Strange facts about the Vatican City

It’s the world’s smallest fully independent nation state, but that’s not the only quirky fact about the Vatican City.

It really is tiny. At 49ha it’s 120 times smaller than the island of Manhattan. The next biggest country is Monaco at 202ha.

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It’s a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there, because you probably can’t live there. The only residents of the Vatican City are the Swiss Guards who ‘defend’ the city and Roman Catholic clergy. You can be granted citizenship, mostly because they need workers, but not through birth as no-one can be born there as it does not have a hospital. Once a citizen stops working for the Vatican City, citizenship is usually revoked. Everyone, citizen or resident, has to be Roman Catholic.

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And while it’s a small population, fluctuating at around 800, they are a bunch of boozers. According to the Wine Institute’s statistics, the Vatican consumes 74L of wine per person per year. That’s a lot of communion wine. In comparison, according to Australians drink about 30L of wine per person per year. It can all be explained away by the Vatican City’s absence of children, because almost everyone living there adds to the total, not just a percentage of the population like other countries.

The Swiss Guard that patrols the city, or Pontifical Swiss Guard if you want to be pedantic, was founded in 1506 and the uniform hasn’t changed much since. It usually has 134 members who must be unmarried men with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces. They must also be at least 174cm tall and aged 19 to 30. They are equipped with a halberd – a pole with a pointy bit on the end – which is probably useless in the modern world and small firearms to carry a tad more deadly force.

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It has a football team, consisting entirely of Vatican City employees. They wear the colours of the Vatican, yellow and white with a touch of light blue. However, they struggle to field a team and have only played four full international matches, all against Monaco.

Sure, there are all those magnificent palaces and churches but the Vatican City also has its own post office, radio network, tiny supermarket, pharmacy, printer and plenty of gardens.

It’s a popular place to visit. Pre-pandemic 6.8 million people visited the Vatican City. That number fell to 1.3 million for 2020 or an 82 per cent fall in attendance.

The Vatican City became independent from Italy with the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929. As it’s technically ruled by the pope, it’s regarded as a theocracy.

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As every building in its territory is listed on the International Register of Cultural Property by The Hague conventions it is theoretically immune to armed attack.

It has one of the highest crime rates in the world, but mostly due to pickpockets, purse snatching and shoplifting by outsiders. And while there is no prison in the Vatican City, it does have a few detention cells. People convicted of committing crimes in the Vatican City serve their time in Italian prisons with the costs covered by the Vatican City.

It has the shortest rail line in the world at 852m. It’s mostly used to transport freight.

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Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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