Vatican City (Vaticano) is the world's smallest independent state – in territory and population, with about 800 residents. The 44-hectare autonomous city-state is located within Rome and functions as a sovereign entity with its government, laws, and currency. It radiates spirituality, culture, and history, housing numerous significant religious and cultural landmarks, including St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel.
It is the spiritual and administrative centre of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the world's largest religions. This is where the Pope resides, serving as the spiritual leader for over a billion believers worldwide.
Map - Where is Vatican City?
Vatican City is located in Rome, Italy, on the Apennine Peninsula. It is in the Lazio region on the western side of the country. While the centre of Rome is on the eastern bank of the Tiber River, the Vatican is on the west bank. The distance between the two is about 5 kilometres, which can be covered on foot in about one hour.
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Due to its small size, Vatican City is not divided into districts like many other cities and does not have a typical administrative division. The city-state is essentially an enclave surrounded by the Aurelian Walls – built in the 3rd century AD. It doesn't have a separate historic district, either. Numerous historical buildings are scattered throughout the entire city, making the whole town a historical site.
As Vatican City does not have a public transportation system, you can only walk within its walls. However, since it is located in the city of Rome, it has excellent access to Rome's extensive public transportation network.
- Metro: The metro system has two stops on Line A near Vatican City: Ottaviano-S. Pietro and Cipro. Both stations are within walking distance of the main attractions in the Vatican.
- Bus: Rome has an extensive bus network, and several bus routes pass near or have stops close to Vatican City. Different parts of the Vatican can be reached by bus.
- Tram: While trams do not directly run through Vatican City, some tram lines connect to areas near the Vatican.
Throughout the entire area of Vatican City, be mindful of your attire. It's essential to know that there are strict security regulations at all its attractions. Your bags may be inspected at the entrance to many places.
Is it open to visitors?
|Attractions||Is it open to visitors?|
|St. Peter's Basilica||Yes|
|St. Peter's Square||Yes|
|Vatican Gardens||Yes (booking needed)|
|Vatican Necropolis||Yes (small-sized groups)|
|Archivio Apostolico Vaticano||No (permission needed)|
|Vatican Library||No (permission needed)|
The world's largest and most important Catholic church. Its significance goes beyond architecture and art, as it is considered the spiritual centre of the Roman Catholic Church and a symbol of enduring faith in Christianity. Construction began in the early 16th century under the supervision of outstanding Renaissance architects, including Bramante, Michelangelo, and Bernini.
The basilica is a harmonious blend of classical and baroque styles, raising the structure to unparalleled heights. It is revered as the burial place of Saint Peter, one of Jesus' apostles and the first pope. It is believed that the apostle's tomb is beneath it, making the church a hugely significant pilgrimage site for millions of believers worldwide. Its crowning jewel is the magnificent dome designed by Michelangelo. Its iconic silhouette adorns the Roman skyline, and ascending, it rewards visitors with breathtaking panoramas.
The square in front of St. Peter's Basilica serves as a forecourt and gathering place for pilgrims and visitors worldwide. It was designed by the renowned Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century. It embodies the faithful's reception by the Church, as evidenced by the distinctive colonnades in the shape of a semi-circle, reaching outward with welcoming arms, symbolizing the Church's embrace of all believers.
In the centre of the square stands an ancient Egyptian obelisk, known as the obelisk of the cross, brought to Rome from Egypt during the reign of Emperor Caligula. The obelisk, crowned with a bronze cross, symbolizes the victory of Christianity over paganism and serves as the focal point for papal ceremonies and blessings.
The Vatican Gardens (Giardini Vaticani) are a collection of gardens and green spaces within the Vatican. With approximately 23 hectares, it is one of Rome's most extensive and well-preserved green areas. Situated behind the Apostolic Palace, these gardens are generally not open to the public, serving as a secluded and peaceful retreat for the Pope and members of the Holy See.
The Vatican Museums comprise a group of art and Christian museums housing an extensive and diverse collection of artworks and historical artefacts gathered by the Catholic Church over the centuries. It is a chronicle of human creativity, with each exhibit unveiling an important story. The collection spans various disciplines, including painting, sculpture, archaeology, ethnology, and religious objects. Notable sections within the Vatican Museums include:
- Gregorian Egyptian Museum: Showcases an extensive collection of Egyptian antiquities, including mummies, statues, and other artefacts.
