Vatican City, officially the Vatican City State, is the smallest independent city-state in the world. Despite its tiny size of just 0.17 square miles, Vatican City holds immense importance as the spiritual center for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics. This independent papal state is located in Rome, Italy, and is governed by the Holy See.
Vatican City may be small, but it is packed with centuries of intriguing history, art, and architecture. Here are 15 interesting facts about Vatican City that provide insight into this remarkable destination:
As the home of the Pope and the Catholic Church, Vatican City holds deep spiritual significance. Yet beyond its religious role, this tiny nation contains a wealth of surprises. From secret underground tunnels to the world’s shortest railway, Vatican City brims with hidden gems and curiosities waiting to be uncovered.
1. World’s Smallest Country
With an area of just over 100 acres and a population of around 800, Vatican City holds the title of the smallest independent state in the world 1. One can walk across the entire country in less than an hour. Despite its compact size, Vatican City packs immense history and culture into its small area.
2. Extensive Secret Passages
Deep beneath Vatican City lies a network of ancient tunnels and secret passageways known as the Vatican Grottoes 2. These underground crypts contain the tombs of numerous popes, including St. Peter himself. The grottoes remain largely off-limits to the public, adding an air of mystery.
3. Elite Protectors – The Swiss Guard
Since 1506, the Pope has been protected by the Pontifical Swiss Guard. Recruited from Switzerland, these elite guards continue to wear vibrant Renaissance-style uniforms designed by Michelangelo himself. Their colorful attire makes them easily recognizable.
4. Astronomical Retreat
In 1981, the Vatican opened a high-tech astronomical observatory in partnership with the University of Arizona 3. Known as the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, it sits atop Mount Graham and allows the Vatican to continue astronomical research.
5. No Street Addresses
Unlike most countries, Vatican City lacks traditional street names and numbers. Locations are instead identified by building names and descriptions. This makes navigating largely based on landmarks rather than addresses.
6. World’s Shortest Railway
At just 300 meters long, Vatican City is home to the shortest national railway system. Primarily used for freight, this two-track railway and station were built in the 1930s. While no regular trains run, the railway can facilitate special trips.
7. Daily Wine Delivery
Every morning, the Pope receives a basket of fresh produce from the Vatican’s farm outside Rome. This includes eggs, milk, vegetables, cheese and wine. The Pope’s daily wine delivery helps explain Vatican City’s status as the world’s top wine consumer per capita.
8. ATM with Latin Instructions
Vatican City is home to an ATM bearing instructions in Latin, the official language of the Catholic Church. This ATM belonging to the Vatican Bank represents the continued use of Latin, even on modern amenities.
9. No Divorce Allowed
Vatican City is one of only two countries worldwide that prohibits divorce 4. Annulments are permitted in limited circumstances, but otherwise, divorce is banned by Catholic teachings on marriage.
10. UNESCO Recognition
In 1984, Vatican City became the only entire country to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site 5. Its cultural treasures, ancient architecture, art collections, and spiritual history merited this prestigious status affirming its global significance.
11. Owns Telescope in Arizona
To compensate for Rome’s bright night skies, the Vatican established a Vatican Observatory research facility in Arizona in 1981. The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope allows optimal astronomical observation and research.
12. Daily Population Fluctuation
Vatican City’s small residential population swells immensely each day with commuters and tourists. Its daily population exceeds 4,000 people before falling back down each night. This fluctuation is unparalleled in any other country.
13. No Birthright Citizenship
Unlike most countries, Vatican City grants citizenship not through birthright but by appointment. Citizenship is primarily extended to those working in service to the Holy See. When appointments end, so do most citizenship rights.
14. World’s Highest Per Capita Crime Rate
Despite its tiny population, Vatican City has the highest per capita crime rate, primarily due to rampant petty crimes. With millions of annual visitors packed into its compact area, pickpocketing and shoplifting are common issues.
15. Special Euro Coins
Vatican City holds the exclusive right to mint its euro coins 6. These feature the Pope’s coat of arms and portrait. The coins differ from those of other countries and are highly sought after by collectors and numismatists.
This tiny independent papal state harbors many surprises beneath its spiritual exterior. From a world-class astronomical observatory to underground crypts and secret passages, Vatican City contains countless curiosities. Its unique history, traditions, privileges, and sites offer fascinating insights into this remarkable nation. Vatican City proves that small places can hold enormous intrigue.
- What is Vatican Grottoes? thevaticantickets.com/vatican-grottoes/