Countries of the world

Vatican City (Holy See)

May 22, 2012, 2:59 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
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View of St. Peter's Square in the Vatican as seen from the top of St. Peter's Basilica.

The Holy See (Vatican City) is a landlocked enclave of 0.44 square kilometers within the city of Rome in Italy.  It is the world's smallest state. It has an official population of just 832 (July 2011 est.); nearly all dignitaries, priests, nuns, guards. Approximately 3,000 lay workers live outside the Vatican.

Beyond the territorial boundary of Vatican City, the Lateran Treaty of 1929 grants the Holy See extraterritorial authority over 23 sites in Rome and five outside of Rome, including the Pontifical Palace at Castel Gandolfo (the Pope's summer residence).

The Holy See's diplomatic history began in the fourth century, but the boundaries of the papacy's temporal power have shifted over the centuries. From the 8th century through the middle of the 19th century, Popes ruled over the Papal States, which included a broad band of territory across central Italy. In 1860, after prolonged civil and regional unrest, Victor Emmanuel's army seized the Papal States, leaving only Rome and surrounding coastal regions under papal control.

In 1870, Victor Emmanuel captured Rome itself and declared it the new capital of Italy, ending papal claims to temporal power. Pope Pius IX and his successors disputed the legitimacy of these acts and proclaimed themselves to be "prisoners" in the Vatican.

Finally, in 1929, the Italian Government and the Holy See signed three agreements ("Lateran Treaties") resolving the dispute:

  • a treaty recognizing the independence and sovereignty of the Holy See and creating Vatican City State;
  • a Concordat defining the relations between the government and the church within Italy and granting Roman Catholicism special status in Italy.; and,
  • a financial convention providing the Holy See with compensation for its losses in 1870. A revised Concordat, altering the terms of church-state relations, was signed in 1984.

In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion.

Present concerns of the Holy See include religious freedom, international development, the environment, the Middle East, China, the decline of religion in Europe, terrorism, interreligious dialogue and reconciliation, and the application of church doctrine in an era of rapid change and globalization. About 1 billion people worldwide profess the Catholic faith.


Location: Southern Europe, an enclave of Rome (Italy)

Geographic Coordinates: 41 54 N, 12 27 E

Area: 0.44 sq km

Land Boundaries: 3.2 km with Italy

Terrain: urban; low hill.  The highest and lowest points are unnamed (75 m and 19 m)

Climate: temperate; mild, rainy winters (September to May) with hot, dry summers (May to September)


The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Holy See and Vatican City State. Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, was elected on April 19, 2005 and formally inaugurated on April 24.

The term "Holy See" refers to the composite of the authority, jurisdiction, and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisers to direct the worldwide Catholic Church. As the "central government" of the Catholic Church, the Holy See has a legal status that allows it to enter into treaties as the juridical equal of a state and to send and receive diplomatic representatives. The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 176 nations, including the United States and some predominantly Muslim countries.

Created in 1929 to provide a territorial identity for the Holy See in Rome, Vatican City State is a recognized national territory under international law. The Holy See enters into international agreements and receives and sends diplomatic representatives.

Government Type: ecclesiastical

Capital: Vatican City

Independence Date: 11 February 1929 (from Italy); Note - the three treaties signed with Italy on 11 February 1929 acknowledged, among other things, the full sovereignty of the Vatican and established its territorial extent; however, the origin of the Papal States, which over centuries varied considerably in extent, may be traced back to 754.

The facade of St. Peter's Basilica as viewed from next to one of the two matching Bernini fountains that grace St. Peter's Square (Piazza) in front of the church. The attic or upper story displays statues of Christ, his apostles, and St. John the Baptist. Constructed over a period of 80 years and consecrated in 1626, the basilica is the largest Christian church in the world - capable of holding some 60,000 people.

Legal System: religious legal system based on canon (religious) law. The Holy See has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the International criminal court (ICCt).

Administration of Vatican City State
The Pope delegates the internal administration of Vatican City State to a Pontifical Commission. Vatican City State Gendarmerie are responsible for security. The Vatican has its own post office, commissary, bank, helicopter airfield, and electrical generating plant. The Vatican also issues its own coins and stamps and has its own Internet domain (.va).

