Exploring Vatican City in 2023 | A Comprehensive Guide

By: MapQuest Travel  | 
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Vatican City is the world's tiniest independent sovereign state, both in size and population. Thank you for choosing my work. / Getty Images

Did you know that nestled within the heart of Rome lies the smallest sovereign state in the world, rich in art, history, and spiritual significance? Welcome to Vatican City! Join us as we take a journey through this fascinating city-state and uncover its hidden treasures, from the awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Basilica to the breathtaking Vatican Museums. Let’s embark on this enlightening adventure together!

Short Summary

  • Explore Vatican City, the world’s smallest sovereign state governed by the Holy See and home to landmarks such as Saint Peter’s Basilica.
  • Learn about its long history dating back to ancient times, multi-lingual culture and spiritual significance in Roman Catholicism.
  • Discover must see attractions including St. Peter’s Square, Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo frescoes & Vatican Gardens & Palaces for a tranquil retreat experience.


Discovering Vatican City: The World's Smallest Sovereign State

Vatican City, the smallest sovereign state in the world, is governed by the Holy See and serves as an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state led by the Pope. This unique city-state is directly and tangibly associated with the history of Christianity and boasts some of the most famous art in the world, including the renowned Saint Peter’s Basilica. The Pope resides in the Apostolic Palace located in Vatican City, with Pope John Paul II being one of the most well-known popes to have resided there.

The Vatican City State economy is sustained through various sources. These include:


  • The sale of stamps, coins, souvenirs, entrance fees to the Vatican Museums, and publications sales – all of which are available in Vatican City itself.
  • Declared independent on February 11, 1929, Vatican City is home to Saint Peter’s Tomb, an important site for the Catholic faith.
  • The Apostolic Palace, also known as Palazzo Apostolico della Città del Vaticano, is open to the public with reservations required beforehand.

History and Origins

The history of Vatican City, also known as Stato della Città del Vaticano, dates back to ancient times. The toponym Ager Vaticanus was used in the 1st century AD, and in 326, the Constantinian basilica was constructed over what was believed to be the tomb of Saint Peter. The name “Vatican” is derived from an Etruscan settlement called Vatica or Vaticum. The Vatican is also home to several papal palaces, some of which date back to the reign of Nicholas III, and Pope Symmachus constructed two episcopal houses near the basilica for short stays.

Vatican City’s independence can be traced to the Lateran Treaty, establishing it as a distinct entity from Italy. Signed in 1929 between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy, the Lateran Treaty came into effect on June 7, 1929. The pontiffs began their reign over the Papal States in 756, and Innocent III fortified the Vatican by constructing an additional defensive wall within Leo IV’s.

Geography and Demographics

Vatican City is situated at the heart of Rome along the river Tiber, occupying an area of 44 hectares or 0.44 square kilometers. With an approximate population of 764 in 2023, Vatican City is a bustling enclave of religious and cultural significance. Citizenship of Vatican City is attributed to Cardinals residing in Vatican City or Rome, as well as diplomats of the Holy See.

The official language of Vatican City is:

  • Italian
  • Latin
  • French
  • Swiss German

The official currency of Vatican City is the euro, making it essential for visitors to possess euros when traveling there.

Religion and Spiritual Significance

Vatican City serves as the focal point of the Roman Catholic Church and the residence of the Pope. Religion plays a fundamental role in the country, with the Pope being the Bishop of Rome, head of the Roman Catholic Church, and head of the Vatican City State. Catholics believe that the Pope is the successor of Saint Peter. According to Christianity, Jesus appointed Peter as the first head of his church.

His Holiness Pope Francis is the current Pope. He is the first Jesuit pope to be elected on March 13, 2013 and his birth name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. In early 1946, His Holiness Pius XII appointed 32 cardinals, further solidifying the importance of the Vatican City and the Pope’s role in the Roman Catholic Church.


Cultural Highlights of Vatican City

The cultural highlights of Vatican City include:

  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • The Vatican Museums
  • The Vatican Library
  • Its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Saint Peter’s Basilica, located in Peter’s Square, is recognized as an architectural masterpiece and is a symbol of religious faith the world over. Not far from this iconic structure lies Saint Peter’s Tomb, another significant site for pilgrims and visitors alike.


The Vatican Museums house one of the most renowned art collections in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year. Vatican City’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list is unique, as it is the only nation to have achieved this distinction.

Language and Communication

Vatican City is home to a multitude of languages, including:

  • Italian (official language)
  • Latin
  • French
  • Swiss German

These languages are employed within the city-state for various purposes, such as official documents and diplomatic relations.

Climate and Best Time to Visit

The Vatican enjoys a mild Mediterranean climate, making it similar to the well-known city of Rome. Temperatures are consistent throughout the year and can reach pleasant levels. Winter in the region begins from September and continues until May. The weather during this season is mostly mild and rainy. Summers, on the other hand, are hot and dry. They start from May and end by August. The most opportune time to visit Vatican City would be during the months of April, May, September, and October when there are fewer visitors and the climate is pleasant.

These months offer the best combination of pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds.

Vatican Flag and Currency

The flag of The Vatican consists of two vertical stripes, one gold and one yellow, with the crossed keys of Saint Peter and the Papal Tiara featured in the white stripe.

The euro is the recognized currency of Vatican City, making it essential for visitors to possess euros when traveling there.


