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The Smallest Country in the World Has Only One Dog and the World's Largest Church

Religion Insider Guides Culture Art + Architecture
by Morgane Croissant Apr 25, 2023

The smallest country in the world, Vatican City, is also one of the most unique and mysterious. For one, it’s the residence of the Pope, the leader of the Roman catholic Church. But its quirks go beyond playing host to the Holy Father: It has a very small population that averages five deaths and one birth per year; it has only one pet, a dog; it is packed with priceless art and stunning architecture; the entire country is a UNESCO World Heritage site; and its nickname is “The Holy See”. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Is Vatican City a city or a country?

Entrance to Vatican City and view of St. Peter's Basilica

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Vatican City, also known as The Vatican or The Holy See, is indeed an independent country. It was recognized as such on 11 February 1929. It is the world’s smallest independent city-state.

Where is Vatican City located?

Vatican City is an enclave within Rome, the capital of Italy. (An enclave is a territory located within another territory and completely surrounded by it.)

More precisely, Vatican City is only 2.1 miles from Rome’s Colosseum and 1.5 miles from the Trevi Fountain.

How big is Vatican City?

Vatican City is tiny. It is only 0.17 square miles.

Does Vatican City have its own passport?

As an independent country, Vatican City has its own passport. Currently there are only 70 valid Vatican City passports in circulation.

On its cover, the Vatican City passport features the coat of arms of the independent state: Two crossed keys surmounted by the Papal tiara. The same coat of arms can be seen on the country’s flag.

Who lives in Vatican City? How big is the population?

According to official statistics, there are 453 inhabitants in Vatican City, including clergy, and staff members and their families. Only 246 of the 453 inhabitants are Vatican City citizens. There are 618 Vatican City citizens in total.

When was The Vatican Built?

The architectural wonders found in Vatican City have been built and modified throughout the centuries. In the first century, there was Roman necropolis (where Saint Peter’s tomb is located) on the site and the original St. Peter’s Basilica was built by Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century. The current basilica was completed in the 17th century. The Sistine Chapel was built in the late 15th century and painted in the early 16th century.

Can anyone visit Vatican City?

View from St. Peter's Square in Vatican City from above

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Anyone can visit Vatican City as there is no need for a passport or a visa, and St. Peter’s Square is not walled or gated. Visitors do need to go through a metal detector before visiting the sights, however.

Can you enter Vatican City for free?

It is free to enter Vatican City, roam around St. Peter’s Square, and visit St. Peter’s Basilica. However, visitors must purchase a ticket to access the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel.

What to wear in Vatican City

To enter St. Peter’s Basilica and other sacred venues within The Vatican, you must have your knees, shoulders, and midriff covered, and hats must be removed.

Is the Sistine Chapel in The Vatican?

The Sistine Chapel is located within Vatican City and requires that you book a ticket to visit. It is recommended to book your ticket online in advance.

Is there a telescope in The Vatican?

There is an observatory fitted with a telescope in Vatican City called The Specola Vaticana (The Vatican Observatory). The observatory dates back to the 16th century and is considered one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world.

What is there to see in The Vatican?

The main sights in Vatican City are St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter Basilica, both of which are free to visit. But if you have the time, don’t stop there. Reserve a private tour or book a ticket to see the Vatican Museums, which include the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms, the art gallery, the Vatican Gardens, the Pontifical Villa and Gardens, and more.

Does The Vatican have an army? Who guards The Vatican?

The Swiss Guards in Vatican City

The Swiss Guards in Vatican City. Photo: Drop of Light/Shutterstock

The Vatican does not have an independent army, but the country is kept safe by two forces: the Italian police who looks after St. Peter’s Square, and the Swiss Guards, an armed force unit that is in charge of protecting the rest of the country and the Pope.

Can you get married in The Vatican?

It is possible to get married in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. A special request must be sent to the appropriate branch of The Vatican government.

What is Vatican Girl?

Vatican Girl is a 2022 Netflix documentary about the real-life disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi, a Vatican City citizen and the daughter of a Vatican City staff. She vanished while on her way home after a music lesson in Rome in June 1983 and was never found.

The best hotels near Vatican City

If you prefer an Airbnb to a hotel, check out Matador‘s curated list of the most fabulous Rome Airbnbs minutes from St. Peter’s Basilica and Vatican City.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

Vatican Style

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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The Vatican Style hotel is a luxurious property located only three minutes away on foot from the entrance to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square. The hotel is decorated in an elegant and contemporary style that includes LED lights, modern headboards, and in-room hot tubs. There is a large choice of rooms on offer, from standard rooms that sleep two to triple rooms with a balcony that can accommodate four travelers.

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Starhotels Michelangelo

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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Starhotels Michelangelo is an elegant property located only nine minutes on foot from Vatican City. All 179 rooms and suites have a sophisticated atmosphere and refined decor — the perfect way to make you feel special. Some rooms have views on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. There is a restaurant and a bar on site.

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