Thursday, February 16, 2017

14 odd facts about Vatican City

It’s small, but popular. Picture: AFP/Mario LaportaYOU’RE aware that Vatican City is home to the Pope and serves as the Roman Catholic Church’s HQ. 
You’ve even heard about the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.

Plus, you religiously watch The Young Pope , starring Jude Law

So you know pretty much everything there is to know about the place, right?

Wrong. 

For example, did you know you that no one is a born citizen of the country? 

Or that it has the highest wine consumption in the world, and it’s said to have the highest crime rate (though those two things aren’t correlated)?

These behind-the-scenes tidbits will enlighten you for your next trip here — or at the very least, give you the tools you need for your next trivia night.

1. Vatican City is the smallest country in the world

Vatican City takes the title for several superlatives — some claim it houses the world’s most famous artwork, others say it’s the world’s most spiritual place for Catholics. 

But there’s one thing that’s unarguable and that’s that it’s the world’s smallest country.

The independent city-state covers about 44 hectares. That’s smaller than Sydney’s Centennial Park, at 189 hectares. With about 842 residents, it also happens to be the smallest country by population.

But don’t let its size fool you — it has its own post office (and stamps for that matter), railway station, radio station, flag, and anthem. 

It operates media outlets and issues passports. 

It even mints its own euros (coins are embossed with the Pope’s head). 

That’s about the size of it.

2. It’s younger than you think

Sure, the Catholic Church has been around for a long, long time, but that doesn’t hold true for Vatican City. 

In fact, the Italian country only came into existence in 1929 with the signing of the Lateran Treaty, which recognised it as an independent state.

Interestingly, it was Benito Mussolini, the head of the Italian government at the time, who signed on the dotted line to make things official.

3. It’s the only country on the UNESCO World Heritage site list

Italy might have the most UNESCO listings than any country, but Vatican City is the only full country designated as a UNESCO site. 

It made the cut in 1984.

Tip: Get your passport stamped for future proof that you visited the destination that holds this kind of claim to fame.

4. No one is a born citizen of the country

It takes more than being born in Vatican City (or having parents that were born here) to become a citizen. You — quite literally — have to work for it. Here, citizenship is not guaranteed by birth, but appointed to those who are employed in the city-state (think: cardinals and members for the Swiss Guard).

And if that’s not enough pressure, there’s more. If you lose your job, your citizenship is subsequently revoked, and those who aren’t citizens of another country automatically become Italian.

5. Vatican City has the world’s biggest winos

Despite its minuscule population, Vatican City manages to come out on top for having the highest consumption of wine per capita. 

According to recent research conducted by the Wine Institute, an average resident downs 54.26 litres per year.

But there’s an explanation for these impressive numbers — it’s said that large amounts of vino are being distributed during communion. 

Either way, it’s time to up your game, France.

6. The Vatican wasn’t always the Pope’s home base
 
Before setting up shop in Vatican City, popes lived at the Lateran Palace on the opposite side of Rome. 

In 1309, the papal court moved to Avignon in France, and seven popes ruled from there. 

Upon their return to Rome in 1377, the Lateran Palace had been destroyed by a fire, and the papacy moved to the Vatican.

7. The Pope’s bodyguards are all Swiss

Swiss Guard recruits show off their finery at a swearing-in ceremony at the Vatican. Picture: AFP/Christophe Simon
Established in 1506 by Pope Julius II, the Pontifical Swiss Guard is responsible for the Pope’s safety. 

To get this kind of gig, your CV must include the following: Catholic, single, male, between the ages of 19 and 30, at least 174cm tall, and Swiss citizen. Individuals must also have basic Swiss military training.

For the most part, you’ll see them manning checkpoints and partaking in ceremonies, and with bright blue, red, orange, and yellow uniforms, you won’t have any trouble spotting them.

8. With 1.5 crimes per citizen, Vatican City is said to have the highest crime rate in the world

But before you cancel your trip, it’s important to note that the majority of crime that occurs here is petty theft. 

Given the large tourist crowds, Vatican City is a pickpocket and purse-snatcher’s paradise. 

Some argue the rate is high because it does not have a long-term prison.

That’s not to say there are no major crimes. 

In 2007, the Vatican had its first drug-related crime, after a Holy See employee was found in possession of cocaine

And in 1998, a newly appointed commander of the Pope’s Swiss Guard and his wife were murdered in their apartment.

9. The ATMs here speak in Latin

The Vatican Bank is the only one in the world to offer ATMs that address customers in the language. 

Quick tip: when you see “inserito scidulam quaeso ut faciundam cognoscas rationem”, it’s prompting you to insert your card to start. You’re on your own for the rest.

10. The Vatican Secret Archives are not so secret

Since Pope Leo XIII allowed scholars to visit the Vatican’s Secret Archives in 1881, they haven’t been so top secret. 

These days, only accredited researchers and scholars are free to glance at the documents and correspondences that lie within the walls.

And there’s plenty of reading material — the documents span more than 1000 years. 

But don’t expect a leisurely library visit: browsing is prohibited and visitors must specify what they’re searching for from the get-go.

11. St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the world’s largest churches...

...but not everyone who stops by this sacred building comes for spiritual reasons. 

The intricate gold details, marble columns, famous statues, paintings depicting divine beings, and masterpieces from renowned artists like Michelangelo (who built the Basilica’s massive dome) and Bernini are all major draws for tourists. 

Some even choose to climb the 300-plus steps to the top for an unparalleled view of Rome.

In the centre of St. Peter’s Square lies the Egyptian obelisk, an approximately 25-metre structure that was moved to this location in 1586. 

And what lies beneath the surface is just as fascinating — St. Peter’s Basilica sits over several graves, including that of St. Peter, the original Pope.

12. You can see one of the world’s largest art collections here

Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the Vatican Museums house one of the world’s greatest art collections. 

The museums shelter approximately 70,000 works, and 20,000 of them are on display and fighting for a spot your Instagram feed.

About four million visitors show up annually to marvel at highlights like the Michelangelo-painted Sistine Chapel ceiling, Raphael Rooms, and the Museo Pio-Clementino, to name a few.

13. Michelangelo wasn’t thrilled to work on the Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo was in his thirties and working on Pope Julius II’s marble tomb when he was asked to decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. 

Interestingly, he didn’t jump at the opportunity.

In his defence, he considered himself a sculptor, not a painter. 

Still, he accepted the task and spent years crafting the legendary frescoes. 

Even more impressive is the fact that Michelangelo and his team used scaffolding to paint the ceiling while standing up. 

Today, the chapel is where elections for the new pope are held.

14. Wednesdays are your best shot for spotting the Pope

While there are several opportunities for a Pope sighting, every Wednesday around 10.30am, he rides through St. Peter’s Square and addresses the public in many languages, concluding with a blessing for people in the crowd.

Tickets are required, and information about reserving them can be found here

You can then pick up your tickets from a Swiss Guard at the Vatican’s Bronze Doors. 

They also often have extra tickets for those who forgot to reserve a spot. 

It might just be the highlight of your trip.

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