- Gregorian Etruscan Museum: Displays artworks and artefacts from the ancient Etruscan civilization in Central Italy before the rise of Rome.
- Pio Christian Museum: Houses a significant collection of early Christian art, including sarcophagi, statues, and mosaics.
- Gregorian Profane Museum: Features ancient Roman and Greek sculptures and artefacts.
- Gallery of the Candelabra: Displays ancient Roman marble candelabras and other sculptures.
- Gallery of Tapestries: Known for its impressive tapestries designed according to Raphael's workshops.
- Map Gallery: Showcases a series of painted topographical maps of Italy from the late 16th century.
- Raphael's Rooms: A suite of four rooms adorned with frescoes by Raphael and his workshop.
- Sistine Chapel: Although primarily a religious space, the Sistine Chapel is also part of the Vatican Museums. It is famous for Michelangelo's ceiling frescoes, including the iconic "Creation of Adam."
- Pinacoteca Vaticana: An art gallery containing an extensive collection of paintings from various eras.
- Ethnological Missionary Museum: Presents objects from various cultures collected by Catholic missionaries worldwide.
- Christian Lapidarium: An open-air exhibition of ancient Christian and medieval sculptures and inscriptions.
- Vatican Historical Museum: Showcases historical objects and artworks related to the Papal States and Vatican history.
- Carriage Pavilion: Houses a collection of carriages and other vehicles used by the popes throughout history.
The Sistine Chapel is an artistic marvel famous for its stunning frescoes created by some of history's greatest artists. Most notably, it is known for the frescoes painted by Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists ever.
The ceiling frescoes of the chapel depict nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, including the iconic image of God giving life to Adam, known as "The Creation of Adam." On the chapel's altar wall, Michelangelo painted "The Last Judgment," a powerful portrayal of Christ's second coming and the final judgment of humanity. The vivid and emotionally charged fresco is a testament to Michelangelo's artistic genius.
The Apostolic Palace, also known as the Papal Palace, serves as the official residence of the Pope and the administrative centre of the Roman Catholic Church. Within the Apostolic Palace are several private apartments the Pope and his closest aides use for home and work. Each Pope can personalize and furnish their living quarters according to their preferences.
The Apostolic Palace includes the Papal Audience Hall, where the Pope meets with various dignitaries, pilgrims, and visitors, offering blessings and spiritual guidance to those seeking an audience.
One of the world's oldest and most significant libraries, the Vatican Library houses an extensive collection of manuscripts, rare books, and historical documents. Located within the walls of the Apostolic Palace, it plays a crucial role in preserving human culture and intellectual heritage.
Officially established in 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV, who donated his private book collection to the library, it provided a foundation for future growth. The library's most valuable treasures include its vast collection of ancient manuscripts, some dating back to antiquity. It contains biblical manuscripts, classical works, medieval manuscripts, and documents from various cultures and civilizations.
The Vatican Necropolis is an archaeological site located beneath St. Peter's Basilica, containing ancient tombs and burial chambers dating back to the Roman era. It was discovered during excavations in the mid-20th century. The cemetery consists of narrow passageways and small rooms with tombs dating back to the 1st century AD, continuing through several centuries.
Also known as the Royal Staircase or Grand Staircase, it is an impressive architectural feature connecting St. Peter's Basilica to the Apostolic Palace. This grand staircase serves as a ceremonial entrance for important dignitaries and visitors. Designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the most renowned Baroque architects and sculptors of the 17th century, its design carries rich symbolic meaning.
An art gallery housing a collection of paintings from various periods, including works by artists such as Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and more. It was founded by Pope Pius VII in 1817 and is part of the Vatican Museums.
Vatican Post office
The Vatican operates its postal service, allowing visitors to send letters with Vatican postmarks. It is famous for its beautiful and collectable stamps, often featuring religious themes, artistic masterpieces, and significant events in the history of the Catholic Church. Stamps from the Vatican are highly sought after by collectors worldwide.
The Archivio Apostolico Vaticano is one of the world's most significant and extensive historical archives. It houses a vast collection of documents, records, and correspondence spanning centuries of the Catholic Church's history. As the central archive of the Holy See, the Vatican Apostolic Archive plays a vital role in preserving and making accessible the rich historical legacy of the Catholic Church and its engagement in world affairs.
It contains papal bulls, correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, maps, and other valuable records. Closed initially to the public and accessible only to selected groups of researchers and scholars, the Vatican has gradually opened more of its archives to a broader audience, allowing the exploration of these historical treasures.
