26 interesting facts about Vatican City

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The most interesting facts about Vatican City, from the world’s smallest country to being entirely surrounded by the city of Rome.

A long shot of St Peter's Basilica
Interesting facts about Vatican City include its remarkable architecture (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: The Holy See (Vatican City State)
Population: 618
Area: 0.44 km2
Capital city: Vatican City
Major languages: Italian, Latin, French
Major religions: Roman Catholic
Time zone: UTC+1 (Central European Time)
– Source: Vatican State / CIA World Factbook

Interesting facts about Vatican City

1. Vatican City is a landlocked city-state located in Southern Europe bordering Italy.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

2. Being surrounded entirely by Italy makes Vatican City not only landlocked but also one of just three enclave countries in the world. The other two are San Marino (also surrounded entirely by Italy) and Lesotho (surrounded entirely by South Africa).
– Source: CIA World Fact Book1 2 3

3. Vatican City is also completely surrounded by the Italian capital city of Rome.
– Source: BBC News

A map of Italy showing the location of San Marino and Vatican City, two of the world's three enclave countries
Vatican City is surrounded by Rome (Shutterstock)

4. Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state by area.
– Source: BBC News

5. It also has the world’s smallest population of any independent state.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

6. The flag of Vatican City is square and is divided vertically by yellow and white stripes with an emblem on the white stripe featuring two crossed keys and a papal tiara. The crossed keys represent Saint Peter and the yellow and white represent the pope’s spiritual and worldly power.
– Source: Moira Butterfield (2019) The Flag Book. Lonely Planet Kids: London

The flag of Vatican City
The flag of Vatican City (Shutterstock)

7. Vatican City is the residence of the spiritual leadership of the Pope, the Roman Catholic Church.
– Source: BBC News

8. Vatican City is all that remains of the extensive Papal States of central Italy. the Papal States were territories over which the pope had sovereignty from 756 to 1870. They were steadily conquered by Italian forces during the course of Italian unification during the 19th century.
– Source: Britannica

9. Vatican City has a tiny international border of just 3.4km (2.1mi).
– Source: CIA World Factbook

A map of Vatican City, one of the world's three enclave countries
Vatican City has a tiny border (Shutterstock)

10. There is currently only one pet in Vatican City – a dog.
– Source: Vatican State

11. From 1870 to 1929, popes refused to leave the Vatican as they refused to recognize the authority of the Kingdom of Italy. They were known as “prisoners in the Vatican” until 1929 when Italy’s Fascist government negotiated the Lateran Pacts that created the present city-state.
– Source: History Channel

12. Vatican City is one of just 21 countries that do not have an army or regularly military force. Instead, it relies on Italy for defence. It does, however, maintain the Pontifical Swiss Guard Corps (Corpo della Guardia Svizzera Pontificia) which is largely ceremonial.
– Source: The Atlantic

The Vatican does not have an army
The Vatican’s Swiss Guard is largely ceremonial (Shutterstock)

13. One of the Vatican’s most famous sites is St Peter’s Basilica. It was completed in 1626 after 120 years of construction. With a 187m-long (646 ft) interior and covering more than 15,000 sq m (3.7 acres), it is Italy’s largest and richest basilica.
– Source: Lonely Planet

14. St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is the second largest church in the world after the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro Ivory Coast.
– Source: The Telegraph

15. St Peter’s Basilica is built on top of the Tomb of St Peter which is believed to contain the remains of St Peter (Peter the Apostle), one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ and one of the first leaders of the early Church.
– Source: Lonely Planet

St Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
St Peter’s Basilica (Shutterstock)

16. Vatican City is also known as Holy See – the name given to the government of the Roman Catholic Church, which is led by the pope as the bishop of Rome.
– Source: Britannica

17. In 2013, Benedict XVI became the first pope to resign from office since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Pope Benedict cited his age and declining health as reasons for his resignation.
– Source: The Guardian

18. The Vatican City is home to the Sistine Chapel, which houses two of the world’s most famous works of art: Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes (1508–12) and his Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment; 1536–41).
– Source: Lonely Planet

Looking up at Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (Shutterstock)

19. Vatican City is one of just two countries where divorce is illegal. the other is the Philippines.
– Source: The Week

20. The Vatican Apostolic Library contains a collection of around 150,000 manuscripts and 1.6 million printed books. It is one of the world’s richest manuscript depositories and contains 85km (53mi) of shelving and an underground vault known as “the Bunker”.
– Source: Britannica

21. The entirety of Vatican City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it the only country in the world to be entirely a site.
– Source: UNESCO

Vatican City seen from above
The entirety of Vatican City is a UNESCO (Shutterstock)

22. Vatican City owns and operates a telescope in Arizona, USA. The Vatican Observatory Foundation also operates a telescope near Rome but light pollution made it too difficult for astronomers to work so in 1981, the observatory opened a second research centre in Arizona.
– Source: New York Times

23. Despite its tiny size and population, Vatican City has its own daily newspaper (L’Osservatore Romano), issues its own stamps, mints its own coins and has its own postal system which is run by the Swiss.
– Source: Fodor’s Travel

24. When the Vatican elects a new pope, either white or black smoke is emitted from a chimney of the Sistine Chapel to signify if they have reached a decision. White means a majority of the 115 cardinals voting to choose a new pope have yet reached the two-thirds majority needed to secure a decision; black means they have not.
– Source: BBC Future

The chapel's chimney emitting black smoke
Black smoke indicates the Pope has not been elected (Shutterstock)

25. Vatican City takes its name from the hill Mons Vaticanus on which it is located, as does the Latin term “vaticinari” (to prophesy) which refers to the fortune tellers and soothsayers who frequented the area in Roman times.
– Source: CIA World Factbook

26. Even though Vatican City is not a FIFA member, it has eight amateur football clubs, men’s and women’s national teams, three annual club competitions and the Clericus Cup, its own version of the World Cup, which takes place every year.
– Source: FIFA

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about Vatican City using primary sources. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.