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Where is Vatican City?

Updated on December 27, 2016

Vatican City is an independent state in Rome, Italy, that is ruled by the Pope and serves as the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City occupies a triangular area of 108.7 acres (44 hectares) on and near the Vatican Hill, on the west bank of the Tiber River. In the lower half of the area are St. Peter's Basilica, where important Church functions are held, and a piazza, or square, in front of it. To the right of the basilica and piazza is the Vatican Palace, which contains the papal apartments, government offices, chapels, museums, and the Vatican Library. To the left of the basilica and piazza is the Papal Audience Hall.

Nearby in the lower half of Vatican City are barracks for the Swiss Guards, who protect the Pope and wear red and yellow 16th-century uniforms, and for the Vatican City police. Adjoining are apartments for some of the approximately 1,000 citizens of Vatican City. Also in Vatican City are a post office, which issues Vatican stamps, and a printing office, where the semiofficial daily newspaper L'Osservatore Romano is published.

In the upper part of Vatican City are large gardens. Scattered through them are the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Ethiopian College, and other administrative buildings. The most important is the Government Palace, the office of the lay governor who administers Vatican City under the supervision of the Pope and who also has jurisdiction over basilicas and palaces outside Vatican City. Also within these gardens are the Vatican radio and television station, the railroad freight station, and studios to make mosaics and restore works of art.

Within Vatican City the Pope possesses supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power. In addition to the assistance given him by the lay governor, the Pope is aided by a council and a tribunal, which settles local disputes according to canon law. As an independent, sovereign state the Vatican exchanges diplomatic representatives with many other states. It has its own flag, official state seal, coinage, and postage stamps.

In Roman times the Vatican Hill and the valley below were used partly as a burial ground and partly as a circus for chariot races and other competitions. In the 4th century A.D. the basilica of St. Peter's was built over what is believed to be theĀ  tomb of St. Peter, the first Pope. After the 5th century A.D., Popes stayed in buildings near the basilica for special functions but lived mostly in the Lateran Palace outside Rome. The area gained new importance in the 15th century, when the Popes returned from Avignon, France, and took up official residence in the Vatican Palace. From there they ruled the surrounding Papal States, or territory in Italy owned by the Church. They also rebuilt and enlarged the basilica and the palace and added the gardens and other buildings. This work continued, although in the late 16th century the Popes and the government moved to the Quirinal Palace, outside the Vatican area.

The unification of Italy in 1870 resulted in the new government's confiscating the Papal States. For the next 50 years the Popes, refusing to accept financial compensation or to recognize the government, stayed inside the Vatican and considered themselves prisoners. This situation, called the Roman Question, was resolved by the Lateran Treaty of 1929, negotiated by the Italian premier Benito Mussolini and representatives of Pope Pius XI. Along with other terms the Italian government guaranteed Vatican City as an independent state under papal rule, and the Church recognized the government with Rome as its capital. The Popes have continued to live in Vatican City since that time.

Vatican Library

Vatican Library is a public library located in Vatican City, Rome, Italy. One of the finest and most extensive libraries in the world, it contains more than 400,000 printed books and 40,000 manuscripts. Among the famous works in the collection are a 4th-century-A.D. Greek edition of the Bible, known as the Codex Vati-canus, and two ancient manuscripts of the works of Virgil. The library also includes a collection of about 100,000 engravings. A separate collection, the Vatican Archives, has legal documents issued by the Church.

Although a Vatican library probably existed before 400 A.D., the present library was established by Pope Nicholas V in 1447. Modernization of the library was begun after 1920. William Warner Bishop and other American librarians, working under a Carnegie Corporation grant, assisted in the project. Microfilms of major Vatican Library manuscripts can be seen at the Pius XII Memorial Library in St. Louis, Mo.

Vatican Palace

The Vatican Palace is the official residence of the Popes and the headquarters of the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The Palace, which adjoins St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City in Rome, is a complex of about 1,000 rooms arranged around 20 courtyards. It contains the papal residence, including the Pope's private apartments and such rooms of state, as the Sala Regia. Nearby are the Borgia apartments, which were painted by Pinturicchio, and rooms with such famous frescoes by Raphael as The School of Athens. Among the many chapels of the Vatican Palace are the Pauline Chapel and the Sistine Chapel, where papal elections are held. In the Sistine Chapel are Michelangelo's magnificent frescoes of the Last Judgment and scenes from the Old Testament.

In another part of the palace are the offices of the Curia, or papal government. Elsewhere are the Vatican Archives, or state papers, and the famous Vatican Library. Founded in the 15th century, the library contains 60,000 manuscripts and is the oldest public library in Europe.

The Vatican Palace also houses many collections of art and other historic pieces. The Museo Pio-Clemen-tino and the Museo Chiaramonti contain classic sculpture of the Roman period and Renaissance imitations. Outstanding examples are the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoon. There are museums of Etruscan and Egyptian objects and also collections of geographic charts, inscriptions, medals, and coins. The Nuova Pinacoteca contains paintings by Renaissance masters and later artists. All of these exhibits are open to the public.

The first Vatican Palace dates from the 13th century, but it was not generally lived in while the Popes were in Avignon, France. In the 15th century, Pope Nicholas V returned to Rome and settled in the Vatican Palace, which he began to enlarge and to enrich with a library. Other early Renaissance Popes, such as Sixtus IV and Alexander VI, built the Sistine Chapel and the Borgia apartments. Julius II, an outstanding patron of the arts, engaged Michelangelo and Raphael to adorn the Vatican. He also collected the ancient sculpture that is now in the Vatican museums. Nearly all the additions to the palace were made in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, although the Popes lived elsewhere during most of that time.


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