How is the Vatican City governed


The Vatican city is the smallest independent state in the world. It is located within the urban area of ​​Rome, Italy, and has an area of ​​0.44 km² and 836 inhabitants (2012). The Vatican City includes St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, as well as the palaces and gardens within the Vatican walls.


Until the 14th century, the official seat of the Popes was not the Vatican, but the Lateran Palace. "Vatican" initially referred to a hill in Rome on the right bank of the Tiber (mons vaticanus). In ancient times, the circus of Emperor Nero was located there, in which martyrdoms and executions of numerous Christians and Jews are said to have taken place. To the north of the circus was a small cemetery where the apostle Peter was supposedly buried. A little later the first church was built there, and in the 4th century Emperor Constantine had a large church of the Holy Sepulcher built in its place - St. Peter. The Vatican thus became the central place of pilgrimage for the veneration of Peter. In the following centuries, more buildings arose on the hill, especially so-called scholae, which offered pilgrims of different nationalities accommodation, chapels and cemeteries, but also had fortifications. Under Leo IV, larger fortifications were built around the entire pilgrimage site in the middle of the 9th century (Leostadt).

The Pope's cathedral, however, remained the Lateran Basilica. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the popes rose to rulers over their own state ("Papal State"), citing the so-called "Constantinian donation". In 751 this state was finally guaranteed to them by the Pippin donation.

Only at the end of the 14th century with the end of the schism and the return of the Popes from Avignon (1377) did the Vatican Hill become the papal seat of government, the location of the Roman Curia and thus the center of the Papal States and the Catholic Church as a whole. After the schism, the newly won unity of the church was to be made clear through large building projects. The Vatican at the gates of Rome offered not only the proximity to the presumed bones of Peter but also sufficient undeveloped space. In the middle of the 15th century, Nicholas V in particular drew up huge building plans, which were only partially implemented under him and his successors. Partly planned, partly for pragmatic reasons, churches, chapels, administrative buildings, fortifications, accommodations and other structures were built on the Vatican Hill in the following centuries. In 1506 construction began on St. Peter's Basilica. In 1589 Sixtus V commissioned the construction of the Apostolic Palace, which still contains the Pope's apartment and important administrative organs. St. Peter's Basilica was inaugurated in 1626, but the final construction lasted until 1650. Shortly afterwards, St. Peter's Square was also given its present form.

Parallel to the expansion of the Vatican, the territory of the Papal States expanded. Until the 19th century it extended over what is now central Italy, but in 1798 in the course of the French Revolution the area was declared a republic, and in 1808 the territories were incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. However, the Congress of Vienna restored the Papal States.

In the course of the Italian unification, the papal state was occupied by King Victor Emmanuel II in 1870. The status of the Vatican City was initially unclear, but de facto the rule of the Catholic Church remained in it, so that from 1870 the ecclesiastical administrative bodies from the rest of the Papal States concentrated in the Vatican City. During this time, the structural and institutional isolation from the rest of Rome developed. It was not until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 between Pope Pius XI. and the Italian state re-established the papal state as a sovereign state. According to these contracts, however, it only includes the area around St. Peter's Basilica, which is bounded by a wall.


The state of the Vatican City is under the authority of the Holy See (under international law another sovereign but non-state subject under international law), the head of state is the Pope. Certain possessions of the Holy See in and around Rome have extraterritorial status according to the Lateran Treaties, but are not part of Vatican territory. The Swiss Guard and the Vatican Gendarmerie Corps are responsible for the security of the state.

As head of state, the Pope has the abundance of legislative, executive and judicial powers (Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law of the Vatican State). Except in cases in which the Pope wishes to reserve a decision for himself or for particular members of the government, the Cardinals Commission governs, the members of which are elected for a term of five years and whose head is the Cardinal Secretary. During the sedis vacancy, i.e. the period between the death of the Pope and the election of his successor, the College of Cardinals has all the powers of the Pope, whereby the primary task is of course to organize the papal election, which takes place in the so-called conclave. This must begin no later than 20 days after the death of the Pope. In 2012 Benedict XVI. An additional clause stipulates that the election of the Pope can begin as soon as all cardinals eligible to vote (i.e. those under the age of 80) are present in the Vatican. Statutory provisions issued by the College of Cardinals during the Sedis vacancy are only permissible in urgent cases, and their effectiveness is limited to the duration of the Sedis vacancy, unless they are confirmed by the newly elected Pope in accordance with the provisions of canon law.

