Is the Vatican a country? Fun and interesting facts about Vatican City

by marta

Is the Vatican a country? Where is the Vatican and how old is it? Find out these and other interesting and fun facts about the Vatican in our guide to Vatican City.

What do you know about the Vatican? Chances are there are some facts about Vatican City you are already familiar with.

Outside of St Peter basilica in Vatican City at sunset
Rome, Vatican city

You may know that it is inside Rome, Italy, that the Pope is there and that it is not part of Italy.

But have you ever wondered where the Vatican is within Rome, what happens when you want to enter the Vatican from Italy and what the Vatican is?

In this post, we look at fun and interesting facts about the Vatican: some are facts about Vatican City as a state and others are curiosities about the Vatican you may not have come across before!

You can find our tips to plan a visit to the Vatican here. Below, we look at fun and interesting facts about the Vatican.

What is the Vatican? Is the Vatican a country?

Vatican City is a country.

More precisely, the Vatican is an independent city-state and the seat of the Roman Catholic church.

Located inside the city of Rome, Italy, yet independent from Italy, it is the smallest state in the world and has the Pope as head of state.

The Vatican is a huge destination for pilgrims and tourists: faithful Catholics visit for its religious importance, but the presence of works of arts such as the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica and St Peter’s Square attract visitors from all over the world, regardless of religious background.

Where is the Vatican? Vatican City Map

The Vatican is an independent city-state located inside the city of Rome.

More precisely, Vatican City is on the left bank of the river Tiber and develops at the foothills and on the slopes on Mount Vatican (Mons Vaticanus), which now hosts the Vatican Gardens.

If you want to get a more precise idea of the Vatican location in Italy, I recommend you check out our article ‘Where is Rome’, which a useful map showing where Rome is vs other famous locations in Italy.

How old is the Vatican?

The Vatican is was declared an independent state on 11 February 1929. The document stating its birth as a city-state is called is called Patti Lateranensi and carries the signatures of Mussolini and Pietro Gasparri.

What type of Government has the Vatican as a country?

The Vatican State is an Absolute, theocratic, hierocratic, elective Monarchy. The Vatican head of State is the Pope, who holds legislative, executive and judiciary powers.

The Pope is also the Archbishop of Rome and the head of the Holy See. The Vatican State and the Holy See are not the same thing: the Vatican State exists to support the Holy See’s mission and to guarantee its ‘complete and visible independence and guarantee unchallenged sovereignty in the international realm

Vatican City Flag

The flag of Vatican City is bicolour. It has two vertical bands, a yellow one close to the flagpole and one white with a Papal Tiara and St Peter’s keys.

Vatican City Currency

The Vatican uses the Euro. The Vatican has so far minted 5 series of Euro coins with:

  • the effigy of Pope John Paul II,
  • the symbol of Cardinal Camerlengo,
  • Pope Benedict XVI,
  • Pope Francis,
  • The Papal Symbol of Power.

What is the GDP of Vatican country?

In 2019, Vatican City GDP per capita was of $21,198: this makes Vatican City the 18th wealthiest nation in the world per capita

The Vatican is the smallest country in the world. How big is Vatican City?

Vatican City is 0.44 Sq Km big.

It comprises of a large, monumental square called St Peter’s Square, several buildings around it and a large garden.

It also owns several other buildings that are not in the city itself but that fall under the jurisdiction of the Vatican as extraterritorial properties.

What time zone is Vatican City?

Vatican City is in UTC+1 time zone (Like Italy)

What countries does Vatican City border with?

Italy. Vatican City is entirely surrounded by the city of Rome.

Who lives in Vatican City?

Vatican City has a population of 435 people. This includes the Pope, cardinals and several non-religious figures who live in the Vatican for work reasons.

You cannot be a citizen of Vatican City by birth.

No one can claim a birth right as citizen of the Vatican. You can only acquire your Vatican citizenship by virtue of your work there.

What are Vatican City citizens called?

The citizens of Vatican City are called ‘Vaticani’ (Vaticans)

What is the Vatican country code for phone calls?

Vatican’s country code is +379 de iure and +39 de facto (+39 is also the country code for Italy)

How to get to the Vatican from Rome?

Vatican City is inside Rome and you enter it on foot. The main square and the area immediately outside the garden is car free however, several bus and metro stops are nearby.

The closest metro stops to Vatican city are Ottaviano/ San Pietro, Lepanto and Cipro, while the closest bus stops are 40 and 63. Tram 19 serves Piazza Risorgimento nearby.

Is there a border between Vatican City and Rome?

The Vatican is an independent city-state. However, there is no visible border as such between the Vatican and Rome.

As you enter the piazza, you will notice several crowd control barriers however, they are not along the exact border of the State and are in use to regulate the large number of visitors, rather than mark the State boundaries.

