Vatican City has a rich history.
The Papal Conclave once again put this tiny nation in the spotlight.
Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, but it wields a great deal of influence. If you want a better understanding of this nation, start with its interesting history.
How Vatican City Got Its Start
Vatican City originated when the Basilica of St Peter’s was constructed in the 4th century. Pope Symmachus then decided to have a palace built nearby, as well.
By the 14th century, the Vatican had become the residence of the Pope, replacing the honor once held by Rome. Museums, art galleries and the impressive Vatican library were built in the following years.
Popes ruled much of Italy until the 19th century. At this time the country unified, taking away many Papal states.
At that point in history, the power of the popes was in jeopardy; they were only allowed to rule the Vatican and some small areas around it. But those in this position refused to accept the sudden change.
Vatican City Independence
In 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed by Italy’s rulers and the popes. This agreement gave the Vatican City its independence, making it the smallest country in the world.
It got its own ambassadors, could offer passports, and was also the home of a new railway station in 1930. The Pope was in charge of it all.
There were further changes for Vatican City in the 1960s. By 1962, some of the pope’s power was distributed more evenly among bishops when Pope John XXIII held the ecumenical council known as Vatican II. Pope Paul VI was the next to take power.
Cardinal Albino Luciani was elected in 1978. He took the name Pope John Paul I. When he passed away a short time later, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla succeeded him and was called John Paul II. He was the first non-Italian pope since 1523.
By 1985, Pope John Paul II had agreed to modify parts of the Lateran Treaty. These changes meant that Roman Catholicism was no longer the official religion in Italy.
Another major event in Vatican history was the attempt on Pope John Paul II’s life by a Turkish man in 1981. Pope John Paul II survived the attack and was able to forgive the man. He eventually died in 2005 after 26 years of rule.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, from Germany, was elected and became Pope Benedict XVI. During his time in Vatican City, several buildings in the area began using solar energy, and officials even created a forest in Hungary in an attempt to reduce the carbon footprint of the city. In 2013, he announced he was retiring due to his age. Popes are normally expected to serve until death — the last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.
In April 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was elected as the new pope. The Jesuit Catholic, who is the first Pope from Latin America, took on the title of Pope Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. He is considered by many to be humble, and is known for helping the poor and sick. Only time will tell how he will add to Vatican history in the coming years.
Key Facts of Vatican City
- Full name: State of the Vatican City
- Population: 798
- Capital: Vatican City
- Major Languages: Italian, Latin, French
- Major Religion: Catholicism
- Literacy Rate: 100%
- Main Exports: Medals, coins, postage stamps, publications