The judiciary consists of a court of first instance, a court of appeal and a court of cassation. Judgments are made in the name of the Pope. According to the constitution, this person has the right to intervene comprehensively in any criminal or civil matter and in any phase. He can, for example, delegate decision-making authority in a process to a special body or to himself. In such cases, legal remedies are no longer permitted.

As a rule, the State of Vatican City does not establish diplomatic relations with other states, but leaves this to the Holy See. He is therefore not a member of the United Nations (while the Holy See enjoys permanent observer status).

The Vatican citizenship is only granted temporarily and is linked to a function. It never replaces “natural” citizenship. It is awarded to senior members of the Curia, members of the Swiss Guard and all cardinals living in the Vatican or Rome, as well as those who live permanently in the city of Leo with the special permission of the Pope. A good 40 percent of the Vatican citizens do not stay in the city, however. They are the papal envoys and nuncios, who also receive Vatican citizenship for the duration of their office.



On the territory of the Vatican City are among others:

St. Peter's Basilica: At the place where, according to tradition, St. Peter is buried, the first St. Peter's Church was built at the beginning of the 4th century and consecrated by Pope Silvester I in 326. It was a five-aisled basilica of the type we see in St. Paul Outside the Walls.
In the 15th century, especially after the exile of the Popes in Avignon, this church had lost its splendor and had become dilapidated. In 1452 Pope Nicholas V called for donations for the construction of a new church. The construction dragged on for more than 150 years. All the important architects of the Renaissance and Baroque were involved: Bramante, Raffael, Baldassare Peruzzi, Giuliano Sangallo, Antonio Sangallo, Michelangelo, Vingola, Giaccomo della Porta, Domenico Fontana, Carlo Maderno and, most recently, Bernini. Nevertheless, the church works as a harmonious whole.

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Square: Here the Pope celebrates mass on solemn festivals in front of a hundred thousand people in the open air. From the balcony in the middle of the facade of St. Peter's Church he then gives the blessing "Urbi and Orbi"The newly elected Pope is also presented to the faithful here.
Nevertheless, St. Peter's Square is only an "emergency solution" - but a successful one thanks to Bernini's ingenuity. With the trapezoidal design of the so-called Piazza Retta, Bernini managed to take the weight off the broad facade of St. Peter's Basilica. Because the actual - oval - St. Peter's Square is far away from the church, the effect of the dome of the St. Peter's Church is restored, because if you stand close in front of the church, you cannot see the dome.

St. Peter's Square

  • the Sistine Chapel was built in 1475-81 as a papal house chapel under Pope Sixtus IV della Rovere, hence its name. From the outside it is a medieval building. Since then, with only a few exceptions, it has been the place where the papal election, the conclave, takes place.
    The chapel attracts millions of art lovers because of its frescoed decoration. The wall is divided horizontally into three parts: the lower system shows painted curtains. Above it is a volume of twelve pictures with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, all of which were created by masters of the early Florentine Renaissance. These frescoes are often neglected because Michelangelo's ceiling fresco attracts attention.
    On the ceiling, Michelangelo faked an architecture with pillars and marble bands and in it - as painted frescoes in a painted architecture - painted nine pictures from the story of creation. On the sides there are prophets and sybils, and in the spandrels and lunettes, i.e. on the side walls above the windows, the ancestors of Christ are depicted.
    Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment on the front at the age of 70. Christ, represented like an ancient Apollo, sets a huge wheel of people in motion: the righteous are torn up into heaven, the damned are thrown down into hell.

