Vatican City State

Stato della Citt del Vaticano
Reference work entry


  • Population estimate, 2011: 800

  • Internet domain extension: .va

Civil Aviation

The Vatican launched a charter airline, Mistral Air, in Aug. 2007 to fly pilgrims to holy sites across the world.

Constitution and Government

Vatican City State is governed by a Commission appointed by the Pope. The reason for its existence is to provide an extra-territorial, independent base for the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope (currently Pope Francis, b. 1936 and elected 13 March 2013) exercises sovereignty and has absolute legislative, executive and judicial powers. The judicial power is delegated to a tribunal in the first instance, to the Sacred Roman Rota in appeal and to the Supreme Tribunal of the Signature in final appeal. A new Fundamental Law was promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 26 Nov. 2000 and became effective on 22 Feb. 2001; this replaced the first Fundamental Law of 1929. The Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals, meeting in secret conclave. The election is by scrutiny and requires a two-thirds majority.


Since 1 Jan. 2002 the Vatican City has been using the euro (EUR). Italy has agreed that the Vatican City may mint a small part of the total Italian euro coin contingent with their own motifs.


In 2008 there was one daily evening paper, L’Osservatore Romano.


As the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of St Peter, the Pope is held to be by divine right the centre of all Catholic unity and exercises universal governance over the Church. He is also the sovereign ruler of Vatican City State. He has for advisers the Sacred College of Cardinals, consisting in March 2016 of 215 cardinals from 72 countries (one created by Pope Paul VI, 96 created by Pope John Paul II, 79 created by Pope Benedict XVI and 39 created by Pope Francis), of whom 116 are cardinal electors—those under the age of 80 who may enter into conclave to elect a new Pope. Cardinals, addressed by the title of ‘Eminence’, are appointed by the Pope from senior ecclesiastics who are either the bishops of important Sees or the heads of departments at the Roman Curia. In addition to the College of Cardinals, there is a Synod of Bishops, created by Pope Paul VI and formally instituted on 15 Sept. 1965. This consists of the Patriarchs and certain Metropolitans of the Catholic Church of Oriental Rite, of elected representatives of the national episcopal conferences and religious orders of the world, of the cardinals in charge of the Roman Congregations and of other persons nominated by the Pope. The Synod meets in both general (global) and special (regional) assemblies.

Territory and Population

The area of the Vatican City is 44 ha. or 0.44 km2 (108.7 acres or 0.17 sq. miles), making it the smallest independent country in the world. It includes the Piazza di San Pietro (St Peter’s Square), which is to remain normally open to the public and subject to the powers of the Italian police. Vatican City had about 800 inhabitants in 2011. It has its own railway station (for freight only), postal facilities, coins and radio. Twelve buildings in and outside Rome enjoy extra-territorial rights, including the Basilicas of St John Lateran, St Mary Major and St Paul without the Walls, the Pope’s summer villa at Castel Gandolfo and a further Vatican radio station on Italian soil. Radio Vaticana broadcasts an extensive service in 40 languages from the transmitters in Vatican City and in Italy. The Holy See and the Vatican are not synonymous—the Holy See, referring to the primacy of the Pope, is located in Vatican City. The de facto official language is Latin.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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