning pilgrims and Crusaders.


The following holidays are celebrated in the Vatican: the Circumcision of Jesus (1 January); the Epiphany (6 January); Good Friday; Easter Sunday and Easter Monday; the Assumption of Mary into Heaven (15 August); All Saint's Day (1 November); the Immaculate Conception of Mary (8 December); Christmas (25 December); and the Feast of Saint Stephen (26 December). Catholics elsewhere also recognize these holidays, but at the Vatican there is greater pomp when the pope celebrates the Mass. On Christmas the pope blesses the city of Rome and the world. On Easter he conducts special rituals that are open to the public.

In addition, the Vatican celebrates the day on which the current pope was elected. The day on which a new pope is elected is also a holiday.


The pope dresses all in white, a tradition that goes back to the time of Pius V (1566–72), who was a Dominican friar. Cardinals dress in red. Priests who work in the Vatican wear various other kinds of clerical clothing, usually black in color. Nuns wear habits, according to the rules of their institutions; some habits have been adapted to modern styles. Visitors to the Vatican are expected to dress modestly, especially if they plan to visit its shrines and churches.


In the Vatican, as in other Roman Catholic communities, various practices of fasting and abstinence are followed during the 40 days of Lent. Generally, for those in good health, the Lenten fast—one full meal per day—is required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Exceptions are made for the sick. Meat is not eaten on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent.


Of the many rituals associated with Catholicism, the Mass is the primary one. The pope frequently celebrates the Mass in public, often in St. Peter's Square. There are no ordination ceremonies for cardinals, who serve as advisers to the pope and run the administration of the Holy See in Vatican City.


As is true in all Roman Catholic communities, the main rites of passage in Vatican City are the seven sacraments, including baptism, first Communion, and confirmation. Promotion in the Vatican hierarchy can also be viewed as a rite of passage. Promotion depends mainly upon the judgment of the pope and upon tradition. In particular, the pope, with the advice of the Roman Curia, appoints bishops and cardinals. In the past someone who was not a member of the clergy could become a cardinal. Today, however, cardinals are selected from the clergy, and the Holy See prefers that the individual be made a bishop before becoming a cardinal, though this is not required.


Because permanent residents must be approved by the pope, either directly or through appointed officials, all residents of the Vatican are Catholic. There is little room for population growth in Vatican City, since its tiny area of 109 acres is filled.


The church's social doctrine is derived mainly from encyclicals (solemn pontifical letters) dealing with problems such as justice, peace, racism, and migration. Although reflections on social justice can be found in many encyclicals, Centesimus annus, Laborens exercens and Sollicitudo rei socialis are especially important in regard to such issues. Within Vatican City social justice is practiced through welfare provisions, such as health care and pensions, for all residents and workers. Local churches, Catholic associations, wealthy laypeople, and an annual worldwide collection called Peter's Pence contribute to the financing of the Vatican.


The majority of Vatican residents are celibate. Any married residents of Vatican City would be found among the Swiss Guards, the pope's bodyguards, or servants and workers. For married Catholics in Vatican City, the church's teachings on abortion, birth control, and sex prevail. Parents are responsible for the moral and physical well-being of their children.


The pope is the absolute ruler of Vatican City. The Curia and its offices aid in his rule. In 2002 governments from 174 nations posted ambassadors or other political representatives to the Vatican state. The pope maintains contact with these representatives and, in turn, has representatives of his own, called nuncios or pontifical delegates, in countries throughout the world.


The Catholic Church's relations with Christian and non-Christian churches are of great importance in Vatican City. The encyclical Utunum sint (1995) reopened the question of the authority of the pope and the willingness of the church to collaborate with non-Catholics on matters where they share "a common heritage." It declares that the church wishes to begin a "patient and fraternal dialogue" with its separated brethren about how the pope can exercise his office in a way that fosters Christian unity.

Pope John Paul II (1978–2005), worked for peace, religious tolerance, and ecumenism. He also took strong stands against promiscuity, immodesty, abortion, and birth control. Although the pope was opposed to the ordination of women, debate on this issue has continued in many local Roman Catholic churches. Other controversial issues have included disputes between the Vatican and liberal theologians, priests who have molested children and gone unpunished, and the relationship of Pope Pius XII (1939–58) to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.


The cultural influence of the Roman Catholic Church spread through its many missions, schools, universities, hospitals, publications, and lay movements. The treasures now held in the Vatican Museums, which include paintings, sculptures, and a host of other artifacts from throughout the world, document the church's shaping influence on the roots of Western culture.

