Did you know one of our co-founders is a licensed Vatican tour guide? Home of the Vatican Museums, Vatican City is considered its own country apart from Rome. So, when was Vatican City built? In this detailed account from a guide himself, learn about the construction of Vatican City and how it has become the incredible attraction it is today.
In this blog, we’ll explain:
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Frequently Asked Vatican Questions
As an official tour guide of the Vatican, I get asked many interesting questions that range from the silly to quite deep. Some examples?
- “Are those pagan statues around St.Peter’s Church”
- “Is this where they crucified Jesus” (Sistine Chapel)
- “Was Michelangelo autistic”
- “Is that a half of a uterus God is flying in on?” (Sistine Chapel, Creation of Adam)
The Vatican Museums can have up to 30,000 visitors a day in high season. Most visitors are either art-history nerds ( like myself), people who enjoy art or simply people who were told that the museums are a must-see. After the museums, they go and visit St. Peters Basilica and that is usually the end of their Vatican adventure. What most people fail to realize is that the Vatican is the oldest continuous organization on the planet. Let’s get our history glasses on…
Why is it Called The Vatican?
The name “Vatican” goes back to pre-Christian times when the name of the hill was called Mons Vaticanus ( Vatican Hill). As the legend goes in 64 AD St.Peter was crucified upside down around the area where the church rises today. His remains stayed in this area in a necropolis where both Christians and Pagans were buried, until the emperor Constantine came along and built the first basilica over where the remains of St. Peter were said to be buried. This was the 3rd century and the beginning of Christianity dominating the Roman Empire.
Why was Vatican City Built?
During the Middle Ages, life wasn’t so good in Rome (or anywhere else for that matter). A testament to how bad life actually was are all the huge brick towers you can still see around Rome today. Noble families lived in these cold, dark towers to protect themselves from other families. It was so bad, that even a wall was built around the area of the Vatican to protect the popes.
You can still see a piece of this early wall if you walk through the left colonnade of St. Peter’s Square with your back facing the church. A huge wall that contains the famous “passetto” or secret passageway built for the popes to be able to escape their Palace and run to the fortress Castel San Angelo for protection.
The Vatican During the Renaissance Period
The true glory of Vatican City occurred during the Renaissance period. However, it was not called the Vatican City at this time. That’s because the “Vatican” was also ruler not only of Rome, but the so-called Papal States which varied in size, but let’s just say the entire central part of Italy was ruled by the pope. How did he come to rule this huge area? That’s for another time and another blog, but sufficient to say that the pope wielded huge amounts of power back in the day as a temporal leader, even raising entire armies and conquering neighboring cities.
When Was Vatican City Recognized as Its Own State?
All of this came to an end towards the end of the 19th century. Italy wanted to unite as a country and not a mix of different republics and kingdoms. Rome was overtaken by generals and soldiers of the “Risorgimento” or uprising and the pope, defeated, retreated to within the walls of what we now consider the “Vatican City.” But it didn’t end there–the Vatican City was not recognized as a real state until 1929 with the Lateran treaty. During that accord, anything within the Vatican Walls were considered Sovereign property of the Holy See, plus a few buildings outside of the walls.
Vatican City Facts
Population: The population today is about 800 with 450 people holding an actual Vatican City passport.
Vatican City Flag: They have their own flag, which is yellow and white with the keys of St. Peter and papal tiara on the white side.
License plates: If you happen to be in Rome and see a license plate that starts with SCV (Status Civitatis Vaticanae), then you know it belongs to the Vatican State.
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