Exploring the Holy See: Governance and Administration

Vatican City is a distinct territory that is under the full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction of the Holy See, which is a sovereign entity in accordance with international law. The Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State is endowed with executive authority, and the assistance of the General Councilor and the State Councilors can be enlisted in the formulation of legislation and other matters of paramount importance.

During World War II, Vatican City maintained a stance of neutrality, further accentuating its unique position as an independent city-state.


Pontifical Anthem and Hymn

The Pontifical March is the official hymn of Vatican City and was established by Charles Gounod on October 16, 1949. Prior to the Pontifical March, the official song of the period was rendered by Vittorino Hallmayer, director of the Band of the XXXVII Infantry Regiment “Conte Kinsky” of the Austrian army in the Papal States stationed in Rome.

His Holiness, His Holiness. Pius XII decided to supersede the official song of the period with the indelible Pontifical March of Gounod, whose spiritual timbre was more fitting for the epoch.

Vatican Bank and Economy

The Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly referred to as the Vatican Bank, is a financial institution located within Vatican City. Established in 1942, its primary role is to safeguard and administer property intended for works of religion or charity. Additionally, the IOR functions as a commercial bank for individuals within Vatican City and the Holy See.

The primary sources of revenue for the economy of Vatican City are derived from tourism-related activities, such as souvenir sales, admission fees to museums, and the sale of publications.


Must-See Attractions in Vatican City

When visiting Vatican City, some of the foremost attractions include St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel. Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, visitors can admire numerous works of art, including Michelangelo’s Pietà and the Baldacchino.

The Vatican Museums boast an extensive assemblage of art and artifacts, including the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms.


St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica, initiated by Pope Julius II in 1506, is the primary church at the Vatican and is accessible to visitors daily. This magnificent basilica was constructed on the site of a previous 4th-century church, consecrated in 1626, and is the burial place of St. Peter, the first pope. It is the most significant church in the Catholic faith and regularly hosts many important ceremonies and events.

Boasting a large central nave and four aisles, St. Peter’s Basilica is adorned with works of art from the Renaissance and Baroque periods, such as Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

The Vatican City Museums, a collection of art and historical museums located within Vatican City, possess an extensive array of art accumulated by the popes since the seventeenth century. The Vatican Museums comprise 26 museums and 7km of halls and galleries, exhibiting a broad selection of art and antiquities.

The Sistine Chapel, situated in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, is renowned for its Renaissance frescoes painted by Michelangelo, which illustrate scenes from the Bible.

Vatican Gardens and Palaces

The Vatican Gardens, a considerable portion of the 109-acre site of Vatican City, are renowned for their beauty and offer a tranquil and picturesque retreat. Guests can traverse the gardens and appreciate the verdant greenery and exquisite landscapes. The gardens are regularly incorporated in guided tours of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

Vatican City is also home to several historical papal palaces, some of which date back to the reign of Nicholas III, and Pope Symmachus constructed two episcopal houses near the basilica for short stays. These properties can be considered part of the pope’s holdings.

Castel Gandolfo and Redemptions Mater Chapel

Castel Gandolfo, a village and castle located in the Rome province, Lazio region, central Italy, is renowned for being the summer residence of the Pope and is home to the Pontifical Villas. The Holy See owns Castel Gandolfo, which comprises a 55-acre complex with Italian gardens and other pontifical structures, such as Villa Barberini and Villa Cybo.

The Redemptions Mater Chapel, a Roman Catholic chapel located on the second floor of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City, is adorned with mosaics that bear resemblance to early Byzantine religious artwork.


Vatican Observatory and Scientific Research

The Vatican Observatory, a scientific research institute funded by the Holy See and affiliated with the Vatican City State’s Governorate, can trace its origins to the second half of the 16th century when Pope Gregory XIII commissioned the Tower of the Winds to be erected in the Vatican in 1578. Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians of the Roman College were invited to draft the calendar reform, which was announced in 1582.

The Vatican Observatory is an institution established by the Holy See for the purpose of astronomical research and public outreach.


Interesting Facts About Vatican City

Vatican City, the smallest sovereign state in the world, is situated in the heart of Rome and has a minuscule population. One distinctive feature of Vatican City is its ATM, which has instructions in Latin, reflecting the city-state’s rich history and unique identity inside Vatican City.

Interestingly, Vatican City also possesses a telescope in Arizona, showcasing its commitment to scientific research and discovery.


Tips for Planning Your Visit to Vatican City

The most suitable method of transportation to reach Vatican City is by train, with the nearest train station being Roma Termini, situated approximately 2 miles from Vatican City. Other modes of transportation include buses, taxis, and rental cars, with the expense of public transportation being €1.50 per ride. Various accommodation options are available in Vatican City, such as hotels like the Vatican Hotel and the Grand Hotel de la Ville, as well as Airbnb, hostels, and bed and breakfasts.

When visiting Vatican City, be prepared to observe a plethora of religious and cultural sites, as well as a multitude of shops and restaurants. Be mindful of the dress code, which requires visitors to dress modestly, and adhere to the restrictions on what you may bring into Vatican City, including no weapons, alcohol, or drugs.



In summary, Vatican City offers a unique blend of history, art, and spiritual significance, making it a must-visit destination for travelers and pilgrims alike. From the awe-inspiring St. Peter’s Basilica to the breathtaking Vatican Museums, there is something for everyone in this enchanting city-state. So, why wait? Plan your visit to Vatican City today and immerse yourself in its rich heritage and captivating beauty.

This article was created using AI technology.