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10 Interesting Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Vatican City

Many places throughout the world are filled with much wonder and mystery. The places can be in mountains, forests, and even enormous cities. Our planet is indeed a remarkable place with so many exciting locations. And most of its beauty is still a mystery to most of its people. But some tend to peak one’s curiosity more than others. One of these places is known by many, but many things about it are unknown to the masses. This gem of a place is known as Vatican City in Rome.

Vatican City is very rich in heritage and culture. It’s history dates back very far meaning there are some truly unique things to witness if one was ever to travel there. Many significant and impactful historical events that shaped the world occurred on its soil. The destination in Europe is mostly known for being the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and for being home to a lot of Cardinals as well as the Pope himself. But there is much more to this historic city-state than most people know. Of its many wonders and secrets here are ten things that most people do not know about Vatican City.

It is the Smallest Country in the World

Vatican City

For those that have the luxury of going to Rome, the Vatican City is a glorious sight to behold. This place is full of many amazing things. But is Vatican City part of Rome? No, it is not. It is, in fact, a city-state that governs itself as its own nation. And if you were wondering who runs the infamous religious kingdom, it is the Pope who is in charge of the show. The term city may not be the most accurate word to use to describe the home of the Vatican. While most people think this being a large city, it is actually one of the smallest countries in the world.

As a matter of fact, it is the smallest country in the world. The independent city-state covers just about 100 acres, which is roughly about one-eighth the size of Central Park in New York City. The smallest country is encircled by a 2-mile border with the European country of Italy. As far as the government is concerned for the smallest country in the world, it is an absolute monarchy run by the pope. They do everything in this small metropolis from printing their own Euros to making their own passports. And it makes sense that the country with the title of smallest in all the world would make most of its revenue off of tourism because it does.[1]

The Vatican Observatory Operates a Telescope in the United States

The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), Mount Graham, Arizona, US

Science and religion have had quite opposing views throughout history, and it is safe to say the church has never been the biggest fan of individuals in that area. That being said, it doesn’t mean those that work within the Vatican do not want a very good, let’s say, state of the art view of the stars and beyond. Well, they actually do and have operated a telescope in Rome for some time. But certain factors have caused this zoomed given the skies o become a bit hazy.

Light pollution from the expansion of Rome made it extremely difficult for those working with the Vatican Observatory to do their job. This giant eye into the cosmos was located about 15 miles from the city near the papal residence within Castel Gandolfo. So to be able to view the stars and all the wonders of space without all of the haze and interference, the Vatican decided to open up shop in Tuscon Arizona. The second research center for the papacy was established in 1981. This state of the art telescope is located at the top of mount Graham which can be found in southeast Arizona.[2]

St. Peter’s Basilica is on Top of a City of the Dead

St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica

Visitors to the great Vatican City will find it a place full of life that has much to offer those who enjoy traveling the world. The city is full of hope and wonders for anyone new to its streets. But what they may not realize when they walk these lively streets is that they may be stepping over a city of the dead. St. Peter’s Basilica sits on top of this massive set of catacombs, which also is supposedly where the final resting place of St. Peter himself is said to exist.

In Pagan times a Roman Necropolis stood on top of Vatican hill. Then came a great fire which leveled much of Rome back in 64 A.D. Emperor Nero blamed the Christians which lead to many of them being burned at stake, being crucified, and being ripped apart by wild beasts. Among the victims were St. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ as well as the first Bishop of Rome. Later, when Christianity as recognized in Rome by way of Emperor Constantine, around the fourth century, the original basilica was constructed atop the burial ground with St. Peter’s Tomb in the center. The present basilica was built in the 1500s.[3]

The Vatican Bank is the Most Secret Bank in the Whole World

The Vatican Bank

Anyone that went to church remembers that collection plate getting past around. Some people would put twenty dollar bills in and others would put a few singles in. Then some would just be able to throw in some loose change because no amount is too small when it comes to charity. Now those funds were used to help the needy and the church continue to operate. But it appears that there exists a bank in the Vatican. This bank is not only very secretive, but it is also one of the largest financial institutions in the entire world.

When people think of large banking institutions, they think of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. To put it into perspective for those that aren’t that savvy on the world of big banking, How it is determined who is the biggest kid on the block is measured in assets. JP Morgan has an estimated $2 trillion in assets. The Vatican Bank has an estimated value of $8 billion in assets. It has over 30,000 accounts in a financial distribution network existing in more than 100 countries.[4]

Caligula Obtained the Obelisk in St. Peter’s Square

St. Peter’s Square - Vatican City

There are many sites to see when someone travels to the great Vatican City. Whether it is the historic tombs or churches, there are many beautiful things to see. But every place has the one spot most people can’t miss on any trip. And in Vatican City, arguably it can be said that this is the obelisk in St. Peter’s square. A magnificent piece of history that continues to stand tall to this day.