Other Religions

There are no members of other religions among the permanent residents of Vatican City.

Frank A. Salamone

See Also Vol. 1: Christianity, Roman Catholicism


Dawson, Christopher. Religion and Culture. London: Sheed and Ward, 1948.

Goffart, Walter. "Christian Pessimism on the Walls of the Vatican Galleria delle Carte Geografiche." Renaissance Quarterly 51, no. 3 (1998): 788.

Halperin, S. William. Italy and the Vatican at War: A Study of Their Relations from the Outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War to the Death of Pius IX. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939.

Moore, George Foot. History of Religions. Vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928.

Nachef, Antoine. Mary's Pope: John Paul II, Mary, and the Church since Vatican II. Franklin, Wis.: Sheed and Ward, 2000.

Neuvecelle, Jean. The Vatican: Its Organization, Customs, and Way of Life. Translated by George Libaire. New York: Criterion Books, 1955.

Tilley, Terrence W. "Christianity and the World Religions: A Recent Vatican Document." Theological Studies 60, no. 2 (1999): 318.

Vatican City

views updated May 23 2018

Vatican City

Culture Name


Alternative Names

Holy See, the Vatican


Identification. The Vatican, or Vatican City, is the center of Roman Catholicism and the residence of the bishop of Rome (the pope). The popes controlled the Papal States in what is now Italy throughout most of the Middle Ages. On 13 May 1871, the new Italian state restricted the pope's temporal authority to the Vatican and Lateran areas of Rome and the rural retreat of Castel Gandolfo. The popes refused to accept the validity of this law until the Concordat of 11 February 1929 gave the Catholic Church special status in Italy and paid an indemnity to the now independent Vatican City.

Location and Geography. The Vatican's 108.7 acres are completely surrounded by Rome.

Demography. There are about 850 Italian and Swiss permanent residents, along with lay workers from Catholic communities around the world.

Linguistic Affiliation. The major languages are Italian and Latin.

Symbolism. The pope represents a link to Saint Peter and Jesus. Vatican ceremonies recall the words and actions of Jesus and his followers. Candles, incense and various rituals carry symbolic meaning. The Vatican is a symbol of Church leadership and its apostolic tradition.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The Vatican is a successor to the Papal States, which made up a large area of central Italy. After the unification of Italy, the new state annexed the Papal States after Germany defeated France, which had protected the pope's interests, in the Franco-Prussian War (18701871). The popes refused to leave, declaring themselves "Prisoners of the Vatican," until Benito Mussolini signed agreements in 1929 granting the Church special privileges in Italy and a cash settlement. The Vatican was given independence under papal rule. Since that time, the Vatican has been an independent state that sends and receives ambassadors.

National Identity. The Vatican's identity is religious, not national. It presents itself as transnational and universal.

Ethnic Relations. The Vatican has sought ties with members of all ethnic groups as part of its universal religious identity.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The Vatican is entirely urban. It has many artistic and architectural masterpieces, including Saint Peter's Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel. Despite its small area, there is a sense of openness and comfort.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The major food style is that of Rome. Like other Italians, residents of the Vatican consider their cooking the best in the world. Pope John Paul II caused a furor when he requested Polish cooking from the papal chef.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. On New Year's Eve, the Italian tradition is to have the meal of the seven fishes, including eels, conch, and squid. Lamb is a traditional Easter dish. For each of these meals, there is always a pasta course.

Basic Economy. The economy is based on religious work: the Vatican receives contributions from churches around the world. Tourists come to visit religious shrines and view the art. The major commercial activities are organized around religious concerns, the major industry is governance of the Church, and trade is organized around religious goods.

Land Tenure and Property. The Church owns all property in Vatican City and areas outside the Vatican covered by extraterritorial rights.

Division of Labor. The Curia rules the Church under the pope. Its members come from countries around the world and work in many governmental departments. The pope presides over the bureaucracy, delegating and consulting with his subordinates. The heads of the important bureaus tend to be cardinals.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The Vatican is highly stratified. The pope is at the apex of the hierarchy and cardinal-archbishops, bishops, monsignors, priests, and others come below him, followed by the heads of bureaus. Lay workers generally rank below the clergy.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Clerical dress marks a person's rank. The pope's white robes distinguish him clearly. Cardinals wear red, and other ranks are noted by their style of dress and rings. Style of clothing, place in a procession line, and seating are also marks of social position.

