14 Facts About The Vatican That Made Us Say 'Really?'

Voting Rules
Vote up the most "holy" surprising facts about the Vatican.

The Vatican, Vatican City, the Holy See, the Papacy - all terms used to describe the micro-state located in the middle of Rome. With so many names, it's no wonder the Vatican is intriguing - and a bit baffling. 

Facts about the Vatican help clarify where distinctions among these words and phrases - where they exist - but are equally likely to leave one even more confused. There are traditions and rules at the Vatican that seem very foreign, as well as artifacts and practices that prove to be truly fascinating. Home to museums, religious buildings, and the inner-workings of the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican City also has an infrastructure that allows for its autonomy and unique status on the global stage.

Vatican facts about the ins and outs of the territory - everything from what it's like to live there to where you can hear some Latin - serve as reminders of its long history and its relationship with modernity. Vote up the facts that give you some insight into the mysterious Vatican organization and the land it calls home.

  • The Pope Is Protected By A Mercenary Army Called The Swiss Guard
    Photo: Przemek Pietrak / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
    531 VOTES

    The Pope Is Protected By A Mercenary Army Called The Swiss Guard

    Vatican City has its own police force, called the Corps of the Gendarmerie, and a fire brigade, but the Pope himself is protected by the "world's smallest army" - the Swiss Guard. The origins of the Swiss Guard serving as a security force for the papacy trace to the 16th century when Pope Julius II made an alliance with the Swiss Confederation. In 1506, 150 guards began protecting the pontiff, although the number of Swiss Guards has changed through history. In 2015, there were 135 Swiss Guards in the Vatican.

    To become a member of the Swiss Guard, individuals must be male, Swiss, and Catholic; be between 19 and 30 years old; and be at least 5'8" tall. Terms in the Swiss Guard last a minimum of two years, during which the troops wear the traditional yellow, red, and blue uniforms while on duty. Swiss Guards are stoic, professional, and steeped in tradition - but armed with swords, tear gas, and firearms as well.

    531 votes
  • 2
    403 VOTES

    Citizenship Is Extremely Exclusive And Involves Neither Residency Nor Birth

    The population of the Vatican hovers around 800 individuals annually. To become a citizen of Vatican City, however, one must either be a member of the clergy, a part of the diplomatic staff, or one of the Swiss Guards. While the Swiss Guard resides in the Vatican, clergy members with citizenship may serve in countries around the world. 

    Once an individual leaves the employ of the Vatican, however, citizenship comes to an end as well. 

    Many women receive citizenship by marriage - specifically the wives of Swiss Guards, but nuns may also be citizens. As of 2018, there were 32 women citizens of Vatican City. During the same year, there was only one pet dog on record.

    403 votes
  • Vatican City Didn't Exist Until Mussolini Sign An Order Creating It As A Sovereign State
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    329 VOTES

    Vatican City Didn't Exist Until Mussolini Sign An Order Creating It As A Sovereign State

    The Papal States, arguably, were established during the 8th century, and saw the temporal and spiritual authority of the pope (as well as its boundaries) ebb and flow through 1870. By the late 19th century, a recently unified Italy controlled the papal states and, until 1929, popes essentially considered themselves prisoners at the Vatican.

    After Benito Mussolini seized power and declared himself dictator of Italy during the 1920s, he met with representatives from the Catholic Church to bring an end to what had become known as the "Roman Question."

    In February 1929, the Church and the Italian government signed the Lateran Treaty. Within the document, the Vatican became an independent state with the pope as its ruler. In return, the Papacy recognized Italy as a country and Rome as its capital city.

    After the Lateran Treaty was signed, an announcement was released:

    The Holy See considers that with the Agreements signed today it possesses the guarantees necessary to provide due liberty and independence to the spiritual government of the dioceses of Rome and of the Catholic Church in Italy and the whole world. It declares the Roman question definitely and irrevocably settled, and therefore eliminated, and recognizes the Kingdom of Italy under the dynasty of the House of Savoy, with Rome as the capital of the Italian State. Italy, on its side, recognizes the State of the Vatican City under the sovereignty of the Supreme Pontiff.

    329 votes
  • The Vatican Has Its Own Railway System
    Photo: Reinhard Dietrich / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    339 VOTES

    The Vatican Has Its Own Railway System

    Opened to the public in 2014, the Vatican Railway is less than a mile long. Built between 1929 and 1934, to move popes from a railway station inside Vatican City walls to one in Rome, but became more of a freight transport network with time. 

    According to the Holy See, the Vatican Railway Station was constructed out of marble "in anticipation of having to host popes and personalities," while the railway track itself runs through several tunnels, traversing curves and slopes alike. 

    339 votes
  • The Vatican Observatory Has A Research Center In Arizona
    Photo: Andromeda321 / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    326 VOTES

    The Vatican Observatory Has A Research Center In Arizona

    Building on centuries of astronomical study, Pope Leo XIII formally founded the Vatican Observatory in 1891. Based at Castel Gandolfo near Rome, the Vatican Observatory supports a major research center in conjunction with the University of Arizona, Tuscon. 

    At the facility, the Vatican Observatory Research Group operates the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) (collectively made up of the Alice P. Lennon Telescope and the Thomas J. Bannan Astrophysics Facility.)

    The VATT is located atop Mt. Graham and much of the research team is composed of Jesuit astronomers. 

    326 votes
  • 6
    273 VOTES

    As The Smallest Country In The World, The Vatican Is A Mere Fraction Of The Size Of Central Park In NYC

    Vatican City is the smallest independent state in the world, spanning just under .20 square miles. That's roughly 109 acres, about one-eighth the size of Central Park in New York City. Central Park is 840 acres. 

    Vatican City is nearly five times smaller than the second smallest independent state, Monaco, and includes less land than the National Mall in Washington D.C. Vatican City does, however, exceed the original size of Disneyland Park in California, which was only 60 acres in 1955 (there were an additional 100 acres allotted for the parking lot) and is comparable to Tiananmen Square in China (100 acres in size).

    273 votes