10 things you probably didn’t know about the Vatican

Pope Francis greets the faithful - Shutterstock

Pope Francis greets the faithful – Shutterstock

This week, all eyes were on the smallest country in the world after the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Here are 10 facts you might not know about the small city-state.

1. It belongs to the wine capitals of the world

The Vatican has a huge per capita consumption of wine, with the average resident drinking 54.26 liters of wine – or just over 72 standard bottles – per year (compared to 46 for a French drink). However, you are unlikely to find hundreds of empty containers in their recycling bins. The country’s impressive football record is believed to be due to the large quantities of wine distributed at communion as well as regular events.

2. You don’t need to show your passport to enter

It may be a country in itself, but there are no border controls for visitors to the Vatican – and many visitors are disappointed by the lack of commemorative stamps in their passports. However, as with airport arrivals, delays are likely at busy times. In the summer, tourists flock to St. Peter’s Square to cross the line from Italy or to queue for an entrance ticket to the Vatican Museums.

3. It is one-seventh the size of Central Park

At just 121 acres, the Vatican is the smallest country in the world (and about the same size as the National Trust’s Winkworth Arboretum). Although the country is tiny, it houses 120,000 works of art in its museums and galleries. These include Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, Raphaels and Da Vinci in the Pinotec Room, and the Emperor Nero’s Porphyry Bath, built for his Golden Palace from an incredibly rare stone and believed to be worth around £1.8 billion.

4. It has the shortest railway line in the world

Opened in 1934, the Vatican’s railway network is the smallest in the world and consists of just two 300-meter tracks, two freight sidings and one Città del Vaticano station. No pope has taken a train here since 1962, but in 2015 Pope Francis opened the railway to tourists. Now, on summer Saturdays, visitors can travel from the small state station to Albano Laziale, the closest stop to the historic papal holiday home of Castel Gandolfo.

In 2015, Pope Francis opened the railway for tourists - Chris Hellier

In 2015, Pope Francis opened the railway for tourists – Chris Hellier

5. It has more tourists per capita than any other country

When it comes to the percentage of tourists as a percentage of the population, the Vatican is a head above the rest. It has a population north of 800 people, but is a place of great religious, historical, cultural and political importance, with 6.9 million people visiting the Vatican Museums alone in 2019.

6. Has its own euro

The Vatican and Italy signed an agreement in 2000 that allowed the Holy See to adopt the euro as its official currency and to mint its own euro coins since 2002 – allowing the Vatican euro to circulate freely throughout the euro area. The unique illustration on one side of the coin has changed over the years, but as of 2017 it features either Pope Francis or his coat of arms. However, if you have an older version lurking in your loose change, you may be in luck: due to rare illustrations, the 2002 versions depicting Pope John Paul II are highly sought after by collectors and can fetch over £1,000.

Demand for some Vatican coins is very high - iStockphoto

Demand for some Vatican coins is very high – iStockphoto

7. The pope has a personal army full of dandies

Don’t be fooled by the striped pants of the Pontifical Swiss Guard deckchairs, this little army knows what they’re doing. A contingent of some 135 Swiss soldiers was formed out of an alliance between Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire and has been protecting the Pope for 517 years. Potential recruits must have a high school diploma or professional degree, be single Catholics with Swiss citizenship between the ages of 19 and 30, and be at least 174 cm (5 ft 8.5 in) tall. They must complete basic Swiss military training and are also trained in hand-to-hand combat and small arms. And although their uniforms are straight from the Renaissance, the rangers use both traditional weapons, such as two-handed, ax-like halberds, and modern ammunition, including pistols and submachine guns.

Ignore the outfit - these men are killer - Reuters

Ignore the outfit – these men are killer – Reuters

8. Its postal services are excellent

So good that apparently many Romans come there every week to send their letters and documents from the Vatican box in St. same, make sure you put this postcard in the yellow instead of the red square mailbox). Operating since 1929, the Vatican post office has its own stamps and postmarks, so it is an understandable hit with tourists as well. According to the Universal Postal Union, more letters are sent from the Vatican postcode each year than from any other postcode in the world.

These yellow boxes are very popular - iStock Editorial

These yellow boxes are very popular – iStock Editorial

9. ATMs speak Latin

Want to take advantage of this A-star GCSE? You are lucky. At least one of the Vatican’s ATMs has instructions in Latin, presumably for visiting Catholic clergy from around the world. Just watch out for erratum ūsus. Or something like that.

10. It is the only country in the world entered on the UNESCO list

Italy has more heritage sites than any other country in the world, with a total of 58. However, Vatican City is the only entire country to be rated. Inscribed in 1984, it owes its status to “a great history and a huge spiritual enterprise”.

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