St Peter Basilica outside Vatican Rome

Do I need a passport to enter the Vatican?

There are no passport or document checks to enter Vatican City from Rome as you can walk into any of the public areas in Vatican City.

Bag and security checks, however, are in place to access the Vatican’s main attractions such as the museum, St peter’s basilica and the Vatican gardens.

Is Vatican City part of the Schengen Agreement?

Vatican City is a de fact Schengen country. While the Vatican city-state is not among the treaty signatories, the Vatican de facto applies the same rules as Eu Schengen countries, meaning you do not need a special visa to enter.

The Pope is protected by the Swiss guards

The safety of the Pope is in the hands of the Swiss Guards. The Swiss Guards are a chosen groups os soldiers who are in charge of the protection of the person of the Pope and the Colleg of Cardinals.

The Swiss guards have distinctive and colorful attire that is said to have been designed by Michelangelo (this, however, is most likely a legend). It consists of a two piece suit with vertical yellow and blue stripes, with red details and a black hat.

Elaborate headpieces, spires and armours are also part of the uniform and they come in different varieties depending on the occasion.

swiss guards at the Vatican with colorful uniforms

Is there a dress code for Vatican city?

There is no dress code to access Vatican city public areas.

However, there is a dress code to te enter St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums, including the Sistine chapel.

Due to the religious significance of the place, the dress code calls for modest clothing for men and women.

In particular, to enter the Vatican museums or St peter’s basilica, you should avoid spaghetti straps, mini skirts and shorts and anything that exposes your belly, back, or cleavage. Rude or offensive writings on t-shirts and other items of clothing are also not welcome and anything see though is a no-no.

You can read our full practical guide to getting the Vatican dress code right here.

What is the official language of Vatican City?

The official language of Vatican City is Italian; however, the official language of the Holy See is Latin.
Fun fact! If you get money at the Vatican ATM< one of the languages you can withdraw money in is Latin!

Vatican city has its own postal service

Since the Vatican is an independent state, it has its own postal service. The Vatican postboxes are yellow (Italian post boxes are red) and you need Vatican stamps to send a letter or a postcard. A Vatican post office is on the piazza.

Yellow Vatican City post box

What to see in Vatican city?

The main things to see in Vatican City are:

St Peter’s Square – large, monumental square designed by Bernini

St Peter’s Basilica, which includes Michelangelo’s Pieta’ and Bernini’s altar balaquin

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel – one of the best art museums in the world

The Vatican Garden – wonderful landscapes gardens behind the main basilica

Where does the Pope live?

The Pope lives inside Vatican City. Pope Francis elected his residence is called Domus Sanctae Marthae however, there are also papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace (Palazzo Apostolico), where the Pope works.

Can I meet the Pope?

Yes, you can meet the Pope!

There are several ways to see the Pope in Rome.

On Sundays and special religious holidays, the Pope celebrated mass in St Peter’s Square and you can see him speaking from the window of Palazzo Apostolico.

You can also meet the Pope in person: the Papal Audience is free to attend but must be booked in advance – you can find all the official info here.

How many churches there are in the Vatican?

The biggest and most impressive church in Vatican City is St Peter’s Basilica however, there are 6 more churches in the Vatican, not all open to the public.

They are: San Pellegrino in Vaticano, Santi Martino e Sebastiano degli Svizzeri, Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri, Sant’Egidio in Borgo, Santo Stefano degli Ungheresi e Santo Stefano degli Abissini.

Vatican city has its own radio station

The radio station of Vatican City is called Radio Vaticana.

It broadcasts from inside Vatican City and from Cesano, near lake Bracciano, on Italian territory. The visit to the Vatican Gardens includes a stop at Radio Vaticana first headquarters.

Vatican City has no tv station

The Vatican has one daily newspaper called L’osservatore Romano

Vatican city only abolished the death penalty in 2001

The death penalty was legal in Vatican city until 2001, when Pope John Paul II abolished it

Vatican City has one of the highest criminality rates in the world

If you look at the criminality index out of context, the Vatican comes out as one of the s with the highest number of crimes per number of citizens.

This, however, is misleading: Vatican city is extremely safe, but the tiny population size and the high number of visitors mean that any pickpocketing incident gets the index to spike up!

Vatican City has an extremely high consumption of wine!

This is not due to wining and dining but to the use of wine in the celebration of mass.

Is The Vatican Unesco World Heritage Site?

Yes. The Vatican City State was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It is the only Unesco site to consist of an entire state

Can you buy an apartment in Vatican City? How much does a flat cost in Vatican City?

Vatican city has no housing market and all the Vatican property belongs to the Church. This means there are no apartments for sale or properties that can be purchased as such.

I hope you enjoyed this fun and interesting facts about Vatican City. Have a safe visit!

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St Peter's Basilica at dusk with text: 31 fun and interesting facts about Vatican City

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