Vatican City Attractions Città del Vaticano
Top Tourist Attractions in Vatican City
The extensive territories of the Papal States in central Italy, originally presented to the Pope by the Frankish king Pippin the Short, father of Charlemagne, were incorporated in the new kingdom of Italy in 1870. The Pope thereafter regarded himself as a prisoner in the Vatican, and this rift between Church and State was not finally healed until 1929, when Mussolini concluded the Lateran Treaty with the Holy See under which the Pope gained full sovereignty over the more restricted territory of the Vatican State.
The Vatican State is the smallest independent state in the world with an area of 0.44sq.km/110 acres and a population of some 400. It consists essentially of the Vatican palace and gardens, St Peter's and St Peter's Square, most of the area being enclosed by the Vatican walls, with a white strip across St Peter's Square marking the boundary on that side. (During the period of German occupation in the Second World War this line was of some significance.)The Pope since 2005 ,Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church (membership over 825 million), is invested with legislative, executive and judicial powers. In external affairs he is represented by the Cardinal Secretary of State, while the administration is headed by a Governor responsible only to the Pope. Since the dissolution of the Guardia Nobile and Guardia Palatina in 1970 the Pope's bodyguard consists only of the Gendarmerie and the Swiss Guard. Membership of the Swiss Guard is restricted to Roman Catholic citizens of Switzerland aged between 18 and 25 who must be unmarried and of a minimum height of 1.8m/5ft 8.5in. The period of service is from 2 to 20 years. According to the Papal decree of 1979 the Swiss Guard consists of exactly 100 men (4 officers, 1 chaplain, 23 sergeants, 70 halbadiers and 2 drummers). Members of the Guard wear medieval uniforms in the colors of the Medici Popes (yellow, red and blue). The Vatican City has its own currency (1 Vatican lira = 1 Italian lira), postal service (issuing stamps which are valid throughout Rome), telephone and telegraph services, newspapers and periodicals (in particular the "Osservatore Romano", with a circulation of 60,000-70,000), radio station (Radio Vaticana: transmissions on medium and short waves in some 35 languages), a fleet of about 100 vehicles (registration letters SCV) and its own railroad station and helicopter pad. The Vatican flag has vertical stripes of yellow and white, with two crossed keys below the Papal tiara (triple crown) on a white ground.Papal possessions outside Vatican City - the basilicas of San Paolo fuori le Mura, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore, the Papal administrative offices and the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo - enjoy extra-territorial status and are not subject to Italian law. The territory of Vatican City, with the exception of certain permitted areas (St Peter's, the museums, the Camposanto Teutonico, etc.) can be entered only with special permission.
Vatican Palace is the Papal residence. This huge and extravagant complex covers 13.5 acres, excluding the gardens.
In front of St Peter's Basilica, the huge St Peter's Square accommodates enormous crowds, particularly on religious holidays. Rows of columns enclose the oval "square" on two sides, and in the middle stands an Egyptian obelisk.
The center piece of the Vatican, St Peter's Basilica is the world's most famous Christian church. The first church of St Peter was built here in 326, but the magnificent structure seen today was built between the 16th and 18th C.
Map of Vatican City Attractions