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Vatican City


Vatican City is the smallest country in the world and is located in the heart of Rome. Vatican City is home to the Vatican and it's auxiliary buildings, as well as the Catholic Church. It is easy to spend a day or two in Vatican City, visiting it's Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and, if you gain entry, The Vatican Archives.


Being as old as it is (technically dating to the time of Christ, making it roughly 2,000 years old), the Vatican City has a lot of history. Perhaps more than can be covered in a simple article. The “city state” is without question one of the world’s best known spiritual centers. The seat of the Bishop of Rome (known as the Pope) is the living heart of the Catholic world, and the smallest independent, sovereign state (about a square one-third of a square mile) and supports almost 1,000 residents. The Vatican took its name from Mons Vaticanus (Vatican Hill), on which it stands.

The earliest incarnation of the Vatican dates to the first century, when Roman Emperor Caligula Caesar built what would be known as the Circus of Nero in Ager Vaticanus, just beyond the city limits of Rome. The site was a popular spot for public events such as executions. In fact, Ager Vaticanus was the site of the first state organized Christian executions. It was on this site that St. Peter the apostle, the disciple of Christ who proclaimed his teacher the Messiah, was martyred (crucified upside down by his request to show his faith in the teachings of Christ). A monument was placed on the site, and in the middle of the first century AD, a small shrine was added.

Emperor Constantine commissioned St. Peter's Basilica in 324, replacing the former shrine.

Over the subsequent centuries, the Vatican has been the setting for endless tales of both the spiritual evolution of man and mystery born of man’s failings. . There is even a little supported story regarding a woman pope (Pope Joan) in the 9th century. It has even been featured in popular Hollywood blockbusters like Mission Impossible 3. But above all else, the Vatican is first and foremost a holy site.

The Vatican began as a secondary residence for Papal leaders, their primary residence being the Palace of San Giovanni in Laterano. Under the rule of Pope Symmachus from 498 - 514, the Vatican became the permanent residence of the Catholic leaders.

The protective Leonine Walls surrounding the Vatican grounds were added in 846 by Pope Saint Leo IV as a defense against Saracen invasion.

For a short time beginning in 1145, the Vatican was run by Eugenius III, abbot of a small monastery. The violent nature of his day led to construction of a fortified palace. Today, the tomb of Pope Eugenius III is said to bestow a healing power on its visitors.

A walled passageway was added to the defense in the late 1200s, which would link the palace with the fortress of Castel Saint Angelo. These additional precautions did little to ensure papal safety, and in 1309, the Catholic leader and his closest followers were forced to flee city. A Vatican in Exile`` was established in Avignon, France, where the papacy would remain until Pope Gregory XI returned to Italy in 1378.

During the mid-15th century, St. Peter's Basilica enjoyed extensive renovations and reconstruction under Pope Nicholas V. The basilica restored to its former glory, though some sections were torn down to make room for the ever growing Vatican Library. Pope Sixtus IV continued to expand the collection, and commissioned works by many popular artists.

By the end of the 15th century, the collection had taken on a new fervor, and Pope Innocent VIII commissioned the renovation of Villa Belvedere (which included connecting the pavilion to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Palace) to support a new art gallery. The Belvedere is now the home of many magnificent works and continues to draw the crowds.

The early years of the 16th century saw the Vatican finally authorize its own defensive military arm. The Vatican Military still exists, in the modern day Swiss Guards (visitors look for a traditional Renaissance uniform to know they are safe).

In 1508, the art works that the Vatican is most known for began. One of the greatest artistic masters, Michelangelo, painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and in 1546, was commissioned to construct the current, massive and impressive St. Peter's Basilica. Unfortunately, the master did not live long enough to enjoy completion of the Basilica, having died in 1564. The dome would not be completed until 1590.

In 1585, the Eternal City received a gift of the ancient obelisk now greeting visitors in the center of St. Peter‘s Square. The Egyptian obelisk was originally brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula around 37 AD, as part of the Circus of Nero. It was moved to the center of the Square, its present site, in 1586, and topped with a large sphere said to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar. The sphere is now in a museum, and the obelisk is capped off with a large cross which many believe to contain a fragment of the True Cross (the cross of the crucifixion).

In the early 1700s, the dome of St Peter's began to crack, and four large rings were installed to prevent further deterioration.

When Napoleon conquered Rome in the late 1700s, the Eternal City would once again be governed from France, under Pope Pius VI. In 1815, under the Congress of Vienna, the Vatican returned to Rome.

The city state would suffer under Italian government and by the middle of the 19th century, then reigning Pope Pius IX had retired in protest, beginning the long line of "prisoner popes”.

The conflict with Italian government would last until the Lateran Treaty of 1929, which restored sovereignty over the city to Pius XI. Roman Catholicism became the official religion of Italy.

The 20th century saw the Vatican develop new galleries for the now massive collection of art and literature, but the most important change was yet to come.

Discovered beneath the main altar dedicated to St. Peter was burial chamber containing remains that had been interred “with special honors“. Pope Pius XII made an announcement to the world on Dec. 23, 1950, claiming that the remains were those of St. Peter himself. Several factors support his claim, including the tradition that St. Peter feet were cut off in order to remove him from the cross (he asked to be hung upside down to show his respect for Christ). The remains missing its feet. Circumstantial evidence includes a plaster inscription that reads "Peter is within".

In the late 20th century, restorative work began on the Sistine Chapel. After 20 years, the paintings were unveiled, presenting a vibrancy not seen in centuries. An innovative new solvent was used, and a special air-filtration system installed to remove pollution brought into the chapel.

Today, the Vatican City supports itself with remarkable tourism, which attracts students of art, history, and architecture, not to mention the devoted faithful. The tradition of Peter's Pence (annual contributions from Roman Catholics) is continued, though the tourist mementoes, admission fees, and the sale of postage stamps (the Vatican provides its own unique postage and stamps) bring in countless dollars annually.


Climate: Here you will find hot, dry summers and mild cool winters. The Vatican's weather is the same as Rome's weather. The spring is usually wet, with temperatures around 18ºC (around 65ºF). .

The summer months (May through September) are hot, temperatures between 25ºC and 35ºC (80°F and 90°F). Summer winds can raise the temperature to 40ºC (104ºF).

Fall offers plenty of sun but is not as hot, attractions are less crowded and the countryside is in full bloom.

Languages: Italian, Latin and French

Power: 230 V, 50 Hz

Time Zone: DST +0200 UTC

Currency: Euro


There are many ways to get to the Vatican City. Located off the west bank of the Tiber River, tourists can bus, cab or walk to St. Peter's Square, on Via Della Conciliazione, which runs from the Tiber River in front of Castel Saint Angelo to St. Peter's Square. The city bus offers inexpensive travel from Termini station, on Bus 64 and Express Route 40. The local subway passes near by on Line A.


There are plenty of things to see and do in the ancient Vatican City. A few special hilights are listed below, as well as on subsequent pages.

Sights | Shopping? | Events? |


Sistine Chapel

The Vatican Archives

There are many public and private tours available that will leave you in awe as they take you through the history of this incredible city.

St. Peter's Square

This magnificent square has retained its classical beauty and serves as the place from which the masses receive the Pope's weekly blessing.

La Pieta

The most beautiful work inside St. Peter's Cathedral is Michelangelo's famous La Pietà, considered by many to be the most moving piece of sculpture ever created and an amazing sight.

St. Peter's Basilica

One of the finest Cathedrals in the entire world, St. Peter's is the spiritual center of the Vatican and one of many of Italy's great Renaissance's architects, among them Bramante, Raphael and Michelangelo.





Two College Students Visit the Vatican

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