The Vatican, or Holy See, is contained within the sovereign city-state of Vatican City. It is important to understand the difference between Vatican City and the Holy See, which is technically the seat of the Bishop of Rome, more commonly referred to as the Pope. The history of the Vatican as a sovereign city-state dates back to the year 1929, while the Vatican as the main seat of the Catholic Church goes back to the fourteenth century. Rome, however, has been important as a center for the faith since early Christianity, long before it was the official seat and the primary Episcopal see over one billion Catholics around the world.
There are many things you have the option of seeing when you visit the Vatican. St. Peter's Basilica is a top destination in Vatican City for most people who make the trip. You can visit the chapel and attend mass, both free of charge. If you want to visit the Dome, climb to the top, and enjoy the panoramic view of Vatican City, it will cost you something in the neighborhood of 10 Euro. It goes without saying that the Vatican Museums are treasures where visitors will find some of the most important works of Renaissance and Classical art, as well as art and artifacts that date back to Roman antiquity.
Vatican City Map
The Papal Tombs and Vatican Grottoes are another popular stop for people taking guided tours of Vatican City. For a modest fee you can explore the Vatican Necropolises and St. Peter's Tomb. Another alluring activity for people visiting the Vatican is taking part in the Papal Audience in St. Peter's Square, where you actually get to hear an address from the Pontiff himself.
Vatican City and its various buildings and churches including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Apostolic Palace, and the Sistine Chapel are not only religious and spiritually significant centers for the Catholic Church, but also some of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe. In recent years, Rome has ranked in the top five of the most visited cities in the entire European Union. The Vatican, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, is officially referred to as “the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paulo Fuori le Mura.” Among other internationally known attractions including the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, and Pantheon, it is one of the destinations that draws millions of eager visitors to the city each and every year.
The history of the Vatican as a papal residence dates all the way back to the fourth century when Constantine built St. Peter’s Basilica. In turn, Pope Symmacchus built a palace nearby in the fifth century. Popes had habitually resided in the Lateran Palace, and in later years, the Quirinal Palace. From 1309 to 1377 the residence of the Pope was in Avignon, France.
The history of the Vatican, however, centers around Rome from the year 1377 forward, and pursuant Popes would take painstaking, and extremely expensive measures to develop what would ultimately become modern-day Vatican City. Particularly, the Popes during the Renaissance who took a great interest in the arts developed the grounds and buildings of Vatican City and began to commission the gathering of vast collections of books and art and the construction of the magnificent galleries that now pepper the grounds. Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, Julius II, and Gregory the XIII are all examples of papal leaders who led the push to embellish and develop the Vatican.
The Vatican, as a sovereign city-state, has not only its own administrative factions, but also its own governmental representatives that can hold diplomatic and other talks with other international representatives. It was granted sovereignty from the Empire of Italy, made official in the Lateran Treaty of 1929. If you are planning a visit to Rome, it is possible to take part in a whole variety of tours of the Vatican that take you inside the interesting history and development of the seat of the Church. Besides seeing all of the magnificent attractions like St. Peter’s Basilica, you also get explanations and information from the well-trained guides that explain the history of the Vatican and its various treasures.