Political Life

Government. The basic law is the Code of Canon Law. Church councils meet approximately once per century. Bishops' synods meet periodically and offer advice, but the day-to-day running of the Vatican is in the hands of appointed officials who oversee the Curia.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are no political parties, but the positions held by the clergy and the laity cover a wide spectrum of opinion, although those positions are not always equally represented. There is an elaborate code of etiquette for approaching officials. Generally, go-betweens are used to arrange meetings. Much is done informally. There is a feeling that consensus should be reached before decisions are published. Therefore, things are discussed at length before the pope speaks officially.

Social Problems and Control. There is little crime, and the typical problems are disputes over religious doctrine and governance. Strict statements and actions regarding conformity to doctrine, including censorship and the silencing of dissidents, have alternated with attempts at persuasion and expressions of conciliation.

Military Activity. The Vatican is officially neutral in world affairs but can mediate disputes if invited to do so. Swiss guards in medieval uniforms protect the pope and the city.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

There are social welfare programs for employees. Catholic charity organizations promote social welfare and change throughout the world.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

In the Vatican, there are no distinctions between church and state. The Vatican works with many secular organizations.

Gender Roles and Statuses

The ethos is male-dominated. There have been efforts toward greater gender equality, especially on the part of nuns. However, as long as the priesthood is reserved for males, it will be difficult to achieve such equality. Men hold the vast majority of key positions.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

The married people in the Vatican are mainly commuting workers whose family arrangements are the same as those in Italy.


The Vatican insists on modest and appropriate dress in its sacred places. Quiet is enjoined in sacred areas, and deference to the clergy is expected. There is strict adherence to speaking only when addressed and deferring to senior officials.


Religious Beliefs. The Vatican is a Catholic state whose population is virtually 100 percent Roman Catholic. There is a belief in heaven and hell and in just rewards or punishments for one's actions on earth. There is a belief in a supreme triune God, and various saints are honored. The final judgment and resurrection of the dead are tenets of the faith.

Religious Practitioners. The Catholic clergy are the major religious practitioners and can administer the seven sacraments, depending on their rank. Bishops can ordain other priests.

Rituals and Holy Places. The Vatican is a treasure trove of special buildings and shrines. Saint Peter's is the site of Peter's tomb and is built over the original basilica. The Sistine Chapel in the church features the ceiling painted by Michelangelo. The Lateral Palace, once the home of the popes, is another magnificent building. Saint Peter's Square is known around the world, and the pope often addresses the world from the square. It is also the site of many of his public masses. The religious calendar of the Catholic Church is followed, along with the rituals appropriate to that calendar.

Death and the Afterlife. The beliefs of the Catholic Church in a life after death, the existence of Purgatory, and the efficacy of prayers for the dead are followed.

Medicine and Health Care

The Vatican has an up-to-date health care system that draws on specialists from around the world.

Secular Celebrations

There are no secular holidays. The major religious feasts are Christmas and Easter, and there are other major holy days and feast days of saints.

The Arts and Humanities

The Church has a long history of supporting the arts. The Vatican is among other things a museum. Its library is a major source of knowledge about the Renaissance and European history.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Vatican is more interested in social sciences than physical sciences. It is not opposed to the physical sciences and has stated its general support for the physical sciences and their compatibility with religion. Within the Vatican, there has been more immediate application of the social sciences, particularly sociology, psychology, and political science.


"Future Doubtful for Bishops' Conferences." America 179 (4): 3, 1998.

Hersey, George L. High Renaissance Art in St. Peter's and the Vatican: An Interpretive Guide, 1993.

Hutchinson, Robert J. When in Rome: A Journal of Life in the Vatican, 1998.

McDowell, Bart, James L. Stanfield, Elizabeth L. Newhouse, and Charles M. Kogod, eds. Inside the Vatican, 1993.

Reese, Thomas. Inside the Vatican, 1996.

Roncalli, Francesco. Vatican City: Vatican Museums, 1997.

Steinfels, Margaret O'Brien. "How the Vatican Works: An Interview with Thomas J. Reese." Commonweal, 123 (4): 1013, 1996.

Stickler, Alphonso. The Vatican Library: Its History and Treasures, 1989.

Frank A. Salamone

Vatican City

views updated May 17 2018

Vatican City

Type of Government

The State of the Vatican City is an absolute monarchy, with the Roman Catholic pope having full executive, judicial, and legislative power. The pope is elected for a life term by the College of Cardinals and is supported in his executive duties by a secular governor and council—both of whom are appointed by the pope—and legislatively by the College of Cardinals. The judicial system adheres to canon law—the legal code used in courts of the Roman Catholic Church.


