Is the Vatican City a country? The short answer to this is that yes it is a country, but it is very unlike any other country on earth! The story of the Vatican is certainly an interesting one.
At YPT we have a bit of an obsession with the stranger anomalies when it comes to the countries of the world. We famously visit most of the unrecognized countries of the planet, as well as regular visits to Nauru (the least visited country on earth) and of course the legendary trip to Bir Tawil, the only unclaimed piece of land in the world.
To read about unrecognized countries click here.
To read about Bir Tawil click here.
A brief history of the Vatican
We will try not to go too religiously heavy on this one, although that is a bit hard when you talk about the Vatican. When Christianity first started to take hold in Europe the top man was the Bishop of Rome, later to be known as the Pope. This led to the east-west schism of the 11th century, which split Christianity into the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Bishop of Rome AKA the Pope was thus the leader of the Catholic Church and as such held a lot of political sway!
Within this realm as well as being head of the religion, the Pope also gained the secular role as leader of the Papal States, which controlled much of modern day Italy for almost 1000 years until the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.
The status of the Pope was to remain in relative limbo until 1929 when the Lateran treaties were signed effectively making the Vatican City a kinda country. They even remained neutral during World War 2, despite Italy being ruled by El Duce.
Why is the Vatican City a country?
In 1926 the Montevideo convention set out the criteria for what constitutes a country, with the following main points;
A permanent population –
What is the population of the Vatican City? Officially 856!
A defined territory –
49 hectares (121 acres). Again by far the smallest country in the world by land mass.
A theocratic elective monarchy, which we will come to later
Capacity to enter relations with other states –
The Vatican City has relations with 183 countries, as well as Taiwan and the Sovereign Military order of Malta. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta are a whole other story! Kinda like the Vatican, but with even less people and land. You can read about them here.
So, is the Vatican City a country? Yes it is, a rather small country, but according to the rules of what makes a country, the Vatican city qualifies. And most importantly there is even a Vatican City Football Team, but how well they do with crosses is anyone’s guess (sorry).
We certainly count it is a country! To read the YPT rules of country collecting click here.
What is the government system of the Vatican City?
The Vatican City is an elective monarchy with the Pope leading the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the country. The pope is technically the “prince” of the Vatican City, which makes him the only absolute monarch left in Europe. This also means that they cannot become full members of the European Union.
There are other figures that hold some power, such as the The Secretariat of State, but almost the entire population and government structure is led by bishops and cardinals rather than lay people.
Does the Vatican City have an army?
When you have 856 citizens you don’t really need an army, and technically at least defense is covered by the Italians, but they do have the rather cool Swiss Guards. Sadly very few of the Swiss Guards are actually Swiss, with most of them being born in Rome. The modern day guards dress in a rather camp uniform and are largely ceremonial rather than being an elite fighting force.
What is the cuisine like in the Vatican City?
Well you’d assume lots of bread and wine right? Being so small there’s not a ton of restaurants in the Vatican, but there are lots surrounding it. And Rome is probably one of the best cities in the world for food, so whilst it might take a cross over the border, good food is not far away.
To read about restaurants near the Vatican City click here.
How can I visit the Vatican City?
Quite easily! You pretty much just go to Rome. If you want to do it in super fun fashion then you can join our European Microstates Tour!.