You could be forgiven if you assumed the Vatican — headquarters of Roman Catholicism — was a district of Rome. After all, the religion even has the city’s name in its title. But you would be mistaken! Although it’s located entirely within Rome, the home of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica is actually its own sovereign country. Here are some facts about the Vatican.
1. Vatican City is the smallest country in the world.
Vatican City where the Pope calls home. It also holds some of the most remarkable artwork in the world, and if you happen to be a Roman Catholic you will find it to be the religion’s spiritual and literal capital. It is also unquestionably the world’s smallest sovereign country. It has fewer than 900 residents and the territory takes up around 100 acres. By comparison, Central Park in New York City is 8 times the size! But in spite of its small size, they function like any other country would. For instance, they issue international passports, they have their own flag, national anthem and post office. Their euros even contain the Pope’s face!
2. Vatican City as its own country is relatively new
The founding of the Catholic Church might date back nearly 2000 years, but Vatican City hasn’t even celebrated its 100th birthday as an independent country yet. It has only been recognized as sovereign since 1929, when everybody’s second favorite evil World War II dictator, Benito Mussolini, signed the Lateran Treaty.
3. Vatican City is the only country on the UNESCO World Heritage site list.
Although Italy boasts the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world, since 1984 Vatican City has held the distinction of being the only country to be a UNESCO site all in itself!
4. You have to work in Vatican City to gain citizenship
Unlike countries where you automatically become a citizen if you’re born there (or have parents who are citizens), the only way to be granted Vatican City citizenship is by working there as a member of the clergy, Swiss Guard, etc. If you happen to get fired, your citizenship is revoked. Talk about adding insult to injury! But don’t worry; you don’t become a stateless refugee. You become a citizen of Italy if Vatican citizenship was all you previously had.
5. They really love to booze it up in Vatican City
When you think of wine consumption, France is probably the first country that comes to mind. But nobody downs the fermented grape drink like citizens of the Vatican do. The average resident drinks more than 54 liters per year, making them the highest consumers of wine per capita. In their defense, it’s not like they all walk around drinking bottles of wine out of a paper bag; it can be explained by the copious amounts of wine poured into the mouths of good Catholics during communion.
6. The Pope has made the Vatican Home for more than 600 years
The original residence of the pope was the Lateran Palace, located on the other side of Rome. Then in 1309 the papal court was moved to Avignon France, where 7 popes reigned until it made its grand return to Rome in 1377. However, since the palace had been destroyed in a fire, the Vatican became the pope’s new home.
7. The Pope is protected by the Swiss Guard
Because of Switzerland’s long-held status as a neutral country, it is safe to assume they’d make reliable guards. For the last 600 years, the Pontifical Swiss Guard has been responsible for making sure the Pope’s safety. The requirements are strict: you have to be a Swiss citizen with at least a high school degree, a male bachelor aged 19 to 30, a minimum 5’8 in height, and having successfully completed Swiss military training. They’re the folks wearing the funky blue, red, orange and yellow getup.
8. Ironically, the Holy See is also very crime-infested
The crime rate in Vatican City is 1.5 per citizen, which we assume means even if they’re punched in the neck, the bandit only takes off with half the money in their wallet? In all seriousness, the crimes committed aren’t all that serious. It’s mostly petty stuff like pickpocketing and purse snatching due to the large crowds of tourists that flock St. Peter’s Square. On the other hand, on rare occasions something major happens. For example, in 1998 the newly appointed commander of the Pope’s Swiss Guard, along with his wife, were found murdered in their home. 2007 saw the first ever drug bust, with a Vatican employee being charged with cocaine possession.
9. The ATMs in Vatican City include Latin as a language option
Everybody laughed at you for studying Latin in college. But just one visit to an ATM at the Vatican Bank proves all of the efforts weren’t done in vain. It’s the only ATM that allows you to choose Latin as a language option!
10. The Vatican Secret Archives are mostly just hype
What nefarious secrets are contained within the Vatican Secret Archives? Proof of extraterrestrials? Evidence that Jesus is a fictional character meant to boost Bible sales? Probably not. Since 1881, researchers and scholars have been allowed to browse through 1,000 years worth of papal letters and documents, although they aren’t allowed to photograph anything or take the material out of the room. Ordinary peeps like you and us still aren’t allowed down there though.