Inside the Vatican - The World's Smallest Country


The Vatican is the world's smallest country. This tiny nation has an area of only 44 hectares. Its 800 residents could fit comfortably into a large apartment building in New York City. The Vatican serves as the spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Church and is surrounded by the city of Rome. The Pope, presently Benedict XVI, presides over Vatican City--and the world's largest body of Christians.


The Vatican's history goes back almost 2,000 years. In A.D. 64, Roman Emperor Nero had many Christians put to death on Rome's Vatican Hill. Stories tell us that one of those martyrs was Peter, an apostle of Jesus. The Catholic religion says the Pope is Peter's successor as head of the church.


Vatican Map

Vatican City Map- Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data


Persecution continued now and again for about two centuries. Then, in 313, Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius allowed Christianity. Constantine, the first emperor to convert to Christianity, built the original St. Peter's Basilica. It is thought to be on the site of Peter's tomb.



Although Italy's history goes back many centuries, it was not united as one nation until 1870. Before then, the Catholic Church had ruled the Papal States for more than 1,000 years. But in the 1860's, the Italian army conquered the Papal States and it took control of Rome in 1870. For the next 60 years, Italy and the Vatican were enemies. This ended in 1929, when Italy and the Vatican signed the Lateran Treaty. Under the treaty, Italy recognized Vatican City as an independent nation and the Pope as its ruler.

Because it is such a small country, however, Vatican City shares government functions with Rome and Italy. Vatican City has its own coins, for example, but they are produced in Rome. It has its own police force, but depends on the Italian Army for its defense. There is a small prison but nobody knows if it has ever been used.

Residents of Vatican City include the Pope and his staff; a few Cardinals, who are the Church's highest-ranking officials; and the Swiss Guard, a group of soldiers that has guarded the Pope since 1506.

The Pope oversees the Church's 3,000 dioceses around the world. He appears in public twice a week to deliver blessings and often says Mass.


Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI - Fabio Pozzebom/ABr - Agência Brasil


However, his life is not all work. Pope John XXIII (1958-63) had a bowling alley built at the Vatican. And Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), an enthusiastic sportsman, loved to swim and ski.

The few children who live in Vatican City go to school in Rome. But there is a boarding school for the altar boys who serve at Vatican Masses.


Tourists and Pilgrims


Each year, about 4 million people--both religious pilgrims and tourists—visit Vatican City. Most tourists come to see the art, especially the frescoes painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo spent four years completing the frescoes.

In addition to its art, the Vatican holds great archives including a 1,500-year-old Bible manuscript. Love letters from English King Henry VIII to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, are also in the collection. The King's wish to divorce his first wife made him to split from the Catholic Church and create the Church of England.


The Sistine Chapel

The museums and St. Peter's Basilica are open to the public. But the rest of Vatican City is not. You are only allowed in if you have an appointment to meet church officials or study in the archives.

If you do go to Vatican City, you'll have to watch what you wear. The dress code for visitors to St. Peter's calls for clothing that is " modest" and "fitting." This means no shorts, sleeveless shirts, or skirts above the knee. Vendors on the square, however, sell paper clothing to people who show too much " flesh".


painting by Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel

"Creation of Adam" painted by Michelangelo - Sistine Chapel


Related Topics



  • appear = to show yourself
  • appointment = an arrangement for a meeting
  • blessing = words from God that a priest says
  • boarding school = a school where students live and study
  • bowling alley = building where you go bowling
  • call for = to tell you something
  • ceiling = the top part of a room
  • chapel = a room in a church where you hold mass
  • church official = a person who has an official job in the Vatican
  • coin = piece of round metal that you use for money
  • conquer = to take over with an army of soldiers
  • convert = to change to a different religion
  • defense = protection
  • depend = need
  • diocese = an area under the control of a bishop
  • divorce = to end a marriage
  • dress code = rules that tell you how to dress
  • emperor = king or queen who rules over many countries
  • enthusiastic = to show a lot of feeling and to enjoy something a lot
  • flesh = the soft part of the body of a person or an animal
  • fresco = a painting made on a wall while it is still wet
  • guard = protect, defend
  • high-ranking = to have a high position
  • however = but
  • in addition to = also
  • including = together with
  • martyr = someone who dies for their religious opinions ; the people then admire and love this person
  • mass = a church ceremony, performed mostly on Sundays
  • modest = here: clothes that are simple and cover most of your body
  • oversee =to be in charge of something
  • Papal States = states that were under the control of the pope
  • persecution = to treat a group of people very cruelly for a certain time
  • preside = to be head of, to have control of
  • public = people in general
  • resident = a person who always lives in a place
  • ruler =a person who governs a country or state
  • serve = has the job, function
  • share = to have together with another organization or country
  • sign = to put your name on a document
  • sleeveless = without sleeves
  • spiritual = religious , holy
  • split = break away from
  • staff = the people who work with you
  • successor = someone who takes over the job of the person before him
  • surrounded = to be all around something
  • tiny = very small
  • tomb = place below the ground where a dead person is buried
  • treaty = agreement between two or more people or countries
  • unite = to join together
  • vendor = a person who sells things, mostly on the street