Vatican City ˈvætɨkən ˈsɪti/; Italian: Città del Vaticano [tʃitˈta del vatiˈkaːno]; Latin: Civitas Vaticana),[d] officially the Vatican City State (Italian: Stato della Città del Vaticano; Latin: Status Civitatis Vaticanae), is a walled enclave within the city of Rome. With an area of approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of 842, it is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population.
It is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state ruled by the Bishop of Rome – the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now Vatican City, although at times residing instead in the Quirinal Palace in Rome or elsewhere.
Vatican City is distinct from the Holy See (Latin: Sancta Sedes), which dates back to early Christianity and is the main episcopal see of 1.2 billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the globe. The independent city-state, on the other hand, came into existence in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, which spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870), which had previously encompassed much of central Italy. According to the terms of the treaty, the Holy See has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city-state.
Within Vatican City are cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. The unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications.
The name “Vatican” was already in use in the time of the Roman Republic for a marshy area on the west bank of the Tiber across from the city of Rome. Under the Roman Empire, many villas were constructed there, after Agrippina the Elder (14 BC – 18 October AD 33) drained the area and laid out her gardens in the early 1st century AD. In AD 40, her son, Emperor Caligula (31 August AD 12–24 January AD 41; r. 37–41) built in her gardens a circus for charioteers (AD 40) that was later completed by Nero, the Circus Gaii et Neronis, usually called, simply, the Circus of Nero.
Even before the arrival of Christianity, it is supposed that this originally uninhabited part of Rome (the ager vaticanus) had long been considered sacred, or at least not available for habitation. A shrine dedicated to the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis remained active long after the Constantinian Basilica of St. Peter was built nearby.
The particularly low quality of Vatican wine, even after the reclamation of the area, was commented on by the poet Martial (40 – between 102 and 104 AD). In AD 69, the Year of the Four Emperors, when the northern army that brought Vitellius to power arrived in Rome, “a large proportion camped in the unhealthy districts of the Vatican, which resulted in many deaths among the common soldiery; and the Tiber being close by, the inability of the Gauls and Germans to bear the heat and the consequent greed with which they drank from the stream weakened their bodies, which were already an easy prey to disease”.
The Vatican Obelisk was originally taken by Caligula from Heliopolis in Egypt to decorate the spina of his circus and is thus its last visible remnant. This area became the site of martyrdom of many Christians after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. Ancient tradition holds that it was in this circus that Saint Peter was crucified upside-down.
Opposite the circus was a cemetery separated by the Via Cornelia. Funeral monuments and mausoleums and small tombs as well as altars to pagan gods of all kinds of polytheistic religions were constructed lasting until before the construction of the Constantinian Basilica of St. Peter’s in the first half of the 4th century. Remains of this ancient necropolis were brought to light sporadically during renovations by various popes throughout the centuries, increasing in frequency during the Renaissance until it was systematically excavated by orders of Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1941. The Constantinian basilica was built in 326 over what was believed to be the tomb of Saint Peter, buried in that cemetery.
From then on, the area became more populated in connection with activity at the basilica. A palace was constructed nearby as early as the 5th century during the pontificate of Pope Symmachus (reigned 498–514).
Almost all of Vatican City’s 558 (2005) citizens either live inside the Vatican’s walls or serve in the Holy See’s diplomatic service in embassies (called “nunciatures”; a papal ambassador is a “nuncio”) around the world. The Vatican citizenry consists almost entirely of two groups: clergy, most of whom work in the service of the Holy See, and a very few as officials of the state; and the Swiss Guard. Most of the 2,400 lay workers who comprise the majority of the Vatican workforce reside outside the Vatican and are citizens of Italy, while a few are citizens of other nations. As a result, all of the City’s actual citizens are Catholic as are all the places of worship.
Vatican City has no formally enacted official language, but, unlike the Holy See which most often uses Latin for the authoritative version of its official documents, Vatican City uses only Italian in its legislation and official communications. Italian is also the everyday language used by most of those who work in the state. In the Swiss Guard, German is the language used for giving commands, but the individual guards take their oath of loyalty in their own languages: German, French, Romansh or Italian. Vatican City’s official website languages are Italian, English, French, German, and Spanish. (This site should not be confused with that of the Holy See, which uses all these languages, along with Portuguese, with Latin since 9 May 2008 and Chinese since 18 March 2009.)
Unlike citizenship of other states, which is based either on jus sanguinis (birth from a citizen, even outside the state’s territory) or on jus soli (birth within the territory of the state), citizenship of Vatican City is granted jus officii, namely on the grounds of appointment to work in a certain capacity in the service of the Holy See. It usually ceases upon cessation of the appointment. Citizenship is extended also to the spouse, parents and descendants of a citizen, provided they are living with the person who is a citizen. The Holy See, not being a country, issues only diplomatic and service passports, whereas Vatican City State issues normal passports for its citizens.
Anyone who loses Vatican citizenship and does not possess other citizenship automatically becomes an Italian citizen as provided in the Lateran Treaty.
As of 31 December 2005, there were, apart from the Pope himself, 557 people with Vatican citizenship, while there were 246 residents in the state who did not have its citizenship.
Of the 557 citizens, 74% were clergy:
- 58 cardinals, resident in Rome, mostly outside the Vatican;
- 293 clergy, members of the Holy See’s diplomatic missions, resident in other countries, and forming well over half the total of the citizens;
- 62 other clergy, working but not necessarily living in the Vatican.
The 101 members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard constituted 18% of the total, and there were only 55 other lay persons with Vatican citizenship.
On 22 February 2011, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a new “Law concerning citizenship, residency and access” to Vatican City, which became effective on 1 March. It replaced the 1929 “Law concerning citizenship and residence”. There are 16 articles in the new law, whereas the old law had 33 articles. It updated the old law by incorporating changes made after 1929, such as the 1940 granting of Vatican City citizenship, durante munere, to the members of the Holy See’s diplomatic service. It also created a new category, that of official Vatican “residents”, i.e., people living in Vatican City; these are not necessarily Vatican citizens.
On 1 March 2011, only 220 of the over 800 people living in Vatican City were citizens. There was a total of 572 Vatican citizens, of whom 352 were not residents, mainly apostolic nuncios and diplomatic staff.