10 Things You May Not Know About the Vatican

The present basilica, which was built in the 1500s, sits over the catacombs and St. Peter’s grave. The construction of the original basilica began in the fourth century in Rome, under Emperor Constantine, with the recognition of Christianity as the official religion. It is believed that St. Peter’s tomb is located at the center, on top of the ancient burial ground. According to historical accounts, St. Peter, the first bishop of Rome and leader of the Apostles, was supposedly buried in a shallow grave on Vatican Hill. He was crucified, among others, and executed by burning, tearing apart, and being attacked by wild beasts. Seeking to shift blame away from himself, Emperor Nero accused the Christians of starting the great fire that devastated Rome in 64 A.D. The necropolis, a Roman burial ground, stood on Vatican Hill during pagan times.

The obelisk, which serves as both a massive sundial and a giant sundial, was relocated to its current position in 1586 in St. Peter’s Square. It was constructed for an Egyptian pharaoh over 3,000 years ago and is composed of a single block of red granite that weighs more than 350 tons. Caligula had his troops transport the pylon from Egypt to top the center of the amphitheater, where charioteers trained and where Nero is believed to have executed the Christians. The Roman Emperor Caligula constructed a small circus in his mother’s gardens at the foot of Vatican Hill.

The popes refused to leave the Vatican and submit to the authority of the Italian government, even when troops from the Italian government were present in St. Peter’s Square. They proclaimed themselves as prisoners of the Vatican and refused to recognize the authority of the Italian government. This resulted in a sort of cold war between the Vatican and the Italian government, and the government seized all the land of the Papal States. The popes ruled over a collection of sovereign Papal territories throughout central Italy until the country was unified in 1870. This situation continued for nearly 60 years, until the early 1900s.

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Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Italian government, signed the treaty on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III. The funds were utilized by the Vatican to replenish its financial resources as initial capital. In exchange for the Papal States, the church received a compensation of $92 million (equivalent to over $1 billion in present-day currency) and the Lateran Pacts, signed in 1929, resolved the conflict between the Italian government and the Catholic Church, establishing the Vatican as an independent sovereign state. Benito Mussolini played a role in the establishment of Vatican City.

The Vatican, including the basilica and cemetery, had fallen into disrepair because wolves had dug up bodies. However, the Vatican started to be used as a papal residence and the Lateran Palace, which had been burned, needed much repair work. The papacy did not return to Rome until 1377, ruling from Avignon instead. After King Philip IV of France arranged for a French cardinal to be elected as pope, the papal court moved to Avignon in 1309, and they even left the city of Rome altogether. The popes mainly lived at the Lateran Palace, and not until the 14th century, after the original construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, did they live at the Vatican. Six popes did not live at the Vatican.

The Swiss army is made up entirely of Swiss citizens, and it seems that the army’s standing force is composed of highly skilled and extensively trained marksmen. Although it is the smallest army in the world, it strictly serves ceremonial purposes. The Swiss Guard, responsible for protecting the safety of the Pope, appears to be highly disciplined. The Swiss Guard was hired as one of the personal protection forces for Pope Julius II, back in 1506. Since then, the Swiss Guard has been recognized by its colorful Renaissance-era uniforms and armor. The Swiss Guard was hired as a mercenary force.

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1527, during the sack of Rome, the enemy forces held back long enough to allow Pope Clement VII to safely reach Sant’Angelo Castel, although 147 lives were lost in the battle. The Swiss Guard, nuns, and priests were murdered, and the city was rampaged as the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V went through. It is likely that Clement’s life was saved when the half-mile-long elevated covered passageway, known as the secret passageway, was used as an escape route. This passageway, constructed in 1277, linked the Vatican with Sant’Angelo Castel on the banks of the Tiber River.

When a fresh pontiff is designated, the populace will grow by one within the Vatican, with Benedict XVI residing as a pontiff emeritus. The biggest cluster of inhabitants, nevertheless, was the 307 individuals of the clergy in diplomatic roles across the globe. Within the confines of the Vatican, there existed one sister, 51 members of the clergy, 109 members of the Swiss Guard, and 71 cardinals, resulting in a cumulative count of 594 individuals with Vatican nationality as of 2011. The bulk of Vatican City’s 600 citizens reside overseas.

The Vatican conducts astronomical research with a telescope atop Mount Graham in southeast Arizona. In 1981, the Vatican opened a second research center, the Vatican Observatory, in Arizona. However, the increasing light pollution from the city made it difficult for astronomers to view the night skies. As a result, the Vatican Observatory is now located 15 miles from the city, at the summer papal residence in Castel Gandolfo.

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