Vatican City lies within the boundaries of Rome and is the smallest independent state in the world at about 110 square acres. The Vatican’s territory includes St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica (the world’s largest church), an enclave of administrative buildings, Belvedere Park, the papal palaces (the Vatican proper), and the Vatican Garden. The Vatican also administers a number of churches and properties in Rome and other parts of Italy.

The current Vatican City is the last remaining sovereign territory of the Papal States—the territories held by the Roman Catholic Church—that had their roots as part of the Byzantine Empire of the sixth century AD and at one time included much of the peninsula of Italy. For centuries the region was overrun and controlled by several empires, with much confusion over the extent of papal authority. Italy’s King Victor Emmanuel II (1820–1878) seized the Papal States in 1860 in a campaign to unify Italy. Victor Emmanuel captured Rome itself in 1870 and declared it the new capital of Italy, ending papal claims to secular authority. He confined the papacy to the Vatican and Lateran palaces in Rome and the villa of Castel Gandolfo. Pope Pius IX (1846–1878) and his successors refused to recognize the legitimacy of these events and proclaimed themselves prisoners in the Vatican.

In 1929 the Italian government and the Holy See (the seat of the Bishop of Rome, or pope) signed the Lateran Treaty, which finally resolved the question of papal dominion. The treaty recognized the Holy See’s independence and sovereignty, created the State of the Vatican City, and defined its territory; established the Roman Catholic Church as the state church of Italy; and paid the Holy See compensation for the losses it incurred in the 1870 takeover.

Government Structure

The pope has unconditional executive, legislative, and judicial power in both Vatican City and the Roman Catholic Church. The pope delegates the City’s internal administration to the Pontifical Commission for the State of the Vatican City, assisted by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic City. The Pontifical Committee consists of seven cardinals and a special lay delegate, supported by a board of twenty-one lay advisors. The major government officials, other than the pope, are the secretary of state and the secretary of the Sacred Council for Public Affairs.

The College of Cardinals elects the pope from its membership with a two-thirds vote. The pope appoints the cardinals; their number varies from one pope to the next. In 2007 the college had 184 members from sixty-eight countries.

Most of the Vatican government ’s work serves the needs of the Catholic Church. The Roman Curia (Vatican City’s administrative organ) and the Papal Civil Service conduct religious affairs under the pope’s direction. The Roman Curia includes a secretariat of state, nine sacred councils, three tribunals, and eleven pontifical councils. The secretariat of state directs the Curia under the leadership of a cardinal, who is secretary of state and serves a five-year term. The more important sacred councils include the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which oversees church doctrine; the Congregation for Bishops, which organizes the appointment of bishops throughout the world; and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which administers all missionary activities.

The Vatican Courts have jurisdiction over their internal legal affairs. The Vatican has three tribunals for religious cases. The Apostolic Penitentiary addresses questions concerning penance and absolution from sin. The Roman Rota deals mostly with marriage-related issues but also handles appeals based on lower ecclesiastical court decisions. The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature is the highest court of appeals.

The Prefecture for Economic Affairs oversees finances for the Holy See, including administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, an investment fund that began at the time of the Lateran agreements. A committee of fifteen cardinals has final authority over Holy See finances, including the Vatican Bank (the Institute for Works of Religion). The Vatican administers industrial, real estate, and artistic assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Internationally, Vatican City maintains a strong presence, both politically and spiritually. The Lateran Treaty gave Vatican City the right to have diplomatic ties to other countries, but it also mandated an official position of neutrality in armed conflicts. The Vatican’s moral stature, however, allows it to voice its concerns over war-related human rights violations and to intervene diplomatically if necessary.

Major Events

In 1947 the Italian Republic’s constitution largely affirmed the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The Vatican signed a new concordat with the Italian government in 1984 that continued papal authority in Vatican City but ended Roman Catholicism’s status as Italy’s state religion.

The most significant event for the Vatican and the Church in the twentieth century was Pope John XXIII’s (1881–1963), and his successor, Pope Paul VI’s (1897–1978), 1962 Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (Vatican II). The Council was the first worldwide Roman Catholic meeting in nearly a century. It modernized church doctrine in both the spiritual and social realms, perhaps most importantly—and controversially—permitting the Catholic Mass to be performed in languages other than Latin.

In 1978 the Vatican achieved another first when the College of Cardinals elected the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. The Polish Pope John Paul II (1920–2005) traveled widely, increasing the visible influence of the Church in international affairs. He tried to build bridges to the Muslim world and was a strong advocate of human rights and the peaceful resolution of world problems. His political influence is credited with accelerating the fall of communism in Poland and other Soviet satellite countries.

