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Vatican City – The Centre of Catholicism

Vatican City is the heart of the Catholic Church and the destination of many pilgrims and tourists. The smallest state on earth fascinates with countless art and cultural treasures, which rightly make it a unique World Cultural Heritage site.

Basilica and famous square in Vatican City

Geography - The smallest state on earth

Vatican City State (short: Vatican City) is the smallest state on earth with an area of 0.44 km² and 836 inhabitants. Its head, the Pope, is elected by the cardinals according to the absolute elective monarchy. Citizenship is given by the current head of state (e.g. cardinals, Papal Swiss Guard) and is limited to the time of employment. The enclave in the urban area of Rome was founded in 1929 and comprises St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Gardens and the Sistine Chapel. The whole state territory is enclosed by a wall, which is 10 metres high, and it takes 40 minutes to walk round the small state on foot.

View of Rome and Vatican City

Nature - A green hill as a retreat

The Vatican Gardens (Giardini Vaticaní) cover an area of 44 hectares altogether and are mainly located on the Vatican Hill, which is 75 metres high and mostly consists of tuff stone. The gardens, which have existed since the 13th century, were almost entirely arranged and designed by people. Green lawns, trees like pines, stone pines, oaks, cypresses, cedars and palms as well as thick hedges vegetate its area. In addition, the Vatican Gardens are filled with plants and trees which were brought along by guests from all over the world: olive trees, redwoods, camphor trees, silky oaks, azaleas and rhododendrons. The garden of the smallest state on earth is not only a retreat for the pope but also home to many species of animals such as bats, rodents (hamsters, mice, squirrels, rabbits), specific types of birds (parrots, budgies) and reptiles (lizards, snakes). Holidaymakers can only visit the gardens on a guided tour and with prior registration.

Green spaces in Vatican City

Culture - Worldwide unique cultural treasures

Vatican City accommodates many world-famous art and cultural treasures such as St. Peter's Square, which has an area of 240 metres, with its obelisk and St. Peter's Basilica, which is the world's greatest Christian church and a World Cultural Heritage site. With its impressive dome, which was painted by the well-known artist Michelangelo, it is a landmark not only of Rome but also of the Catholic Church. Below St. Peter's Basilica, which was built in the 4th century, you find the Vatican Grottoes, which contain Saint Peter's tomb and other papal tombs. Furthermore, the Vatican Museums accommodate objects of inestimable value. In the Egyptian Museum, for example, visitors can marvel at numerous sculptures, sarcophagi, mummies and cuneiform writings and the Pinacoteca (art gallery) holds works of world-famous artists like Giotto, Caravaggio, Beato Angelico, Perugino, Leonardo, Titian and Raphael. However, the main tourist attraction of the Vatican Museums is the Sistine Chapel, which was painted by artists like Botticelli, Rosselli and Ghirlandaio. The chapel owes its most famous components - the arched ceiling and the Last Judgement behind the altar - to Michelangelo's creativity. Vatican City has been part of the World Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO since 1984 and is therefore the only state which is protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in its entirety.

Famous work of Michelangelo

Experience - Postcards from Vatican City

Besides the pope, cardinals, prelates and the Papal Swiss Guard live in Vatican City. The almost 3,000 employees (salespeople, restorers, cooks, office workers, bank employees, members of the government, cleaning staff) do not usually reside in Vatican City, in which you find no hairdressers, hospitals or schools. However, there are a pharmacy, several petrol stations and a supermarket, in which the inhabitants and employees of the enclave can do their shopping, for example papal honey from the summer residence Castel Gandolfo. Tourists, on the other hand, can have an Italian meal in a self-service restaurant, a pizzeria or a cafe. In addition, there is a souvenir shop on the roof of St. Peter's Basilica. Another special attraction among tourists and pilgrims is the state-owned post office. The Vatican Post Office produces its own stamps, which are only valid in the state's territory and have a high collector's value. Therefore, many visitors send their friends and relatives a postcard from the smallest state on earth. Vatican City posts the most pieces of mail (7,200) per inhabitant per year.

Vatican post

Activities - A visit to the museum and a panoramic view

Travellers who visit Vatican City as part of a trip to Rome should not miss out on the Vatican Museums, the Vatican Courtyards and St. Peter's Basilica. Visitors who climb up the dome are rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of Vatican City and all of Rome. This ascent, however, is not suitable for claustrophobics because the alleys become very narrow and stuffy on the last few metres.

The round staircase in Vatican city


Tourists have to brace themselves for long waits in Vatican City. The best way of avoiding this is starting out at eight in the morning. You can also pre-order tickets online. The admission to St. Peter's Basilica is free, unlike the admission to the dome, the roof and the Vatican Museums. There is even a hotel on the state territory of Vatican City, the Residenza Paolo VI. This four-star hotel is located in a former Augustinian monastery and its rooftop terrace offers an impressive view of St. Peter's Basilica.

A trip to Vatican City is a must for every lover of art and culture. The small state accommodates an abundance of valuable cultural and art objects, which promises a unique experience.

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