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Vatican City, officially called the State of Vatican City or Vatican City State, is situated within the borders of the city of Rome. It is the smallest city in the world by population as well as by area. It is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchial state, meaning it is a theocracy, and is ruled by the Pope, who is also known as the Bishop of Rome. It is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican is home to numerous religious sites including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, which was built in the 4th century on top of the grave of St. Peter.

The name is derived from Vatican Hill, which is the geographic locality of the Vatican and is mentioned as such in the founding documents of the nation. The name Vatican dates back to the Roman Republic, which was in existence prior to the birth of Christ. It was the name for a swampy area located on the west bank of the Tiber River across from Rome where Agrippina the Elder, mother of the Emperor Caligula, had her gardens in the 1st century. It was later the site of Nero's Circus, often called Caligula's Circus, which was a place where many Christians were martyred after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. Tradition is that St. Peter was crucified upside down there. Also in the area was a burial place, full of small tombs, monuments, and altars to pagans and other gods from before the Constantinian Basilica of St. Peter's -- or the "Old St. Peter's Basilica" -- was built in the first part of the 4th century. The Basilica was the beginning of the construction of the rest of Vatican City.

Originally, the papal capital was in Rome, which is where, among other things, all popes lived. In 1309, the Avignon Papacy began when the papal court was moved to Avignon, France, where it remained through the tenures of seven popes, all French, before Gregory XI moved the court, and the papal residence, back to Rome. After the move, the beginning of the "Western Schism" began with two "antipopes," Clement XII and Benedict III, claiming the papacy and remaining in Avignon, until Benedict was expelled in 1408. The town remained a possession of the papacy until 1791.

The Catholic Church governed the Papal States from the 8th century until 1870, Rome became part of the Italian Kingdom. The states, which were located over most of the Italian Peninsula, were seized by the Kingdom of Italy shortly after its creation in 1861, and the Pope was left with no territory at all; not even Rome or the Vatican. While the Pope continued to fulfill his duties with no disruption on the grounds of the Vatican, he considered himself to be imprisoned.

In 1929, Benito Mussolini, King Victor Emmanuel III, and the Cardinal Secretary of State for Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty which recognized the full sovereignty of the Holy See, which refers not to the physical locality of Vatican City but to the spiritual and pastoral governance of the Pope, in the State of Vatican City and concordat, which is a connection between the Holy See and a sovereign state which defines the relationship between the Church and the state. The treaty laid out the independence of Vatican City and reaffirmed the Catholic Church's special status in Italy.

The current Pope is the ex officio head of state, and his official title vis-a-vis his position in Vatican City is Sovereign of the State of Vatican City. The small country has no armed forces of its own, though the personal security of the Pope is seen to by the Swiss Guard, which is the military arm of the Holy See. The Vatican recruits unmarried Catholic men between the ages of 19 and 30 who are at least5 feet 9 inches tall. The starting annual salary for a private in the Swiss Guard is roughly €15,600, or $18,400 USD.

During World War II, the Vatican declared its neutrality under Pope Pius XII. While the German army occupied Rome, they did respect Vatican City as neutral territory.

The Vatican has its own post office and issues stamps. In fact, the nation's economy is supported by the sale of postage stamps, admission fees to museums, tourist moments, and the sale of books and other publications.

The Vatican Obelisk, relocated in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V to Saint Peter's Square, had once belonged to Caligula, who took it from Egypt's Heliopolis in order to decorate his own circus. The obelisk stands over 83 feet tall without its base and just shy of 150 feet high when the base is included. It is the last vestige of the Circus to grace the Vatican.

 

 

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