Official Name: Vatican City State
Established: 1929 (Lateran Treaty)
Population: 825 (2019 estimate)
Religion: 100% Catholic
Capital: Vatican City
Order of Visit: Eighteenth
First Visit: 12 June 2006
Last Visit: 12 June 2006
Duration: 1 Day
Visit Highlights: Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s ‘Book of Genesis’, St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums, stunning artwork.
Places Visited: Vatican City
Vatican Journal Entries
History and Geography
Surrounded by the city of Rome the Vatican covers an area of just 121 acres with a population around 825 the Vatican is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population.
The area now cover by Vatican City was the site of many martyred Christians after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. The construction of the Basilica of St. Peter occurred during the first half of the 4th century. A palace was constructed nearby as early as the 5th century during the pontificate of Pope Symmachus (reigned 498–514).
Popes gradually came to have a secular role as governors of regions near Rome. They ruled the Papal States, which covered a large portion of Central Italy, for more than a thousand years until the mid-19th century, when all the territory belonging to the papacy was seized by the newly created Kingdom of Italy.
From 1309 to 1377, Popes actually lived at Avignon in France but from them afterwards were always located at the Vatican. With the formation of Kingdom of Italy in 1861 Pope Pius IX (1846–1878), who was the last ruler of the Papal States, was referred to as a “prisoner in the Vatican”. Some Church property and holdings outside the Vatican was taken over by the Italy Government but the Vatican was allowed to operate independently in a legal grey area.
This situation was resolved on 11 February 1929, when the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy was signed by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri for Pope Pius XI. The treaty, which became effective on 7 June 1929, established the independent state of Vatican City and reaffirmed the special status of Catholic Christianity in Italy.
The Holy See, which ruled Vatican City, pursued a policy of neutrality during World War II, under the leadership of Pope Pius XII. Although German troops occupied the city of Rome after the September 1943 Armistice of Cassibile, and the Allies from 1944, they respected Vatican City as neutral territory.
With the entry of the USA into WWII the USA opposed allies bombing near the Vatican City, fearful of offending Catholic members of its military forces. The US military even exempted Catholic pilots and crew from air raids on and near Rome and other Church holdings resulting in less bombing of Rome overall than other Italian cities. No bombs hit the Vatican.
The Pontifical Military Corps, except for the Swiss Guard, was disbanded by will of Paul VI, as expressed in a letter of 14 September 1970. The Gendarmerie Corps was transformed into a civilian police and security force. The Swiss Guard of the Vatican is the only Swiss Guard that is still active today. The unit was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506. Recruits to the guards must be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between 19 and 30 years of age who have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces
There are no passport controls for visitors entering Vatican City from the surrounding Italian territory. There is free public access to Saint Peter’s Square and Basilica and, on the occasion of papal general audiences, to the hall in which they are held. For these audiences and for major ceremonies in Saint Peter’s Basilica and Square, tickets free of charge must be obtained beforehand. The Vatican Museums, incorporating the Sistine Chapel, usually charge an entrance fee.
What I experienced
During my visit of the Vatican I undertook a tour on a very hot summer’s day. Having been raised a catholic I guess in some ways this could be seen as a pilgrimage even if I just saw it was a chance to visit a place with a rich history and some amazing artwork. In fact the architecture and the artwork are the highlights of the Vatican City and can lift your spirits by themselves. Some of the paintings are surprising as they are not all religious works in fact the odd nude woman can be seen in some works. Apparently some earlier Pope’s just liked good artwork. Michelangelo’s ‘Book of Genesis’ was a particular highlight but they are many ‘lesser’ but amazing works as well.
While I was the I don’t believe the Pope was in residence. The colourful Swiss Guard is also a highlight, given these guard came from the Swiss Army you don’t want to make fun of them.