The Vatican City

Vatican City, officially known as the State of the Vatican City (Stato della Città del Vaticano in Italian), is a sovereign nation-state, located entirely within the city of Rome, Italy. It holds the distinction of being the smallest independent nation-state in the world, both in terms of area and population.
  • Area: Approximately 44 hectares (110 acres)
  • Population: 525 people in 2024
  • Government: Absolute elective monarchy
  • Official Language: Italian
  • Currency: Euro (€) since 2002
The Vatican City serves as the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church and it’s the official residence of the Pope, the leader of the Catholic faith. The Vatican is also a sovereign entity that operates with the formal name of the Holy See (Santa Sede in Italian).

Vatican City boasts an impressive array of cultural sites, including the iconic St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling and The Last Judgment. The Vatican museums hold priceless art collections curated over centuries, and are open for visits year-round.

Despite its minute size, this independent nation-state maintains its own postal service, radio station, banking system, and armed guards known as the Swiss Guard, arguably the smallest military in the world. It also produces its own coins and stamps.
Origin of the Vatican City

Vatican City owes its sacred origins to Vatican Hill, where it is believed that Saint Peter was martyred and buried. This turned the site into a major pilgrimage destination. Following Emperor Nero's persecution of Christians, a necropolis grew around this revered apostle’s tomb. Over the centuries, the significance of the area increased, resulting in the construction of the splendid St. Peter's Basilica under Pope Julius II. This basilica holds the tomb of Saint Peter beneath its hallowed grounds.

The temporal power of the Roman Catholic Church was consolidated in the form of the Papal States. Beginning with the donation of Pepin the Short in the 8th century, these territories spanned central Italy until the 19th century. However, the Papal States met their demise with Italian unification in 1870. For nearly 60 years following this upheaval, the Popes referred to themselves as "prisoners in the Vatican," abstaining from temporal involvement.

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The Lateral Treaty

The resolution to the standoff between the Papacy and the Kingdom of Italy crystallized in the 1929 Lateran Treaty, inked by Benito Mussolini representing the Italian government and Cardinal Pietro Gasparri for the Papacy. This accord recognized Vatican City as an independent, sovereign entity, firmly establishing the once sprawling Papal States to just 44 hectares. It also declared Catholicism as Italy’s state religion, agreed to compensatory finance for the loss of the Papal States, and led to the Pope's sovereignty over Vatican City.

The Lateran Pacts established Italian recognition of the Roman Curia, the administrative institutions of the Holy See. Furthermore, this territory on the western bank of the Tiber River, previously known as Ager Vaticanus, was granted extraterritorial rights to several buildings in Rome, effectively religious and administrative extensions of the Vatican.

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Artistic, Architectural and Cultural influences

The Vatican City holds immense cultural significance due to its deep religious roots and its extraordinary collection of art and architecture. Renowned for its Renaissance masterpieces, Vatican City is home to some of the most acclaimed works by artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli.

In the Vatican Museums, visitors can also immerse themselves in the splendor of the Sistine Chapel, adorned with Michelangelo's iconic ceiling frescoes. Raphael's Rooms display stunning frescoes by the artist and his workshop, while the Borgia Apartment reveals the delicate works of Pinturicchio. 

St. Peter's Basilica showcases architectural prowess with contributions from Bramante, Michelangelo, and Bernini, and is an architectural marvel detailed in guides about its history. The Vatican's surroundings are equally captivating, with the Vatican Gardens offering a serene escape within this bustling enclave, reflecting both natural beauty and human ingenuity. The Vatican Apostolic Library is world famous for holding priceless manuscripts and codices, and its contents often spark as much intrigue as the mysteries within the Vatican Secret Archives.

As a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vatican City garners further acclaim for its cultural and historical significance, preserving works that have both shaped and been shaped by the course of Western civilization.

St. Peter's Basilica, Square & Papal Grottoes Guided Tour


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Tour The Vatican with a guide to see St. Peter's Basilica's marbles, mosaics, golden ceilings, and Michelangelo's Pietà. Visit St. Peter's tomb, explore Renaissance art, and marvel at St. Peter's Square's optical illusions by Bernini. Experience history and art in a grand setting with an expert by your side.


  • Guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica, Square and Papal Grottoes
  • Live guide available in English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish
  • Headset so that you can always hear your guide

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Skip-the-Line Vatican Museums tickets


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Go past the long queues and spend more time at the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with skip-the line tickets. These tickets are valid for an entire day, allowing you to explore the Vatican’s rich history at your own pace.


  • Skip the line access
  • Optional audio-guide for an extra cost available in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, German, Chinese and Korean

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Vatican Museums plus Vatican Gardens entry ticket


200+ reviews

Start your visit of the Vatican by touring the hidden paradise behind its wall, the Vatican Gardens, in a mini-bus with the help of an audio guide. After discovering its secrets, the wonders of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel await you.