Twenty-First Century

One of Pope John Paul II’s most distinctive legacies is the diplomatic role he played during his tenure as head of the Vatican. An outspoken advocate of negotiation and disarmament, John Paul met often with world leaders to attempt to sway them toward peaceful resolutions; in such situations as the genocides in Rwanda and Kosovo in the 1990s, Vatican City was instrumental in bringing the atrocities to public awareness. In 1998 John Paul made an attempt at reconciliation with Jews when he issued a papal encyclical apologizing for the role many European Catholics had played in not offering protection to Jews during the Nazi persecution and Holocaust. Similarly, in December 2002 the Vatican made a gesture to heal relations with Judaism, opening for the first time its archives on Nazi Germany. While this move was not a formal apology for what many have viewed as the Church’s complicity during the Holocaust, it did provide scholars and critics with a rare look into the processes that determined Church policy at the time.

In January 2002 John Paul called on religious leaders from around the world to join him at a peace summit in Assisi, Italy, addressing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. More than 200 representatives of Islam, Judaism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy attended.

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (1927–) was elected pope in April 2005, taking the name Benedict XVI. Known as a hard-line doctrinal conservative, Benedict almost immediately courted controversy when newspapers reported that he had briefly been a member of the Nazi organization Hitler Youth as a teenager. Many—including Jewish groups—pointed out, however, that such membership had been common and at times obligatory for young people living in Nazi Germany, and the incident was quickly forgotten.

In September 2006 Benedict again put the Vatican in an awkward situation when he quoted medieval texts that referred to Islam as “evil” and “inhuman” in a speech, antagonizing the Muslim world and sparking attacks on churches and the murder of a Catholic nun in Somalia. This came several months after the pope had removed the head of the Vatican’s council on Christian-Islamic relations and merged the group into the ministry of culture, effectively downgrading the Church’s approach to building diplomatic ties with the Muslim world. In May 2007 the pope restored the department—called the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue—to its former stature, indicating that the Vatican intends to pursue a policy of greater engagement with Islam.

As of 2007, the Holy See maintained diplomatic relations with 174 countries and the European Union (EU). It was a permanent observer at the United Nations, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and International Labor Organization, among others.

Mcdowell, Bart, and James Stanfield. Inside the Vatican. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2005.

O’Collins, Gerald. Living Vatican II: The 21st Council for the 21st Century. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2006.

Reese, Thomas J. Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Vatican City State

views updated May 21 2018

Vatican City State

Basic Data
Official Country Name:Vatican City State (Holy See)

Language(s):Italian, Latin
Literacy Rate:100%

The Holy See, the national entity that is located in what is usually referred to as Vatican City, may be most easily defined as the central government of the Roman Catholic Church. The physical location of this ancient walled enclave is only .44 square kilometers. The total population of Vatican citizens can fluctuate between 400 to approximately 900 residents, with about 3,000 lay people who work within the Vatican but live outside its boundaries. Citizenship is not a birthright; citizens are primarily members of the clergy and can receive their citizenship for short but renewable periods of time as selected by the members of the Holy See. There is no annual birthrate, thus no need for primary schools, but it does consistently have a 100 percent literacy rate.

Besides what is within the Vatican walls, the Holy See also controls around a dozen buildings, such as the Castle Gondolfo (the Pope's summer residence) and many of the pontifical university buildings, which are outside the official boundaries. There are at least 15 educational institutions that have received Pontifical status from the Pope, but most actually exist on the streets of Rome not within the Vatican. The institutes, colleges, and universities do a wide variety of educational tasks from training young seminarians who are to receive their fundamental instruction before ordination up to training clergy from around the world on advanced studies in subjects like the canon law of the church, theology, and spirituality. The students may then return home or serve a mission elsewhere as a pastor, administrator, and/or instructor. Many of the institutions award graduate degrees, including doctorates.

Some of these major institutions of higher education that are actually within Rome's territory but claimed as part of the Vatican, are: Gregorian University (Pontificia Universita Gregoriana), which is paired, in physical plant and study, with the Biblical Institute (Pontificio Insituto Biblico) and its affiliated school, the Oriental Institute (Pontificio Isitutio Orientale); the Lateran University (Pontificia Universita Lateranense); Urban University (Pontificia Universita Urbaniana); St. Thomas Aquinas University (Pontificia Universita S. Tommaso d' Aquino); University of the Holy Cross (Pontificia Universita della Santa Croce); and Salesian University Pontificia Universita Salesiana), founded by St. John Bosco in the mid-1880s, named for a order of priests, brothers, and nuns who had a special devotion to helping young people, especially the poor, through education, activities, and workoften on farms.

