Vatican City State Overview

By | December 15, 2021

Vatican City. Official name, Stato della Città del Vaticano (Vatican City State), independent state under the absolute authority of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church. It is an enclave within the city of Rome, with an area of 44 hectares. It is the smallest independent country in the world, it was founded in 1929, fulfilling the terms of the Lateran Pacts, ratified by the Italian government of Benito Mussolini and the Papacy, after several years of controversy.


The City of the Vatican is itself composed of about 44 hectares over which it exercises sovereignty, and has rights of extraterritoriality on Italian Castel Gandolfo grounds of about 55 hectares, including 34km apart. Castel Gandolfo is the place where the Popes traditionally have their summer residence. The Vatican territory is completely surrounded by the Republic of Italy. It also exercises sovereignty over the complexes of the Patriarchal Basilica of San Juan de Letrán, Santa María la Mayor and San Pablo Outside the Walls.

Characteristics of the Vatican City

  • It is the smallest sovereign state with just 0.42 km2 in area.
  • It has the smallest population on the planet (around 1,000 residents).
  • World Heritage Site since 1984.
  • The Swiss guard, created in 1505 by Pope Julius II, has an armed corps for internal care, it is made up only of foreigners (Swiss exclusively) and is the smallest army in the world (about 100 soldiers dressed in the style of past times).
  • Each Pope, simultaneously, is the head of a state and the main head of a universal church: the Catholic.
  • With several million annual visitors, it is the state that receives the most tourists in the smallest possible space.
  • It has great artistic treasures in the smallest area
  • The only country geographically located within the capital of another state, in this case Rome, Italy.
  • According to Article 1 of the Basic Law, which entered into force on 22 February of the 2001 to the previous legislation replacing the 7 of June 1929, the Supreme Pontiff has the legislative and judicial powers, executive
  • There are no births.
  • Although not belong to the European Union ‘s official currency it is the euro since 1999 and is authorized to print this currency, up 670,000 from the January 1 of the 2002.
  • The country with the smallest border of 3.2 km with Italy.
  • It does not produce merchandise or own crops or animals.
  • He has the only legally elected head of state for life, as he is only replaced upon death.
  • Territory that lacks natural resources.
  • Not a single one of the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See lives inside the Vatican.
  • Motor vehicle traffic is prohibited in Vatican territory
  • Popes are not born in the state they lead. The current pontiff is Argentine while the predecessor was German.
  • The great political influence of the Vatican is inversely proportional to the minimum territory.


Famous architects and architects of the Italian Renaissance worked on the construction of the Vatican City on behalf of the various pontiffs. It has several buildings, among which are:

  • The Basilica of San Pedro, the most important, was built between the 15th and 17th centuries and designed by the artists Donato Bramante, Miguel Ángel Buonarroti and Gian Lorenzo Bernini ; the palace has more than a thousand rooms, among which are the papal apartments, government offices, several chapels, museums and an extraordinary library; The Sistine Chapel and the papal apartments are the most famous.
  • The Vatican museums are very important, among them are the Gregorian of Egyptian Art, the Gregorian of Etruscan Art, Pio Clementino, with a lavish collection of antiquities; Chiaramonti and the Vatican Pinacoteca, with representative works of the Italian masters. The Library contains a collection of ancient manuscripts and more than a million bound volumes.

Government and politics

The essence of the state of Vatican City is based on the union with the Holy See, the Pope is both Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic organization and Head of State of the State of Vatican City. In accordance with this doctrine, the Vatican is the only European territory that explicitly defends the character of theocracy.

Formally, the Vatican defines itself as an absolute monarchy whose monarch, the Supreme Pontiff, has full legislative, executive and judicial powers. It is also an elective theocracy, in which the election of the pope corresponds to the Sacred College of Cardinals (whose members are appointed by the previous Supreme Pontiffs), meeting in a Conclave, which is currently done according to the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution, promulgated by John Pablo II the 22 of February of 1996 and amended by Benedict XVI in June 2007.

Only the College of Cardinals has the right to vote, the rest of the people residing in the City are excluded. The elect becomes Pope as soon as he shows acceptance, provided that he already had the character of bishop. Otherwise, the chosen one must be ordained Bishop immediately. In either case, the Pope-elect acquires from the moment of acceptance, and ordination in the case, full and supreme power in the Catholic institution and as Head of State of Vatican City.

The governing bodies of the City regime are not part of the Roman Curia, but rather have a specific legal system. The second in command of the Vatican government, after the Pope, is the Secretary of State, although they do not correspond to the actual formation of the State, a task that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone currently performs.

The Basic Law of the Vatican City constitutes the most important constitutional norm; according to which the Pope, “has the fullness of the executive, legislative and judicial powers.” Only the distinction of functions is foreseen; In other words, the pope does not exercise these functions directly in most cases (de facto, the judicial power is never exercised personally) but rather various vicarious bodies are constituted that administer the government of this State, each of which performs one of the functions.

There is no judicial system that governs it, leaving the different tasks of criminal prosecution to Italy. The pope administers the state through the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City, except in cases where he understands to reserve himself or other bodies. It is equivalent to the legislative power and is made up of cardinals appointed by the Pope for a five-year term.

The pope delegates executive power to the President of the Commission, assisted by the Secretary General and the Vice Secretary General. The President of the Commission also has legislative power: he can issue ordinances, and in cases of urgent need he can adopt provisions with the character of law, provided that the Commission confirms them within the following 3 months. It also assumes the diplomatic representation of the State except before foreign States, a function that is reserved to the Pope. Currently the President of the Pontifical Commission for the State of the City and the Governorate of the State of the Vatican City is Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. The position of governor of the Vatican City (it was, at one time, one-man and held by the marquis and well-known numismatist Camillo Serafini, from 1929, the year the State was founded, until its death in 1952. Subsequently, he was not appointed as Serafini’s successor and the position itself was not mentioned in the Basic Law of the State, issued by Pope John Paul II on November 26, 2000, and which entered into force on February 22, 2001.

The President of the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City has exercised since 1952 the functions that were previously attributed to the Governor and since 2001, he also receives the title of President of the Governorate of the State of Vatican City.

Language and Currency

  • The official language is Latin, although the most widely spoken language is Italian.
  • The currency, according to an agreement signed with the European Union (EU), is the euro.

Diplomatic relations

With the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Botswana, there are already 177 states around the world that maintain bilateral recognition with the Holy See, recognizing the existence of the microstate. Among the countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See are China, North Korea, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia.

Vatican City History