Whether you are religious or not a visit to Vatican City can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. No trip to Rome, Italy, would be complete without a visit to Vatican City. acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
To experience all of Vatican City in a brief time frame would seem to be impossible; however, based on our own experience one day allows plenty of time to visit the highlights of this capital of Christianity, the residence of the Pope and the home of some of the world’s most celebrated priceless works of art
The Vatican City (“Vatican” is derived from word “Vatica” or “Vaticua”, meaning garden), known in international diplomacy as “The Holy See”, is a sovereign state within a state under the sovereignty of the Pope. The Lateran Treaty of 11 February 1929 established the modern city-state independent Vatican City. It is the world’s smallest country by both area (covers less than 1 sq. km. (0.4 sq. mi.) and population (920 inhabitants – 572 of them with Vatican citizenship). Though not a member of the United Nations Organization, the Vatican City is recognized internationally as an independent state along with other 195 independent sovereign states of the international community .
Vatican City has its own train station and a heliport. It mints its own currency (euros), prints its own stamps, issues passports, issues license plates, and operates its own media outlets. It has its own flag and anthem. The Vatican has its own tourist office where you can purchase maps and other guide books for self-guided tours of the St. Peter’s Square, the basilica and museums. However, the Vatican does not have one important basic government function: the power of taxation! Its revenues come from museum admission fees, stamps and souvenir sale and from the voluntary contributions of over one billion members of Roman Catholic Church around the world.
The Vatican even fields a soccer team composed of the Swiss Guards who hold dual citizenship (Vatican and Switzerland). Formed in 1506, the 110 Swiss Guards force with their renaissance costumes of red, blue and yellow, often called the “world’s smallest standing army”, extremely trained and highly skilled marksmen, protects the Pope and ensures his safety. They also guard the apostolic palace. A Swiss Guard must be a male, Roman Catholic, a citizen of Switzerland, single, 1.74 meters tall, must be between 19 and 30 years old, must have a high school degree or a professional diploma, of great moral character and ethical upstanding, and he must commit to serve for a minimum of two years.
The government of the Vatican City has a very unique structure. The city is governed as an absolute monarchy with the Pope as its head, the sovereign of the state who holds full legislative, executive and judicial powers. A body of cardinals known as the Pontifical Commission appointed by the Pope for a 5-year period exercises legislative authority in Pope’s name to promulgate general instructions and regulations. Executive power is vested in the hands of the Pontifical Commission. Foreign relations are entrusted to the Holy See’s Secretariat of State.
We’ll continue our tour of Vatican City on the next issue.