(Look through this Vatican City flickr.com slideshow. Note the usual disclaimer, even if it’s the Vatican.) So let’s talk about small….With a land area of approximately 110 square acres, and a population of less than a thousand, Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state in both land area and size of population. Vatican City’s territory exists entirely within the territory of Italy, and, more specifically, within the bounds of Rome. The Roman Catholic Church has power in this independent state, though, technically, the
really powerful character is the Pope. The Pope is the only legislative, executive or judicial power in Vatican City. He is Europe’s only absolute monarch.
Europe’s only absolute monarch owes a great debt of gratitude to an Italian who also
wanted his power to be absolute–Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1929, Mussolini
joined the Catholic Church in co-signing a document called “The Lateran Treaty,” which
granted Vatican City its sovereignty. There may have been no one happier about the treaty
than Pope Pius XI, who was finally released from being, as an earlier Pope termed it, “the
prisoner of the Vatican.” For the previous 59 years, since 1870 when the Italian government claimed authority over Rome, ending the Catholic Church’s millennium-long domination of central Italy, each pope had refused to leave the Vatican in order to avoid the
perception that the Catholic Church accepted Italy’s authority. After the Lateran Treaty
the Pope was once again free to go wherever he darn well pleased, and also to appear again in St. Peter’s Square, which the prisoner popes had avoided because of its occupation by Italian troops. Today the border between the Vatican City and Italy consists of a white line that runs on the ground along the square’s side.
While in many ways Vatican City is indistinguishable from Rome, being a sovereign state has given it the freedom to make its own choices at critical moments. For example, during World War II, with Pope Pius XII as its head of state, Vatican City remained neutral.
When Germany occupied Italy in 1943, then when the Allies subsequently occupied in 1944, neither occupied Vatican City. Vatican City is also able to make its own policies regarding land use–the Vatican Gardens cover over half its territory–and to train its own security forces, such as the “Gendarmerie Corps of the Vatican City State,” (also known as the Vigilanza), as well as the “Swiss Guard,” which since 1506 has been is the personal bodyguard force of the Pope. [According to Wikipedia’s entry on the Swiss Guard, “All recruits must be Catholic, unmarried males with Swiss citizenship who have completed their basic training with the Swiss Army with certificates of good conduct, be between the ages of 19 and 30, and be at least 175 cm (5 ft 9 in) in height. Members are armed with small arms and the traditional halberd (also called “the Swiss voulge”), and trained in bodyguarding tactics.”]
While the Catholic Church itself is not exactly lacking in financial resources, Vatican City is a distinct entity and has to support its economy through traditional practices, like charging fees for admission to its museums, selling Vatican City stamps and publications, and even by manufacturing and selling of staff uniforms.
Beyond music of the Catholic Church there is little music known to be indigenous to Vatican City, though that’s not to say the Vatican can’t rock. From the early nineties until 2006 Pope John Paul and Vatican City hosted a Christmas concert that featured musicians like JosÃ© Feliciano, Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Gloria Gaynor and John Denver. B.B. King performed “Merry Christmas Baby” at one year’s concert and even
gave the Pope an electric guitar. In 2003 singer Lauryn Hill used her performance at the
concert as an opportunity to ask church leaders to “repent” for the actions they took,
or didn’t take, during the child abuse scandal. The Vatican discontinued the yearly concert in 2006.
National Geographic introduces you to Vatican City | Stamps of Vatican City (for the philatelist in you) | Some interesting Vatican City facts: “In 2007 the Vatican opted to become the first Carbon neutral state by offsetting their carbon footprint with the creation of a forest in Hungary.”
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