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Vatican City (Holy See)

tourist mementos, Lateran Treaty, Tiber River, smallest country, Piazza San Pietro

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Vatican City, independent state within Rome, Italy, that is ruled by the pope and serves as the world headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Entirely surrounded by Rome, Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, with an area of 44 hectares (110 acres).

Vatican City occupies a triangular area on Vatican Hill in northwestern Rome, just west of the Tiber River. Except at Saint Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) on its southwest flank, Vatican City is surrounded by medieval and Renaissance walls that separate it from the city beyond. Within its walls is a vast complex of courtyards, gardens, and magnificent buildings, the largest and most imposing of which is the great domed Saint Peter’s Basilica—the principal church of Roman Catholicism.

Vatican City has its own constitution, postal system, seal, flag, and other symbols of statehood. The Vatican also has its own army, the Swiss Guard, numbering about 100 soldiers. Vatican Radio is the official radio station, and powerful transmitters beam “the pope’s voice” to a global audience. In 2001 Vatican City had an estimated population of 1,000. Citizenship is gained by permanent residence in the Vatican together with the performance of special duties in the service of the Holy See (the jurisdiction of the pope).

Vatican City is the last remnant of the Papal States, a swath of territories in central Italy acquired over the centuries by the Catholic Church and governed by the pope. Vatican City was established in 1929 under terms of the Lateran Treaty, concluded by the Italian government and the papacy after many years of controversy. Under the treaty, the Catholic Church ceded all claims to the Papal States in return for financial compensation and sovereignty over the Holy See within the state of Vatican City.


Revenues from a variety of sources support Vatican City. They include contributions from Roman Catholics around the world (known as Peter’s Pence), interest on investments, and profits from its merchant bank, L’Istituto per le Opere di Religione. In addition, the Vatican sells stamps, tourist mementos, and collects fees for admission to its museums. The Vatican’s publishing operations are extensive. Books and pamphlets, published in multiple languages, are sold all over the world.

Vatican City uses the euro, the currency of the European Union (EU), although it is not an EU member. It maintains its own postal system, has a railroad station, and manages its own telephone and telegraph services. The Vatican’s daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, is influential far beyond the walls of the city.



Cavolina, Jane, ed. The Pope Encyclopedia: An A to Z of the Holy See. Crown, 1995. Contains more than 2,000 entries in an easy-to-use alphabetical format; explores the history of the Vatican and its rulers.

Duffy, Eamon. Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes. Yale University Press, 1997. Served as the basis for the 1988 television series.

Granfield, Patrick. The Papacy in Transition. Doubleday, 1980. History, responsibilities, and possible reforms.

Hall, Alan. A History of the Papacy. Thunder Bay, 1998. Descriptive history.

MacEoin, Gary, ed. The Papacy and the People of God. Orbis, 1998. Ten leading theologians and Vatican scholars consider the future shape of the papacy.

Maxwell-Stuart, P. G. Chronicle of the Popes: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Papacy from St. Peter to the Present. Thames & Hudson, 1997. Chronicles the individuals who have shaped one of the world's largest religions; includes more than 300 illustrations.

McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II. HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. Profiles every pope; a comprehensive work.

Walsh, Michael. An Illustrated History of the Popes: Saint Peter to John Paul II. St. Martin's, 1980. Illustrated survey.

Vatican City

Hirst, Michael, and others. The Sistine Chapel: A Glorious Restoration. Abrams, 1999. Includes 300 color photographs of the recent restoration of Michelangelo's ceiling fresco in the Sistine Chapel.

Hutchinson, Robert J. When in Rome: A Journal of Life in Vatican City. Doubleday, 1998. An informative and at times irreverent account of life in Vatican City.

McDowell, Bart. Inside the Vatican. National Geographic Society, 1993. Includes 150 color photographs of areas inside the Vatican rarely open to the public. For high school readers.

Pietrangeli, Carlo, ed. Paintings in the Vatican. Bulfinch, 1996. Features the frescoes and paintings of the Vatican museums from the year 1000 to the 18th century.

Pilgrims in Rome: The Official Vatican Guide for the Jubilee Year, 2000. Continuum, 1999. An illustrated guide to Vatican City, including its history, art, and spiritual significance.

Reese, Thomas J. Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Harvard University Press, 1996. Examination of the organization of Vatican City and its political place in the world.


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