Vatican City is one of Rome’s most famous and impressive destinations. Home to the Pope and world renowned museums, this UNESCO world heritage site receives millions of visitors every year. As popular as it is, there is always more to discover about Vatican City. Read on to learn some surprising facts you might not have known about Rome’s top attraction. 

Entry to the Vatican guarded by a guard dressed in the traditional blue, red, and orange striped uniform.

1. A country within a city 

As the smallest country in the world, Vatican City has a 3.2-km (2-mile) border within the city of Rome, but functions as an independent state. The entire country is about one-eighth the size of New York’s Central Park. The Vatican prints its own stamps and issues its own passports and license plates. With about 1,000 citizens, Vatican City also has the smallest population of any country in the world.

But the Pope’s power extends far beyond The Vatican. His summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, lies 20 km (12 miles) outside of Rome. This 17th century villa holds special status and is considered part of Vatican City, with all the same laws. People can easily access Castel Gandolfo from Rome by a direct train. Take a half-day trip out of the city and enjoy a relaxing stroll in the Papal gardens. The villas are often less busy than the Vatican museums, but house an impressive collection of fascinating artefacts.

Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica

2. A home fit for a king 

Believe it or not, Vatican City is actually a monarchy. This means the Pope is not only the leader of hundreds of millions of Catholics around the world, but also the ruler of a country. The Pope’s home is fittingly called The Apostolic Palace.

The Palace houses the Papal apartments, the Pope’s offices, the magnificent Vatican museums, and has over 1,400 rooms. Michaelangelo’s awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel also lies within The Apostolic Palace. Take a tour with an expert guide and discover more about this renaissance masterpiece. 

Tuorists climb the round ramp inside the Palace in Vatican City.

3. Heaven for book lovers 

Ever wonder what the Pope reads in his spare time? Housing one of the biggest book collections in the world, the Vatican Library is part of the Vatican Museums. The library is notable for featuring the largest archive of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts.

Established in 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV, the library is still used for research and is open to scholars and academics. Over 1.1 million printed books and 75,000 historical manuscripts are held in the library, the oldest dating back to the first century. With so many books, the library has 42 km (26 miles). With the collection growing by about 6,000 books every year, the library may need even more shelves soon. 

Piece of art from the Vatican.

4. Art that goes on for miles

You may have heard of the Vatican’s impressive art collection, but did you know that the Vatican museums go on for 15 km (9 miles)? Pope Julius II founded the museums in the 16th century and they now house one of the world’s most extensive art collections.

At 42,735 m² (460,000 ft²) the Vatican museums form the fifth largest museum in the world. The collection contains everything from ancient Egyptian mummies to modern religious art by Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. Visitors can take in the full scope of this magnificent collection on a guided tour

Picture of the ceiling inside one of the churches of the Vatican

5. Over a century of work 

St. Peter’s Basilica took 120 years to complete. Construction began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626. The basilica covers an area of 23,000 square meters (250,000 square feet) and runs the length of 2 American football fields.

Visitors can climb the 551 steps to the top of the dome designed by Michaelangelo. Reaching the summit is rewarded with a stunning view of the city and St Peter’s Square. Find out more about the basilica’s fascinating history by climbing the dome with an expert guide

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