Vatican City , or Vatican City State, in Italian officially Stato della Città del Vaticano, is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. It has an area of approximately , and a population of just over 800. This makes Vatican City the smallest independent state in the world by both area and population.
Vatican City was established as an independent state in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty, signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri, on behalf of Pope Pius XI and by Prime Minister and Head of Government Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Vatican City State is distinct from the Holy See, which dates back to early Christianity and is the main episcopal see of 1.2 billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the globe. Ordinances of Vatican City are published in Italian; official documents of the Holy See are issued mainly in Latin. The two entities have distinct passports: the Holy See, not being a country, issues only diplomatic and service passports, whereas Vatican City State issues normal passports. In each case very few passports are issued.
The Lateran Treaty in 1929, which brought the city-state into existence, spoke of it as a new creation (Preamble and Article III), not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870) that had previously encompassed much of central Italy. Most of this territory was absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy in 1860, and the final portion, namely the city of Rome with Lazio, ten years later, in 1870.
Vatican City is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state, ruled by the Bishop of Rome—the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergymen of various national origins. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See (Sancta Sedes) and the location of the Pope's residence, referred to as the Apostolic Palace.
The Popes have generally resided in the area that in 1929 became Vatican City since the return from Avignon in 1377, but have also at times resided in the Quirinal Palace in Rome and elsewhere. Previously, they resided in the Lateran Palace on the Caelian Hill on the far side of Rome from the Vatican. Emperor Constantine gave this site to Pope Miltiades in 313. The signing of the agreements that established the new state took place in the latter building, giving rise to the name of Lateran Pacts, by which they are known.
In this originally uninhabited area (the ager vaticanus) on the opposite side of the Tiber from the city of Rome, Agrippina the Elder (14 BC – 18 October AD 33) drained the hill and environs and built her gardens in the early 1st century AD. Emperor Caligula (31 August AD 12–24 January AD 41; r. 37–41) started construction of a circus (AD 40) that was later completed by Nero, the Circus Gaii et Neronis, usually called, simply, the Circus of Nero. In AD 69, the Year of the Four Emperors, when the northern army that brought Aulus Vitellius to power arrived in Rome, "a large proportion camped in the unhealthy districts of the Vatican, which resulted in many deaths among the common soldiery; and the Tiber being close by, the inability of the Gauls and Germans to bear the heat and the consequent greed with which they drank from the stream weakened their bodies, which were already an easy prey to disease".
The Vatican obelisk was originally taken by Caligula from Heliopolis, Egypt to decorate the spina of his circus and is thus its last visible remnant. This area became the site of martyrdom of many Christians after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. Ancient tradition holds that it was in this circus that Saint Peter was crucified upside-down.
Opposite the circus was a cemetery separated by the Via Cornelia. Funeral monuments and mausoleums and small tombs as well as altars to pagan gods of all kinds of polytheistic religions were constructed lasting until before the construction of the Constantinian Basilica of St. Peter's in the first half of the 4th century. Remains of this ancient necropolis were brought to light sporadically during renovations by various popes throughout the centuries increasing in frequency during the Renaissance until it was systematically excavated by orders of Pope Pius XII from 1939 to 1941.
In 326, the first church, the Constantinian basilica, was built over the site that early Roman Catholic apologists (from the first century on) as well as noted Italian archaeologists argue was the tomb of Saint Peter, buried in a common cemetery on the spot. From then on the area started to become more populated, but mostly only by dwelling houses connected with the activity of St. Peter's. A palace was constructed near the site of the basilica as early as the 5th century during the pontificate of Pope Symmachus (reigned 498–514).
Popes in their secular role gradually came to govern neighbouring regions and, through the Papal States, ruled a large portion of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid 19th century, when all of the territory of the Papal States was seized by the newly created Kingdom of Italy. For much of this time the Vatican was not the habitual residence of the Popes, but rather the Lateran Palace, and in recent centuries, the Quirinal Palace, while the residence from 1309–77 was at Avignon in France.
In 1870, the Pope's holdings were left in an uncertain situation when Rome itself was annexed by the Piedmont-led forces which had united the rest of Italy, after a nominal resistance by the papal forces. Between 1861 and 1929 the status of the Pope was referred to as the "Roman Question". The successive Popes were undisturbed in their palace, and certain prerogatives recognized by the Law of Guarantees, including the right to send and receive ambassadors. But the Popes did not recognise the Italian king's right to rule in Rome, and they refused to leave the Vatican compound until the dispute was resolved in 1929. Other states continued to maintain international recognition of the Holy See as a sovereign entity.
In practice Italy made no attempt to interfere with the Holy See within the Vatican walls. However, they confiscated church property in many other places, including, perhaps most notably, the Quirinal Palace, formerly the pope's official residence. Pope Pius IX (1846–78), the last ruler of the Papal States, claimed that after Rome was annexed he was a "Prisoner in the Vatican".
This situation was resolved on 11 February 1929, when the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy was signed by Prime Minister and Head of Government Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III and by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri for Pope Pius XI. The treaty, which became effective on 7 June 1929, established the independent state of Vatican City and reaffirmed the special status of Roman Catholicism in Italy.
World War II
Vatican City officially pursued a policy of neutrality during World War II, under the leadership of Pope Pius XII. Although the city of Rome was occupied by Germany from 1943 and the Allies from 1944, Vatican City itself was not occupied. One of Pius XII's main diplomatic priorities was to prevent the bombing of Rome; so sensitive was the pontiff that he protested even the British air dropping of pamphlets over Rome, claiming that the few landing within the city-state violated the Vatican's neutrality. Before the American entry into the war, there was little impetus for such a bombing, as the British saw little strategic value in it.
After the American entry, the US opposed such a bombing, fearful of offending Catholic members of its military forces, while the British then supported it. Pius XII similarly advocated for the declaration of Rome as an "open city", but this occurred only on 14 August 1943, after Rome had already been bombed twice. Although the Italians consulted the Vatican on the wording of the open city declaration, the impetus for the change had little to do with the Vatican.