The most famous of the universities may be Gregorian University, also known by the affectionate nickname of "The Greg." Its rector is appointed by the Pope and its teachers are almost all Jesuits (Society of Jesus), though not all of its students over the years have been clergy. Founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Borgia in 1551, its curriculum includes canon law, theology, philosophy, psychology, social sciences, and church history. It was given its present name years after its founding to honor Pope Gregory XIII (much the way Urban University bares a name popular with popes for centuries), who helped to expand the school. Among its graduates are 16 popes, at least 19 canonized saints, and at least another 24 who have been beatified.

The Ethiopian College, the only school still within the grounds of the Holy See/Vatican City, is a seminar started to train young African males for the priesthood. It has graduated many of the African bishops and cardinals who are now in office. The North American College, like the Ethiopian College, was built for seminarians and priests from that particular continent. It is one of the newest institutions, having been founded about the time of the American Civil War. There are also other, older institutions within Rome's territory, like the Angelicum, run by the Dominicans, where Pope John Paul II took a doctorate.

Within the Vatican are several scholarly and educational institutions. Of great interest to scholars is the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana), founded by Pope Nicholas V in the mid-1400s. It has been filled with books, manuscripts, and engravings throughout the centuries. It also contains the Vatican School of Librarianship. Next to the Apostolic Library is the Secret Vatican Archives. Obviously, its existence is not a secret, but it does conserve important possessions of the church along with ancient manuscripts and all the correspondence, since 1660, of the Holy See's Secretariat of State. It also runs the Vatican School of Palaeography, Diplomacy, and Archivistry. Additionally, there are three academies established for both study and promotion of the church's beliefs. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences is by far the oldest, founded in 1603 when it was called the Academy of the Lynx-Eyed. Its 80 members are appointed by the pope and are chosen from around the globe. Both the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life were founded in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from

Michael W. Young

Vatican City State

views updated May 08 2018

Vatican City State

Basic Data

Official Country Name:Vatican City State (Holy See)
Region (Map name):Europe
Language(s):Italian, Latin
Literacy rate:100%

Upon resolving disputes with Italy, the State of the Vatican City (Stato della Citta del Vaticano ) or The Holy See (Santa Sede ) was founded February 11, 1929, creating an independent, landlocked entity essentially within Italy's own capital of Rome. Being the world's smallest physical state and with a 2001 estimated population of just 890, the ecclesiastical government of the Holy See still wields substantial influence due to the roughly 1 billion people worldwide professing Catholicism.

L'Osservatore Romano is the oldest press organization functioning for the Vatican. Founded July 1, 1861, under Pius IX, it became the official newspaper of the Holy See in 1885 under Leo XIII. It publishes weekly editions in French (since 1949), Italian (1950), English (1968), Spanish (1969), Portuguese (1970), and German (1971), with a monthly edition in Polish (1980).

As of 1991, the Vatican Information Service (VIS) of the Holy See Press Office publishes (in English, Spanish, French, and Italian) newsworthy content concerning the pope, the Catholic Church, and the state Monday through Friday of all months except August. Daily, before formal transmission, it faxes and e-mails subscribers the current day's content. Also, the Holy See Press Office daily produces the Holy See Press Office Bulletin (Italian; translations when available) available to all with a version under embargo that is available only to licensed journalists.

Vatican Radio began February 12, 1931, under Pope Pius XI and remains the sole radio station of The Holy See. Since its inauguration, the radio has been managed by the Jesuit order. Programs are broadcast in 34 languages and sent on shortwave (two), medium-wave (three), FM (four), satellite frequencies and on the Internet. Personnel from more than 60 nations staff the radio.

Vatican Television Center (CTV) began in 1983 and became fully recognized by The Holy See in 1996. Like other Vatican media, CTV is concerned with broadcasting activities and messages of the pope and related Catholic Church concerns. It conducts around 130 live broadcasts per annum, produces documentaries, creates a weekly magazine program called Octava Dies that is distributed internationally, and serves as an archival facility for all of its footage. On Sundays the station uses Intelsat to broadcast the pope's Angelus to the United States.

