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The Vatican FAQ

What is the Vatican?

The Vatican is an independent state located inside the city of Rome covering an area of 0.17 square miles.  It is the home of Pope Francis, the current head of the Catholic Church worldwide. The Roman Pontiff, who resides at the Vatican, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful. In 1984, a concordat between the Vatican and Italy modified certain of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion. About one billion people worldwide profess the Catholic faith.

Who lives there?

In addition to the pope, there are 400 residents including the Swiss Guard.

How long has Vatican City State existed?

While many of the properties were built centuries ago (during the existence of the Papal States, ended in 1870), including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican only became a state in 1929 when the Lateran Treaty recognized the sovereign independence of Vatican City.

What constitutes Vatican City's government?

Benedict XVI is the official head of state.  The College of Cardinals elected him for life.  A Pontifical Commission chosen by the pope administers Vatican City including the Vatican Museums.

Can the Vatican Collections be viewed online?

Yes. There is extensive information at

What is the visiting policy of the Vatican?

Most of the Vatican is open to pilgrims and visitors alike most of the year.  Daily tours are conducted in English and information is available at 001-39-06/698.81662 or email at

When are papal audiences available?

Most Wednesday mornings the pope holds a general audience either in the Vatican or at Castel Gandolfo.  Tickets are free and can be obtained by faxing 011-39-06/698.85863.

Who is the Papal Swiss Guard, why do they exist, why are they Swiss?

The Papal Swiss Guard began its service in 1506 under Pope Julius II. Their role is to help protect the pope and guard the entrances to Vatican City and the Apostolic Palace, which is where the pope resides.  They also perform honor guard duties at official Vatican ceremonies and events, and are recognized by the colorful vestments they wear.