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10 Fun Facts About the Vatican

The Vatican City in Rome, also known as the Holy See, is the home of the Pope and the Christian world. This small state is visited daily by the thousands so let's see some of the awesome facts about the Vatican:

1. Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. Surrounded by a 2-mile border with Italy, Vatican City is an independent city-state of just over 100 acres, making it one-eighth the size of New York’s Central Park. Vatican City is governed as a monarchy with the pope at its head. The Vatican mints its own euros, prints its own stamps, issues passports, and license plates operate media outlets and has its own flag and anthem. Museum admission fees, stamp and souvenir sales, and contributions give the Vatican it's income as they don't have taxation.

2. The Vatican  has its own mail system which is quite popular amongst the people as the Vatican mail is faster than the typical Italian postal service. The postage stamps care a part of the largest export of the Vatican state serving as one of the primary sources of income.

3. St. Peter’s Basilica is atop the city of the dead, including its namesake’s tomb. A Roman necropolis stood on Vatican Hill in pagan times. When a great fire leveled much of Rome in A.D. 64, Emperor Nero, seeking to shift blame from himself, accused the Christians of starting the blaze. He executed them by burning them at the stake, tearing them apart with wild beasts and crucifying them. Among those crucified was St. Peter who was suspected to be buried in a shallow grave on Vatican Hill. By the 4th century, Emperor Constantine began construction of the original basilica atop the ancient burial ground with what was believed to be the tomb of St. Peter at its center. 

4.  It's pretty surprising that the Vatican acknowledges that life on other planets is theoretically possible and this is an official stance. This statement was actually publicly made in 2006 by Father Jose Funes, whose title is director of the Vatican's observatory. However, whatever the life forms would be, the Vatican feels that they would be one of God's creations. 

5. Popes ruled over a collection of sovereign Papal States in central Italy until the country was unified in 1870. The new secular government had seized all the land of the Papal States with the exception of the small patch of the Vatican, and a cold war of sorts then broke out between the church and the Italian government.  Pope Pius IX proclaimed himself a “prisoner of the Vatican,” and for almost 60 years popes refused to leave the Vatican and submit to the authority of the Italian government.

6. The Swiss Guard has been protecting the pontiff since 1506. That’s when Pope Julius II hired one of the Swiss mercenary forces for his personal protection. The Swiss Guard’s role in Vatican City is strictly for protecting the safety of the pope. Its soldiers are well-trained and highly skilled marksmen and are Swiss citizens.

7.  As of 2011, the number of people with Vatican citizenship totaled 594. That number included 71 cardinals, 109 members of the Swiss Guard, 51 members of the clergy and one nun inside the Vatican walls. The largest group of citizens, however, was the 307 members of the clergy in diplomatic positions around the world. With Benedict XVI residing as a pope emeritus in the Vatican, the population will increase by one when a new pope is named.

8.  As Rome expanded, light pollution from the city made it difficult for astronomers at the Vatican Observatory—located 15 miles from the city at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo—to view the night skies, so in 1981 the observatory opened a second research center in Tucson, Arizona. The Vatican conducts astronomical research with a state-of-the-art telescope that is atop Mount Graham in southeast Arizona.

9. After the original St. Peter’s Basilica, popes lived  at the Lateran Palace across Rome. In 1309, they left the city altogether when the papal court moved to Avignon, France, after King Philip IV arranged for a French cardinal to be elected pope. Seven popes, all French, ruled from Avignon, and the papacy did not return to Rome until 1377, by which time the Lateran Palace had burned and the Vatican started to be used as a papal residence. 

10. In 1277, the Passetto di Borgo, was built to link the Vatican with the Castel Sant’Angelo on the banks of the Tiber River. It was used as an escape route for popes, most notably in 1527 when it likely saved the life of Pope Clement VII during the sack of Rome. As the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V were killing priests and nuns, the Swiss Guard held them back  long enough to allow Clement to safely reach the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Contact Jubilee Travel today for your exploration of the Vatican!

By Khadijah Brown

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