  • Skip the line access to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
  • Vatican Gardens mini-bus tour and audio-guide in English
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St Peter's Basilica & Dome: Guided Tour


650+ reviews

Explore St. Peter's Basilica and dome with an art historian guide. Climb 136 meters for Rome views, see dome mosaics up close, and skip lines to admire Renaissance art in a small group tour, gaining unique insights into Vatican City's history and art.


  • Entrance ticket to St. Peter's Basilica and Dome
  • Guided tour of St. Peter's Basilica
  • Live guide available in English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish
  • Headset so that you can always hear your guide

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Skip-the-Line Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel Guided Tour


26 000+ reviews

Tour the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel with a knowledgeable guide by your side. Make the most of your 3-hour visit with skip-the-line access to both sites in the Vatican.


  • English–speaking tour guide
  • Skip the line admission to the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
  • Free cancellation

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Combo Guided Tour: Vatican Museums plus Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica


10 500+ reviews

Enjoy a skip-the-line tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, & St. Peter's Basilica with an expert guide. Marvel at art by Da Vinci, Caravaggio as well as Michelangelo's world-renowned frescoes.


  • Skip-the-line entry to Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel
  • Skip-the-line entry to St. Peter's Basilica
  • Live guide available in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese
  • Headset so that you can always hear your guide

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Papal Authority

The Pope, as the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Catholic Church, assumes the highest-level executive, legislative, and judicial roles in Vatican City. Sovereignty is vested in the papacy, and the Pope exercises control over the Holy See, which is the central governing body of the Catholic Church. His decisions can influence religious and administrative matters, ranging from the appointment of cardinals to supervising the work of the Roman Curia, the Church's central administrative organ. In essence, the Pope's word is final in the administration of Vatican City's governance.

Administrative Infrastructure

The Roman Curia handles the daily operations of the church worldwide and assists in managing the affairs of the Vatican as a sovereign nation. Aspects of governance are supported by the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State which ensures the country's temporal governance. The judicial power is conferred upon courts appointed by the Pope, and the legal system is based on Canon Law. Vatican City operates as a sacerdotal-monarchical state, where the Pope's audience and public worship take precedence over secular issues.

Economy and Currency

The Vatican economy is noteworthy for its use of the euro as its official currency, despite being a non-member country of the European Union. The euro was adopted by Vatican City in 2002 through a special agreement with Italy. The Vatican mints its own coins, often featuring the Pope — which are highly valued by coin collectors. While the economy is largely supported by contributions from the worldwide Catholic community, it also benefits from the operation of the Vatican post office, renowned for its efficiency and the issuance of unique postage stamps used by both locals and visitors.

Tourism Contributions

Tourism is the pillar of Vatican City's economy, with millions of pilgrims and visitors flocking to this small ecclesiastical state every year. They contribute to the economy by paying admission fees to the famous Vatican Museums, and spending money at the souvenir shops or the Vatican's own supermarket and department store. The Italian enclave of Castel Gandolfo—the Pope’s summer residence—also generates revenue as a tourist site. The sale of publications, including official Vatican documents, is another source of income.

Vatican City, as an epicenter of religious and cultural activity, maintains a unique daily rhythm influenced by its residents and administration.

The sovereign city-state is not only the smallest country in the world by area but also by population. The population of Vatican City is remarkably small, with estimates around 500 individuals in 2024, a number in steady decline since the 60s, but estimated to double during the next half century. Among these are the Swiss Guard, a unit of Swiss soldiers responsible for the safety of the Pope, safeguarding the Pope and the Apostolic Palace. The Vatican's population comprises clergy, laypersons, and officials, most of whom are Italian by nationality. Citizenship in Vatican City is typically granted to those who reside there for their official duties, and it is commonly temporary.

Vatican City's populace converse predominantly in Italian, though due to its global religious significance, Latin and French are also used in official documents and communications. Despite its diminutive size, Vatican City boasts a wealth of civic amenities. It operates its own media outlets, including the influential daily newspaper 'L'Osservatore Romano', which has a notable impact within and beyond the city's boundaries. There is also a radio station that broadcasts worldwide.

Diplomacy and International Relations

Vatican City maintains diplomatic relationships with countries around the world, facilitated by the Holy See— the central governing body of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope, as the head of the Vatican City State and the Holy See, is a pivotal figure in international relations, emphasizing the city-state's religious and moral perspectives on global issues. Vatican diplomacy is marked by its historical ties and the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which established the independence of Vatican City from Italy, allowing it to conduct its own diplomatic affairs. Diplomatic relations are active with nations on every continent, underscoring Vatican City's reach and presence on the global map.

Properties Beyond Vatican Borders

The Vatican owns numerous properties of the Holy See, some of which are situated outside the confines of central Italy and are recognized for their significance to the Catholic Church. These extraterritorial properties in Rome and the ones in France, among others, enjoy a special status conferred upon them by international law. They are not subject to the jurisdiction of the countries where they are located, reflecting the church's historical patrimony and significant global footprint. Such properties include churches, seminaries, and palaces, many of which are imbued with religious, historical, and cultural importance.
What is the Vatican City?
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