  • the Vatican Museums (the Vatican collections) Pinacoteca Vaticana, a large number of museums mainly in the Vatican Palace (Rome), laid out from 1503 to 1513, extensive collections of historical works of art.
    The beginning of the Vatican collections was made by Pope Julius II, who placed ancient statues in the courtyard of the Belvedere-Palazzetto. The first figure was probably a statue of Apollo, called Apollo from the Belvedere, which can still be admired in its historic location today. The first works of art also included the Hermes des Praxiteles from Olympia and the Laocoon group, rediscovered in 1506. It was not until 1756 that Pope Benedict XV created the loose art collection. the Museo Sacro for works of Christian archeology. In the 18th and 19th centuries, he was given manuscripts and icons, Christian ivory work and goldsmithing, e. B. 1907 the treasure of the Cappella Sancta Sanctorum, assigned. In 1767, at the instigation of Cardinal Alessandro Albani and Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the Museo Gregoriano Profano with the papal collection of antiquities was created. This was followed by the Museo Pio-Clementino (1795), a huge museum building with a magnificent staircase and a dominant domed hall, expanded among other things. through the Etruscan Museum Museo Gregoriano Etrusco (1837) and the Egyptian Museum Museo Gregoriano Egizio (1839). Pope Pius XI had his own art gallery for the holdings of the papal picture gallery in 1932. erect. In 1973 a museum of mission and ethnology, an art history museum and a collection of contemporary religious art were opened. Today the route through the Vatican Museums is around seven kilometers, and visitors can admire around 50,000 monuments and cultural treasures from antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times.

In the Vatican museums

  • the Vatican Library

  • the Vatican Secret Archives

  • the Vatican Pinacoteca

  • the Vatican train station, which supplies goods to the Vatican

  • the Vatican Gardens


Economy / finance

The main sources of income for the Vatican State are the shops within the Vatican, the grocers, souvenir stalls, and voluntary donations. Around 85 million euros are donated to the Vatican every year. Other sources of income are the sale of Vatican coins and stamps to collectors and the renting of around 2,400 houses outside the Vatican, which also guarantee a regular income.
The Vatican also owns gold, which it stores in New York, real estate worth 1.5 billion euros and priceless art treasures, of which the Pope (John Paul II) said: "They are not for sale, they belong to everyone".
The budget deficit in 2011 was 12 million euros. Spending $ 320 million versus income of $ 308 million (Qu: CIA factbook). The main expenses are incurred for everyday things: Since the Vatican has no resources of its own in the form of arable land, mineral resources or energy sources, water, electricity, food and other everyday goods must be imported. The largest expenditure items, however, are the salaries for the employees as well as their pensions and the financing of missions abroad.



Of the approximately 1000 people who live in the Vatican, around 600 have Vatican citizenship (including around 100 Swiss guardsmen - temporary citizens - and around 50 lay people).

Of the 3,000 employees in the Vatican, apart from the cardinals, prelates and Swiss Guards, practically no one lives in the Vatican itself . The employees can be roughly divided into five groups:

House staff: cooks, cleaners, valets, etc.

· Clergy: priests who also take on a large part of the administrative and art-historical tasks

· Security: Swiss Guard, Papal Gendarmerie and supervisory staff for churches and museums

· Radio and press: editor of L'Osservatore Romano and Radio Vaticano

· Teaching staff for the universities and chairs affiliated to the Vatican


There is only one telephone booth in Vatican City. There are also Vatican phone cards that work in exactly this one telephone, but not in Italian telephone booths. On the other hand, Romansh cards can definitely be used in the Vatican apparatus.


Passport / Visa

There are no special formalities for entering the Vatican City, it can only be reached from Rome; the Italian entry regulations must be observed (see passport / visa in the Italy chapter).
Only certain places may be visited within the Vatican City: St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, the Vatican Museum and the Vatican Gardens.A special permit is required to enter other sites and buildings.





Official language

Latin, Italian



Form of government

Absolute elective monarchy

Head of state


Cardinal Secretary of State



Eduardo Martínez Somalo


0.44 km²


approx. 830 inhabitants

Population density

approx. 1,900 inhabitants per km²


February 11, 1929 (Lateran Treaty)



Time zone

UTC + 1

National anthem

Inno e Marcia Pontificale

License Plate


Internet TLD



+39 06 (assigned: +379)

The official language of the Swiss Guard is German.