Administration of the Holy See
The Pope exercises his authority through the Roman Curia and the Papal Civil Service. The Roman Curia consists of the Secretariat of State, nine Congregations, three Tribunals, 12 Pontifical Councils, and a complex of offices that administer Church affairs at the highest level. The Secretariat of State, under the Cardinal Secretary of State, directs and coordinates the Curia. On September 15, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone as Secretary of State (a role equivalent to that of prime minister) and appointed Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as Secretary for Relations with States (equivalent to foreign minister).

Among the most active of the major Curial institutions are the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees Church doctrine; the Congregation for Bishops, which coordinates the appointment of bishops worldwide; the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, which oversees all missionary activities; and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which deals with international peace and social issues.

Three tribunals are responsible for judicial power. The Apostolic Penitentiary deals with matters of conscience; the Roman Rota is responsible for appeals, including annulments of marriage; and the Apostolic Signatura is the final court of appeal.

The Prefecture for Economic Affairs coordinates the finances of the Holy See departments and supervises the administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, an investment fund formed in 1967 from separate funds dating back to the time of the Lateran Pacts. A committee of 15 cardinals, chaired by the Secretary of State, has final oversight authority over all financial matters of the Holy See, including those of the Institute for Works of Religion, the Vatican bank.

The Swiss Guard is a small military force of about 120 Swiss nationals. It shares security responsibilities with the Vatican City State Gendarmerie and falls under the authority of the Secretary of State.

Media and Communications
Vatican Radio, the official radio station, broadcasts in 40 languages to all continents. L'Osservatore Romano is the semi-official newspaper, published daily in Italian, and weekly in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French (plus a monthly edition in Polish). There is also a weekly version published in Italian, as well as a weekly version in Malayalam (a language of India). Linked to the Osservatore Romano is a small publishing house, “Tipografia Vaticana.” The Vatican also runs a TV production company that provides a live feed of papal events.

International Environmental Agreements

The Holy See is party to an international agreement on: Ozone Layer Protection. It has signed, but not ratified international agreements on Air Pollution an Environmental Modification

Foreign Relations

The Holy See conducts active diplomacy. It maintains formal diplomatic relations with 176 nations that are members of the United Nations. The Vatican also has relations with Taiwan, the Cook Islands, and the Sovereign Order of Malta. It has a “special” relationship with the European Union. Seventy-eight of these maintain permanent diplomatic missions accredited to the Holy See and resident in Rome. The rest have missions located outside Italy with dual accreditation. The Holy See maintains 106 permanent diplomatic missions to nation-states. Further, the Holy See has a separate permanent diplomatic mission to the European Union in Brussels. The Holy See also maintains relations of a special nature with the Palestine Liberation Organization and has a delegate to the Arab League in Cairo.

The Holy See is especially active in international organizations. The Holy See is a permanent observer in the following international organizations: United Nations (UN), Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, African Union (AU), World Tourist Organization (WToO), World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Program (WFP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP), United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS), Latin Union (LU), International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Labor Organization (ILO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Holy See is also an observer on an informal basis of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva (WMO), United Nations Committee of Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), International Maritime Organization (IMO), African Asian Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Holy See is a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), International Telecommunication Satellite Organization (ITSO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), International Grains Council (IGC), International Committee for Military Medicine (ICMM), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). In addition, Vatican City State is a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU).

In 1971, the Holy See announced the decision to adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to "give its moral support to the principles that form the base of the treaty itself." The Holy See is also a participating state in the OSCE and a guest of honor to the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE.


The Holy See is supported financially by a variety of sources, including investments, real estate income, and donations from Catholic individuals, dioceses, and institutions; these help fund the Roman Curia (Vatican bureaucracy), diplomatic missions, and media outlets.

The separate Vatican City State budget includes the Vatican museums and post office and is supported financially by the sale of stamps, coins, medals, and tourist mementos; by fees for admission to museums; and by publications sales.

Moreover, an annual collection taken up in dioceses and direct donations go to a non-budgetary fund known as Peter's Pence, which is used directly by the Pope for charity, disaster relief, and aid to churches in developing nations.

The incomes and living standards of lay workers are comparable to those of counterparts who work in the city of Rome.

Industries: printing; production of coins, medals, postage stamps; mosaics and staff uniforms; worldwide banking and financial activities.

Currency: Euros (EUR)




Agency, C., & Department, U. (2012). Vatican City (Holy See). Retrieved from


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