Vatican City, Rome The world’s smallest country, Vatican City occupies 0.44 sq km (about .2 square miles) and serves as the spiritual center for millions of practicing Roman Catholics worldwide. History of Vatican City Usually referred to as a City State and often called “The Holy See”, Vatican City is home to about 800 residents. None of them are permanent. The population of this tiny area, which surrounds St. Peter’s Basilica, is made up of priests, nuns, guards, high-ranking dignitaries and, of course, the Pope, and is constantly changing. Vatican City wasn’t always this small. In the mid-19th century, the Papal States covered approximately 17,000 square miles. However, during the next decade and the struggle for Italian unification, the majority of these states officially became a part of the country of Italy. The Pope’s power was abolished and the papal territory was confined to the Vatican. In 1929, the Treaty of Lateran gave The Holy See autonomy, officially establishing this tiny area that attracts millions of visitors each year. The city state is protected by its own military, the strangely-clad Swiss Guards. St. Peter's Square Guests enter Vatican City through expansive St. Peter’s Square. This breathtaking piazza is one place in Rome that no one should miss, regardless of their religious persuasion. The square was laid out by Bernini during the pontificates of Alexander VII and of Clement IX (1657-1667). Visitors to this magnificent square (which is actually a circle) are surrounded by two huge colonnades, with 284 Doric columns arranged in 4 rows, atop which stand 140 saints. In the center of the square, you’ll find an 85-foot-tall Egyptian obelisk, brought to Rome by Caligula in 38 AD from Heliopolis, located on the Nile Delta. Fountains are situated on either side of the obelisk. The one sitting on the right was placed in this location but Bernini and was made by Carlo Maderno. The other was created by Carlo Fontana.turkeyarena.com Thousands of guests gather in the square to hear blessings from the Pope or to participate in masses being celebrated by the Roman Catholic’s most revered Holy Father, especially on religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. St. Peter's Basilica St. Peter’s Basilica, the crowning glory of Vatican City, is the most important church in the world. The cornerstone of this church was laid more than 500 years ago, in 1506. The magnificent altars and monuments inside the church are too numerous to mention, but even those who aren’t art aficionados will be wowed by what they’ll find inside this amazing basilica, including more works by Italian sculptor, painter, and architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and also Michelangelo’s Pieta. The dome of St. Peter’s is accessed from an elevator to the roof. Once you’ve reached the top of the elevator, 323 additional steps take you to the best view of Rome from anywhere in the city. The papal apartments are also here as are the expansive Vatican Museums, home to the largest and most valuable art collection in the world. A tour of the museums is a must for any visitor. Finding Your Way Around Vatican City is an amazing place, so you’ll want to be sure you don’t miss a thing. The Vatican has its own tourist office on the left side of the piazza which is a good place to begin your visit. Here you can book tours of Vatican City's gardens and purchase maps and other guide books for self-guided tours of the square, basilica, and museums. By the way, rumor has it that the Vatican’s postal system is better than that of the city of Rome, so be sure to mail your postcards there!