So, there you are: Standing atop St. Peter’s Basilica looking out as Rome stretches in every direction beneath you. Or, wait, maybe that’s Vatican City. Let’s back up: What exactly is the difference between Vatican City and the city of Rome? And how did this difference come to be?
First, Some History
From the 8th century until the 18th century, the country that is now Italy was home to numerous Papal States — territories under the direct rule of the Pope. However, things changed with Italian Unification (1815–1871). This was essentially an attempt to make Italy a unified country instead of a group of loosely affiliated, self-governing territories, city-states and minor kingdoms.
Vatican City was the only Papal State not seized as part of the unification, even though Rome itself was annexed and made capital by the new Italian Kingdom in 1870. From 1870 until 1929, the Pope maintained secular authority over the Vatican. During this time, the Popes overseeing Vatican City asserted that the Italian king had no right to rule Rome. In fact, to avoid looking like they recognized the kings’ right to rule, Popes during these years refused to leave the Vatican.
Then, in 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed. This agreement established Vatican City as an independent entity within Rome. Although Vatican City does have some characteristics of an independent nation, such as the ability to print its own money, it isn’t entirely equivalent to a typical country. For example, no one is ever born with Vatican citizenship. Instead, citizenship is issued only to those with an official purpose (the citizenship of the country is made up almost entirely of three groups: clergy, members of the Swiss Guard and diplomats).
On the other hand, the rest of Rome is just a typical city that is part of the sovereign nation of Italy. And there you have it: Vatican City versus the Eternal City.
But while we’re discussing Vatican City…
Did You Know (Vatican City Edition)
- Vatican City consumes more wine than any other country in the world. Statistics show that a citizen of Vatican City drinks about 74 liters of wine each year.
- Every citizen of Vatican City is Catholic. In fact, Catholic clergy accounts for approximately 72% of the population.
- About 18 million people visit Vatican City each year. Rome, on the other hand, sees about 10 million tourists each year. Something’s fishy here because visitors have to enter Rome to visit the Vatican City. Unless, of course, 8 million tourists a year are entering the Vatican via helicopter…
- The crime rate in Vatican City is low: It averages less than one crime per capita each year.
- Vatican City owns a telescope in the United States so it can conduct astronomical research without the interference of light pollution from Rome.
- St. Peter’s Basilica stands atop a burial ground said to contain St. Peter’s body.