The Roman Emperor Caligula was the man who captured the obelisk that stands in St Peter’s Square. There was an amphitheater at the base of Vatican Hill that was part of a small circus Caligula had orchestrated that the great emperor thought needed something to crown the center of it. So the great leader had a pylon that originally stood in Heliopolis brought to Rome all the way from Egypt. The 3000-year-old obelisk weighed more than 350 tons. It was moved in 1586 to its current location in St. Peter’s square. It is also a sundial.[5]

Popes Escaped Through a Secret Passageway in the Past


It is no secret that throughout history many individuals utilizing castles or massive strongholds would have secret passageways intertwined into the structure always to have an escape plan. This is also the case somewhere within the many walls and beneath the many streets of one Vatican City. Yes, the city known for its history and culture is also filled with some potentially serious trap door action as wells presumably some fake walls that lead to tunnels all over that place. Maybe it’s not that elaborate, but in its long run, there has been some that have had to use the secret pathways as there only means of survival.

Several times during the history of the Vatican, Popes were forced to escape through a secret passage. A half mile long covered passageway called the Passetto di Borgo was made to connect the Vatican to the Castel Sant’Angelo, a fortified place by the banks of the Tiber River. This notably saved the life of Pope Clement VII in 1527 when Rome was sacked. The Swiss Guard sacrificed many and held back the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his forces giving Clement just enough time to reach safety.[6]

The Swiss Guard Was Initially Hired as a Mercenary Force

Swiss Guard Vatican city

Like many great places with many precious things to protect, security is the name of the game, especially when you are home to one of the leaders of one of the largest religions in the world. So when it comes to protecting the pope, there is an elite guard standing watch. Like the Whitehouse has the secret service and the airport has the TSA, Vatican City has the Swiss Guard. But what most people don’t realize about these guardians is that they were initially hired as a mercenary force.

The recognizable members of the Swiss Guard have been on the job since 1506. Pope Julius II hired one of the Swiss mercenary forces that European courts of the time were regularly hiring for protection. The Swiss Guard’s role was the same as it is now which is to protect the pope. This force compromised entirely of Swiss citizens may look like an oddly dressed soldier, but in actuality, they are very well trained.[7]

Until the 14th Century, Popes Didn’t Live at the Vatican


If anyone ever needs to find a pope the obvious place would be to check the Vatican. But that has not always been the case. The idea of a pope not living within the sacred walls of Vatican City sounds kind of crazy. It is very hard to believe, but up until a certain point, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church had a different zip code. Up until the 14th century, Popes did not live at the Vatican.

Popes primarily lived at the Lateran Palace across Rome. The court was eventually moved altogether in 1309 to Avignon France after a French pope was elected with the help of King Philip IV. Seven popes ran the show from Avignon up until 1377. The Vatican had already started to be a papal residence and the fact that the Lateran Palace had burned down, it seemed like a solid spot to set up shop.[8]

Many Scandals Have Rocked the Vatican

Pope Francis

The Church is no stranger to controversy in its long history. From major cities to rural communities there have been some nasty things that have gone down and some treacherous acts that have resulted in many terrible deeds. While the history books are full of some questionable acts and moves by some of the people behind it all, some shenanigans have happened in the Vatican’s own backyard. There have been many scandals that have rocked the Vatican and many of which are quite interesting, to say the least.

There are several to recount, but some truly stand out amongst the rest when it comes to the dirty secrets of the Vatican. Pope John XII had affairs with married women, invoked demons and mutilated men. In 1869 details of a secret meeting where Pope Pius IX had talked about the influence of rationalism, liberalism, and materialism was published in a German paper. In 2010 there was a gay sex ring involving two of Pope Benedict XVI’s aides. And let us of course not forget about the Vatileaks scandal of 2012.[9]

Benito Mussolini Signed Into Existence Vatican City

Benito Mussolini Signed Into Existence Vatican City

The last person an individual would think of that helped the Vatican establish itself as its own governing body would be a World War II general who was an ally of Adolf Hitler. The place that is the worldwide go-to for people of the Catholic Religion was signed into existence by one Benito Mussolini. Il Duce, as he was called by his countrymen, is responsible for the city-state to be running itself.

In 1929 the dispute between the Catholic Church and the Italian government had come to an end which resulted in the Lateran Pacts being signed. This allowed the Vatican to operate as its own sovereign state. Basically, it gave them the right to exist on their own. On behalf of King Victor Emmanuel II, Benito Mussolini signed the pact as head of the Italian government. They also received a sum that would be equal to $1 billion today for the Papal States in the deal.[10]

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