Introducing Vatican City

St Peter's Square © soupstance

Known to most as the centre of Catholicism and home of the Pope, the Vatican City, which spans an area of approximately 44 hectares (100 acres) is the world's smallest independent sovereign state. But this small country is brimming with enough artwork and history to rival any other country in Europe.

The chief attraction of St Peter's Square is a church, museum and mausoleum and is unsurpassable in its historical significance and architectu­ral magnificence. With its enormous enclosed open space featuring the biggest church in the world at one end, and a gigantic, Egyptian obelisk in the centre. The architecture is sublime with just about every important Renaissance and Baroque architect having a hand in the design of St. Peter's Basilica, from Bramante and Raphael, to Baldassare Peruzzi and Michelangelo, who is usually attributed with the dome.

But there is more to this tiny state than meets the eye, and aside from the exquisite palaces, museums and administrative buildings, the Vatican City boasts a prison, a supermarket, a printing press (which produces the daily L'Osservatore Romano) and a post office, which has been rumoured to be the best in the world with mail being known to reach its target before the infamously unreliable postal service in Italy.

One of the greatest art galleries in the world, the Vatican Museum, complete with its world famous spiral staircase draws thousands of visitors, as do the colourful and almost clown-like uniforms of the Swiss Papal Guards. But nothing draws more tourists than the addressing of the people by the Pope.

The Pope has total legislative, executive and judicial power over the Vatican City which is unique in its non-commercial economy, financially supported by the devout Roman Catholics of the world. The official currency of the Vatican is the Euro although the extremely rare Vatican Euro is in circulation and travellers are advised not to spend this as it is worth a lot more than its face value. The Vatican City has its own bank and ATMs are available, though they are curious and contradictory in their workings as the instructions are in Latin.

Visitors to the Vatican City should carry their personal belongings closely on them and remain vigilant as petty crime, such as pick pocketing and muggings is common. As the Vatican City offers no lodgings or accommodations, visitors can stay in the neighbouring Vaticano suburb of Rome. Getting around the Vatican City by foot is easy enough, although not all areas are open for tourists. Also, since the Roman Catholic Church and its doctrines should be respected, sleeveless shirts and short pants or skirts are not permitted within the border of the Vatican City.

With fascinating buildings, palaces, museums, sculptures and architecture to enjoy, the Vatican City is a must for culture vultures and anyone wanting a glimpse into the workings of a diminutive, but powerful country.

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