Fides and the Missionary News Agency are the city-state's two news agencies. Along with other media, The Holy See extensively utilizes the Internet to transmit official current and historical information it sees as important for general dissemination. As of 2000, it had 93 Internet service providers located in both the Holy See and in Italy. The homepage of its official English Web site is

Depending on perspective, censorship can be seen to be either an insignificant or a major issue with the Holy See. Appropriate officials must approve all material, media organizations cannot function without permission of governing authorities, and dissenting opinions are tolerated only on certain issues and only within certain parameters. For all practical purposes, the state is the press and the press is the state. However, there is an explicitly communicated sense of expected allegiances and adherences deemed necessary to work under the auspices of the Holy See due to its inextricable bind with religion and in all fairness, it would be difficult not to be aware of this before joining. The state's very existence is based upon what are considered transcendent and eternal principles rather than on solely temporal reasons for governance, but one must question how to deal with such issues when they seem to be exclusionary rather than inclusive. Ethically, this puzzlealong with its concernsquickly spills into the realm of media and the right to communicate.


All the World's Newspapers. Available from

BBC News Country Profiles. Available from

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In The World Fact-book 2001. Available from

Sumner, Jeff, ed. Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, Vol. 5 136th ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2002.

Stat-USA International Trade Library: Country Background Notes. Available from

World Desk Reference. Available from

Clint B. Thomas Baldwin

Vatican City

views updated May 17 2018

Vatican City

Official name: State of the Vatican City (also known as The Holy See)

Area: 0.44 square kilometers (less than 1 square mile)

Highest point on mainland: Unnamed location (75 meters/248 feet)

Lowest point on land: Unnamed location (19 meters/63 feet)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 1 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Not available

Land boundaries: 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) total boundary length; all with Italy

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


Vatican City (also known as the Holy See) is a tiny urban, landlocked enclave surrounded by Rome, Italy. It is the world's smallest state, located on the west bank of the Tiber River. The Leonine Wall forms the enclave's western and southern boundaries. Vatican City is the administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church; the Pope resides here in a palace west of Belvedere Park. Among Vatican City's other well-known buildings and landmarks is St. Peter's Basilica, the largest Christian church in the world. The Vatican Gardens comprise about half of the total area of Vatican City.


Vatican City has no dependencies. Situated on about 40 hectares (100 acres) outside of Rome, however, is Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer villa. The Italian government grants this property special tax exemptions because of its association with Vatican City. Another similar property is Santa Maria de Galeri, covering about 420 hectares (1,037 acres) and located about 19.3 kilometers (12 miles) from Vatican City.


Vatican City has a temperate climate. The temperature in January averages 7°C (45°F) and in July it averages 24°C (75°F). There is little rainfall in the summer (May through September). Winter, the rainier season, lasts from September through April. Average annual rainfall is 50 centimeters (20 inches).


Although Vatican City is built on a slight hill, the variation in elevation throughout the small country is less than 60 meters (200 feet).


Vatican City is a landlocked enclave completely surrounded by Rome, Italy.


There are no lakes in Vatican City.


Italy's Tiber River flows near the Holy See.


There are no desert areas in Vatican City.


There is no flat or rolling terrain in Vatican City.


Vatican City contains no mountains or volcanoes.


There are no canyons or caves in Vatican City.


There are no plateaus or rock formations in Vatican City.


The Leonine Wall, dating to the ninth century, forms the south and west boundary of Vatican City. Popes fleeing persecution have escaped from Vatican City through a passageway on the top of the wall.



Hirst, Michael, et al. The Sistine Chapel: A Glorious Restoration. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1994.

Hutchinson, Robert J. When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

McDowell, Bart. Inside the Vatican. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 1993.

Pietrangeli, Carlo, ed. Paintings in the Vatican. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.

Reese, Thomas J. Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Web Site

Vatican: The Holy See. (accessed March 12, 2003).

Vatican City

views updated May 21 2018

Vatican City

The Holy See

  • Area: 0.17 sq mi (0.44 sq km) / World Rank: 207
  • Location: Northern and Eastern Hemispheres, in southern Europe, surrounded by Italy.
  • Coordinates: 41°54′N, 12°27′E
  • Borders: 2 sq mi (3.2 sq km), all with Italy
  • Coastline: None
  • Territorial Seas: None
  • Highest Point: unnamed location, 246 ft (75 m)
  • Lowest Point: unnamed location, 62 ft (19 m)
  • Longest River: None
  • Largest Lake: None
  • Natural Hazards: None
  • Population: 890 (July 2001 est.) / World Rank: 206
  • Capital City: Vatican City
  • Largest City: Vatican City, 890 (2001 est.)


Vatican City (the Holy See; the Vatican) is an urban, landlocked, enclave of Rome, Italy. It is the world's smallest state, located on the west bank of the Tiber River and to the west of the Castel Sant'Angelo. On the west and south it is bounded by the Leonine Wall. Vatican City is the administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church and the home of the Pope. It contains the following buildings and landmarks: St. Peter's Square; St. Peter's Basilica, the largest Christian church in the world; a quadrangular area north of the square containing administrative buildings and the Belvedere Park; the pontifical palaces to the west of Belvedere Park; and the Vatican Gardens, which occupy about half the area.

