St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, churches such as San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore and the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura in Rome. Located on the right bank of the Tiber River within the territory of Rome, the Vatican City State is the only state in the world whose citizens are not granted citizenship by birthright. Completely surrounded by the city of Rome, the Vatican City State is the only state in the world whose entirety has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1984). Vatican City State is also the smallest state in the world, with an area of 0.44 km2 and a population of about 1000. Vatican City UNESCO Heritage: a miniature state full of superlatives.
Vatican City UNESCO Heritage – the city in eternal Rome
The approximately 3000 people who come to Vatican City every day to do their work generally do not live in Vatican City and do not belong to the state. A special group of those employed in the Vatican City State is the Swiss Guard.
The Constitution of the Vatican City State
Constitutionally, the Vatican City State is an absolute elective monarchy (Basic Law of the State of 22 February 2001), and its head is the Pope. The Lateran Treaties of February 11, 1929, between Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI1 – also known as the Devil’s Pact with the Vatican – secured for the Vatican State, among other things, its sovereignty under international law. The financial agreement associated with the Lateran Treaties assured the State compensation for the loss of the Papal States (Patrimonium Petri) in the amount of 1.75 billion lire.
The Roman Jews in the clutches of Himmler
In the late summer of 1943, following the deposition of Mussolini, the Jews remaining in Rome and the Vatican City State were confronted with the capture of Rome by Hitler’s henchmen. The Jewish community was forced to hand over a ransom of 50 KG of gold to the SS. Nevertheless, on the night of October 15-16, 1943, more than 1,000 Jews were arrested, deported and murdered in concentration camps. Only a few of the deported Jews survived the death camps.
When Pope Pius XII learned of the deportations, he threatened Ambassador Ernst von Weiszäcker to mobilize the public in case the arrests did not end. Pius ordered all religious institutions (universities, seminaries, convents, cloisters, parishes, and even houses owned by the Church) to open their doors to Jews. As a result, 80% of the approximately 13,000 Roman Jews were able to save themselves with the help of Pius, who is still controversial today, and experienced the liberation of Rome on the spot in June 1944.
Women housed or hidden in abbeys were given religious clothing for camouflage purposes. In the hospital located on the Tiber Island, used since ancient times for the treatment of diseases, they even invented a plague called Morbo K. The K stood for the SS commander Kappler, who was responsible for the brutal actions during the deportations. The Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem awarded Giovanni Borromeo, chief physician of the hospital, the honor „Righteous Among the Nations“.
According to the Jewish historian Amedeo Guerrazzi, it is all too easily overlooked today that the Vatican could also have been stormed by the occupiers at any time. People who helped Jews during this period risked their lives. Other experts also agree about Pius‘ helping role today. Since the Vatican archives were opened in the spring of 2020, about a million documents from the Pope’s tenure are being studied, and the scientists have yet to evaluate them.
Infrastructure and academic institutions
Located within Rome, Vatican City State is bordered on three sides by 16th- and 17th-century fortification walls, the Leonine Walls. Vatican City is also connected to the Italian rail network by its own railroad station. Vatican City has world-class libraries and scientific institutions, as well as the important Vatican Archives.
Foreign policy of the Vatican City State
To be distinguished from Vatican City or Vatican State is the Vatican. Located within the Vatican City State, the Pope’s residence on Monte Vaticano represents an enclave. Also to be distinguished from Vatican City is the „Holy See“ as a subject of international law, with which the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church, performs diplomatic functions. The Vatican City State also appears in international law, the Holy See concludes international treaties and concordats2 with other sovereign states. The Vatican City State maintains diplomatic relations with 174 countries.
Tourism and sightseeing in Vatican City
A visit to Vatican City for travelers to Rome is unprecedented and remarkable. The high military presence on the occasion of global terrorism does not diminish this impression. The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica can be climbed via many winding staircases that pass by the dome at the top. For a small fee (less than €10), one has a wonderful view of St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican City and the eternal city of Rome; with an attentive eye, even first-time visitors to Rome can find the Colosseum. For some time now, anyone who wants to visit the Sistine Chapel has had to register at least 24 hours in advance via the Internet. This has succeeded in greatly reducing the long lines for visitors to the chapel, at least seasonally.
St. Peter’s Basilica and Michelangelo’s dome
Anyone wishing to visit St. Peter’s Basilica must also pass through one of many security locks, where any luggage present will be screened. Due to the many locks, however, the waiting time is tolerably short. One can enter St. Peter’s Square without passing through such locks. In St. Peter’s Basilica itself there are numerous objects and works of art of (art) historical world rank.3 Michelangelo4 also directed the construction of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica according to his plans. St. Peter’s was built over the presumed tomb of the Apostles and, for reasons of scope, will be discussed separately in another essay.
To see the image caption in English click on the circular infopictogram on the right below the enlarged photo.