The residence of the Pope
The Pope is the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the head of state of Vatican City. He is considered the Vicar of Christ on Earth and holds the highest authority within the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church. The Pope serves as the Bishop of Rome, with the roots of this position tracing back to the Apostle Peter, whom they regard as the first Bishop of Rome and the first Pope.
The Apostolic Palace serves as the official residence of the Pope. It is where the Pope conducts his official duties, meets various dignitaries, and deals with important matters concerning the Church and Vatican City. The Apostolic Palace comprises different wings and apartments, including the Papal Apartments, where the Pope resides. The Papal Apartments are located on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace and include private quarters, a chapel, a study, and other facilities necessary for the Pope's daily life.
History of the Vatican
Its history is rich and diverse, spanning centuries and deeply intertwined with the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The area where the Vatican stands has been inhabited since ancient times. It was once a part of the Etruscan civilization and later became a significant site during the Roman Empire.
- In the early Christian era, the Vatican Hill (then known as Mons Vaticanus) was a place of Christian martyrdom. According to tradition, Saint Peter, one of Jesus' apostles, was crucified on this hill and buried, making it an essential pilgrimage site for Christians.
- In the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine the Great ordered the construction of the first basilica on the site, dedicated to Saint Peter. This early basilica was the predecessor of today's St. Peter's Basilica.
- In the 14th century, there was a period known as the Avignon Papacy when multiple Popes resided in Avignon, France, instead of Rome. This period of papal residence is known as the Avignon Papacy or the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy. It lasted from 1309 to 1377. Due to political instability and conflicts in Italy, they established their residency in Avignon. Avignon was within the territory of the French king, offering a more stable and secure environment for the Popes.
- Following Pope Clement V in 1305, several French Popes followed, each maintaining the Avignon Papal residence. In 1377, Pope Gregory XI returned the Papal residence to Rome, ending the Avignon Papacy. His decision was partially influenced by the efforts of Saint Catherine of Siena, who encouraged him to return to Rome and restore the authority of the Church there.
- During the Renaissance era, many influential and powerful Popes supported the arts, culture, and the beautification of Rome. For instance, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
- In 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy, establishing Vatican City as a sovereign city-state and resolving the "Roman Question," a source of tension between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy.
- During World War II, the Vatican remained neutral and served as a refuge for many people seeking protection from the horrors of the war.
- In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council was convened, leading to significant reforms and changes within the Catholic Church. The council aimed to adapt the Church to the modern world.
Flag and coat of arms
The flag of Vatican City consists of two vertical bands, one gold (yellow) and one white, with the city's coat of arms in the centre. The colours of the flag hold religious significance, with gold symbolizing the spiritual and temporal authority of the Pope and white representing the purity and sanctity of the Church.
The coat of arms in the centre of the flag contains crossed keys, one in gold and one in silver, connected by a red cord, with a white papal tiara with three gold crowns behind them.
- The crossed keys symbolize the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is believed that Saint Peter held the keys to Heaven (he was the first Pope).
- The papal tiara is a traditional three-tiered crown typically worn by the Popes. The three crowns represent the Pope's three roles as the Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of Vatican City, and the highest authority in the Roman Catholic Church.
- The red cord signifies the unbroken connection between the papal office and Saint Peter.
Security of the Pope
The security of the Pope is managed through multi-layered protection provided by various special units and security protocols. The Papal Swiss Guard performs ceremonial duties and offers close protection to the Pope and the Apostolic Palace. The Gendarmerie Corps is the city's police force responsible for maintaining public order within the city-state. It plays a vital role in ensuring the Pope's security, coordinating with other security agencies, and implementing security measures during public events and gatherings.
The city has its security service responsible for intelligence gathering and analysis. This service aims to detect and prevent potential security threats to the Pope and the Vatican. The Pope's close protection includes highly trained security personnel responsible for his physical safety during public appearances and travels. They closely cooperate with the Swiss Guard and other security units.
During public appearances, the Pope often uses a specially designed vehicle called the "Popemobile," which is equipped with bulletproof glass and provides better visibility, allowing him to interact with the public while remaining protected.
As you bid farewell to the Vatican, with its marvellous sights and artistic treasures, let's carry the indescribable beauty of this otherworldly place hidden behind sacred walls. Save this link for later, or share it with your friends. Have a nice trip! Trekhunt team. ❤️