The seat of the Catholic Church and an independent city-state within one of the most popular cities in Europe, Vatican City remains an enigma to many Christians and non-Christians alike. Around 1000 people call the territory home, among them the revered head of the Catholic Church himself, the Pope.
Home to the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, and an array of historic museums, Vatican City is heavily frequented by Christian and curious tourists. Few people realize that the territory has many of its own rules and protocols, just like other independent nations have. Keep reading to learn 10 intriguing facts about Vatican City.
10 Catholic Popes Haven’t Always Lived Here
Even if you’re not Christian, most people understand that Vatican City is heavily associated with the Catholic Church. This is the residence of the Pope, who sits at the head of the Catholic Church. Interestingly, Catholic Popes haven’t always resided in the Vatican.
According to Rome Actually, Popes have historically lived in other locations throughout Italy, including Assisi, Perugia, Tivoli, and Ferentino. In the 1300s, the Catholic Church was based in Avignon, France, due to Rome being unsafe as a result of local violence between noble families.
9 The Pope Is An Absolute Monarch
The current President of Italy is Sergio Mattarella, but because Vatican City is technically a separate and independent city-state, it does not come under his government. Instead, the Pope is the monarch of Vatican City. As Roman Life points out, he has total judicial, executive and legislative control over the state. That makes him an absolute monarch.
Europe has seen many absolute monarchs throughout its history, one of the most famous being Louis XIV of France. At the current time, the Pope is the only absolute monarch left on the continent.
8 It Is The World’s Smallest Country
Situated in the Italian capital of Rome, Vatican City is officially the smallest country in the world. But this doesn’t mean that it’s the least-crowded. Even though there were only approximately 1000 people living there in 2017, the Vatican attracts more than five million visitors a year.
Located within the boundaries of Vatican City is, of course, the Vatican where the Pope resides. The city-state is also home to Peter’s Basilica, one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Even though Vatican City is less than half a square mile, it also contains a radio station, pharmacy, and publishing house.
7 Soccer Is The National Sport
Technically, Vatican City doesn’t have an official national sport the way other countries do. But if they did, it would be the same sport that is beloved by the majority of Italians: soccer. Called football in Europe and the British Isles, the sport is played by employees of Vatican City, who even have their own team. It's pretty exclusive; not just anyone can be part of this club!
The Vatican football team is marked by the official colors of yellow, blue, and white. According to Grayline Rome, these colors are also seen on other employees of Vatican City, including postal workers and police officers.
6 They Have Their Own Army
Vatican City may not have many of the usual things that most independent nations have, but they do have their own army. Known as the Pontifical Swiss Guard, the army is one of the smallest in the world. There are only 135 people in the guard, which was established in 1506 to protect the Pope.
Swiss Guards are easily recognizable at the Vatican due to their Renaissance-era uniform. All Swiss guards are also male, Catholic, have been trained by the Swiss military, and are taller than 5’8.5” in height.
5 Legend Has It That There Was A Female Pope
For those who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Catholicism, priests are always male. Similarly, the Pope is always male as well. So it may come as a shock to learn that, according to legend, there was once a female Pope.
Pope Joan concealed her identity and went by the name John. She was discovered after giving birth in a lane-way near the Colosseum and as such was put to death. You will find a depiction of her labor over St. Peter’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
4 Some Popes Fathered Children
High-ranking officials within the Catholic Church, such as the Pope, are forbidden from marrying. Children are certainly not permitted for men of the cloth. But several sources seem to indicate that some Popes throughout history have also been dads.
Pope Borgia, otherwise known as Alexander VI, was one such man. When he was still a cardinal, he fathered three sons and one daughter. After becoming Pope, he had one more child with a mistress. Other Popes that were fathers include Pope Julius II and Pope Paul III.
3 Divorce Is Not Allowed In Vatican City
It makes sense that the laws of Vatican City directly correlate with the laws and traditions of the Catholic Church. Because of this, divorce is not permitted. Along with the Philippines, Vatican City is one of the only countries on the planet that does not have any laws regarding divorce. Annulments are allowed in Vatican City, but for a divorce, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
Catholicism banning divorces famously led the notorious King Henry VIII to begin the Church of England, which allowed him to divorce.
2 It Has The World’s Highest Crime Rate
You might think that a religious and sacred state would have incredibly low crime rates, but Vatican City actually has the highest crime rate on record. The statistics are influenced by the fact that there are so many people within such a small place. But as long as you keep your wits about you, it’s relatively easy to stay safe in Vatican City. The area is only prone to minor crimes, such as pick-pocketing.
Other major tourist areas throughout Europe, including the Parthenon in Greece and the Eiffel Tower in France, also tend to be the scene of pick-pocketing and other petty crime.
1 It Is The Only Remaining Papal State In Italy
You might think that the official language of Vatican City was Italian, considering the territory is located in the Italian capital. But the official language is actually Latin. In fact, Vatican City is the only location in the whole world where you’ll find an ATM in Latin!
The population of Vatican City is mostly made up of Catholic priests and nuns, and they tend to come from nations all over the world. While languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish are still spoken, Latin is officially used.