Certain areas in and near Rome are designated as extraterritorial to the Holy See, and receive tax exemption from the Italian government because of their association with the Vatican. Outside Rome, the sites include Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer villa and its environs (almost 100 acres / 40 hectares) and Santa Maria de Galeria (about 1,037 acres / 420 hectares), some 12 mi (19.3 km) from Rome.


The principality is built on a slight hill, but the variation in elevation is less than 200 ft (60 m).


Italy's Tiber River flows nearby, but there are no waterways within the Vatican City itself.


Vatican City is landlocked.



Vatican City's climate may be characterized as temperate. The temperature in January averages 45°F (7°C) and in July, 75°F (24°C). The gardens of Vatican City, featuring cultivated plants such as orchids, are world-renowned.


The rainy season is winter (September to mid-May), while there is very little rainfall from May to September. The annual rainfall averages 20 in (50 cm).


Due to its small size and unusual nature, Vatican City does not have natives in the usual sense of the word. Its population is made up entirely of clergymen and other functionaries of the Roman Catholic Church who were born elsewhere.


Vatican City has no exploitable natural resources.


Hirst, Michael, et al. The Sistine Chapel: A Glorious Restoration. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1994.

Hutchinson, Robert J., When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

McDowell, Bart. Inside the Vatican. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1993.

Pietrangeli, Carlo, ed. Paintings in the Vatican. Boston: Little Brown, 1996.

Reese, Thomas J. Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Vatican: The Holy See. (accessed June 19, 2002).

Vatican City

views updated May 14 2018

Vatican City

At a Glance

Official Name: The Holy See (State of the Vatican City)

Continent: Europe

Area: 0.17 square miles (0.44 sq. km)

Population: 880

Capital City: Vatican City

Largest City: Vatican City

Unit of Money: Vatican lira

Major Languages: Italian, Latin

Literacy: N/A

Land Use: 100% other

Natural Resources: None

Government: Monarchical-sacerdotal state

Defense: N/A

The Place

Vatican City is an independent state under the authority of the Pope, who is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. At 0.17 square miles (0.44 square kilometers), Vatican City is the smallest independent country in the world.

Vatican City was established in 1929 and includes 10 buildings in Rome, as well as the Pope's residence at Castel Gandolfo. Called the "Holy See," Vatican City is the seat of the Catholic Church.

Located on Vatican Hill in northwestern Rome, this country is surrounded by walls built during medieval and Renaissance periods. The most important structure is Saint Peter's Basilica, built between the 15th and 17th centuries, and designed by several artists, including Michelangelo. Another important structure is the Palace of the Vatican, which has 1,000 rooms. It houses the papal apartments, government offices of the Roman Catholic church, and the famous Sistine Chapel.

Vatican City has its own currency, mail system, telephone and telegraph systems, water supply, bank, and jail. The Vatican also has its own railroad station, which uses its 300 yards (270 meters), of track to carry freight.

The People

About 1000 people live in Vatican City permanently, but hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through each year. Most visitors come from Italy, Germany, Spain, and South America. Up to 100,000 people listen to the Pope's annual Easter Message in St. Peter's Square each year. The inhabitants of the City, primarily priests and nuns, also include several hundred laypersons who work in secretarial, domestic, trade, and service occupations.

The Vatican City University was founded by Pope Gregory XIII and is highly regarded for its philosophical and theological studies. There are 79,141 elementary and 31,406 secondary Catholic schools throughout the world.

The Pope and the Vatican staff have the highest standard of living of any country in the world.

Vatican City

views updated May 23 2018

Vatican City Independent sovereign state, existing as a walled enclave on the w bank of the River Tiber, within the city of Rome. It is the official home of the papacy and an independent base for the Holy See (governing body of the Roman Catholic Church). The first papal residence was established in the 5th century, and it has been the papal home ever since (apart from a brief spell at Avignon in the 14th century). Vatican City did not achieve full independence until 1929. The world's smallest nation, its population of c.1000 (mostly unmarried males) includes the Pope's traditional Swiss Guard of 100. The Commission, appointed to administer the Vatican's affairs, has its own radio service, police and railway station and issues its own stamps and coins. The treasures of the Vatican, notably Michelangelo's frescos in the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's, attract huge numbers of tourists and pilgrims. The official language is Latin. Area: 0.44sq km (0.17sq mi).