You will also find the Sistine Chapel within the walls of Vatican City. The Sistine Chapel is where you will find Michelangelo’s famous ceiling.
While all the splendour and wonderment of Vatican City are things of which most people are well aware, the Vatican City does hold a number of secrets. Here are 10 of them:
Secrets of Vatican City
Vatican City is the smallest country in the world
Vatican City holds the title for several superlatives - some claim it houses the world’s most precious artwork, others say it’s the world’s most spiritual place for Catholics. While these might be arguable facts, one thing that is inarguable is that Vatican City is actually the smallest country in the world.
The independent city-state covers just over 100 acres. That’s smaller than New York City’s 843-acre Central Park.
With only 842 residents, it also happens to be the smallest country by population. But don’t let its size fool you - it has its own post office (and stamps for that matter), railway station, radio station, flag and anthem. Vatican City also operates media outlets and issues passports. It even mints its own euros - with the coins embossed with the Pope’s head.
Citizenship is not a birthright
It takes more than being born in Vatican City, or having parents who were born in the city, to become a citizen.
Citizenship is earned by those who are employed in the city-state, namely, cardinals, bishops and members of the Swiss Guard. Once you finish working at the Vatican, your citizenship is subsequently revoked. Those who aren’t citizens of another country will automatically become Italian.
It is the only country on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list
Italy may have the most UNESCO listings of any country but Vatican City is the only country designated as a UNESCO site. In 1984, UNESCO designated all 44 square kilometres of Vatican City a World Heritage Site based on its cultural significance.
“The Vatican City, one of the most sacred places in Christendom, attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lies within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre is St Peter's Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. The Basilica, erected over the tomb of St Peter the Apostle, is the largest religious building in the world - the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderno,” according to UNESCO.
Vatican City is a lot younger than you think
While the Catholic Church has been in existence for more than 2,000 years, that doesn’t hold true for Vatican City. The country only came into existence officially in 1929 with the signing of the Lateran Treaty which recognised it as a sovereign state.
Interestingly, it was Benito Mussolini, the head of the Italian government at the time, who signed on the dotted line to make things official.
The Vatican hasn’t always been home to the Pope
Prior to 1300, popes lived at the Lateran Palace on the opposite side of Rome. In 1309, the papal court moved to Avignon in France and seven popes ruled from there. On their return to Rome in 1377, and because the Lateran Palace had been destroyed by a fire, the papacy moved to the Vatican.
The Pope’s bodyguards are all Swiss
Established in 1506 by Pope Julius II, the Pontifical Swiss Guard is responsible for the Pope’s safety.
In order to be assigned to the detail, your CV must include the following: Catholic, single, male and between the ages of 19 and 30, be at least five feet eight-and-a-half inches tall, and be a Swiss citizen. Applicants must also have basic Swiss military training.
For the most part, you’ll see them manning checkpoints and participating in ceremonies, and with bright blue, red, orange and yellow uniforms, you won't have any trouble spotting them.
The Vatican secret archives are not so secret
Since Pope Leo XIII allowed scholars to visit the Vatican’s Secret Archives in 1881, they haven’t been as secretive.
That said, these days only accredited researchers and scholars are free to glance at the documents and correspondences that lie within the walls. And there's plenty of reading material - the documents span more than 1,000 years. But don't expect a leisurely library visit - browsing is prohibited and visitors must specify exactly what they’re searching for before being granted entry.
It is home to the world’s largest art collections
Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the Vatican museums house one of the world’s greatest art collections. The museums shelter approximately 70,000 works and of these 20,000 are on display at any one time.
Approximately four million visitors pass through the museums annually to marvel at highlights like the Michelangelo-painted Sistine Chapel ceiling, Raphael Rooms and the Museo Pio-Clementino, to name a few.
Michelangelo wasn’t so thrilled to work on the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo was in his 30s and working on Pope Julius II’s marble tomb when he was asked to decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.
Interestingly, he didn’t jump at the opportunity.
In his defence, he considered himself a sculptor, not a painter. Still, he accepted the task and spent years crafting the legendary frescoes. Even more impressive is the fact that Michelangelo and his team used scaffolding to paint the ceiling while standing up. Today, the chapel is where the conclave to select a new pope is held.
What’s in a name?
Pope Francis revealed last month he has requested the Vatican Secret Archives unseal a set of ancient scrolls that have been kept hidden from public knowledge for centuries by the Church. The scrolls, which were encased in marble and buried in 463 AD, are said to contain the true name of God as communicated to Moses in the Book of Exodus.
According to Real News Right Now, Pope Francis has said the decision to have the scrolls unsealed now is motivated by his belief that the Catholic Church needs to foster “greater transparency”.
The Church was alerted to the existence of the scrolls in the fifth century during the siege of Jerusalem. It was the decree of Pope Hilarius that the true name of God be stricken from all official Church literature.
While the reason for decision to keep the true name of God hidden beneath a veil of secrecy is unknown, since 463 AD the name of God has been passed down to each successive Pope.
“In keeping with tradition, each successive Pope since Hilarius has been made aware of the Lord’s name,” Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesman, confirmed.
The announcement the scrolls would be unveiled took place in March, 2017. In the week following the announcement, the Vatican Press Office received more than two million inquiries regarding God’s name. To date, nothing official has been released and the true name of God remains a mystery.
The uniqueness of Vatican City, its splendour, rich historical landscape and cultural and spiritual significance make it a true wonder. The 10 secrets of the Vatican only begin to scratch the surface of the city and its origins.