Vatican City: The World’s Smallest State and Absolute Monarchy

Vatican City is the smallest state in the world and the only absolute monarchy existing in Europe. Its head of state is the Pope as elected monarch. It is the only state completely enclosed by a city. 



Vatican City as a state was formed in 1929 by the Lateran Treaties between the Kingdom of Italy and the Pope. The treaties guaranteed the territorial independence of the Vatican while at the same time finalising the loss of the Papal Territories to Italy. The state was organised as an absolute monarchy, meaning that legislative, executive, and judicial powers are all held by the monarch, i.e. the Pope as head of state.

The borders drawn at the time were based on the wall built by Pope Leo IV during the 9th century. Part of the border had to be invented where there was no wall. Inside the enclosure, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Gardens take pride of place, while the Papal Audience Hall is split by the border. While the Pope’s throne is sitting in Vatican City, visitors are standing in Italy.

Citizens of Vatican City are citizens for time only. They include resident clergy, the Swiss Guard, and key lay advisors. The ambassadors of the Pope representing the Holy See hold the Vatican citizenship as well. The Holy See and the state of Vatican City are two different entities, one ruled by the Pope as head of the Catholic Church, the other ruled by the Pope as elected monarch. In his third incarnation, the Pope is Bishop of Rome, too.

Buildings used by the Pope and his administration outside of Vatican City have extraterritorial ambassadorial status to the Holy See as part of the Lateran Treaties. They include, apart from the larger part of the Papal Audience Hall, the lands and grounds of Castel Gandolfo, the Basilica San Giovanni Lateran as cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the Basilicas of Santa Maria Maggiore and San Paolo Outside the Walls, as well as several Palazzos used by the Catholic Church.

The Holy See is the first to have employed ambassadors, the first ambassador being mentioned in history dating back to 325. A Papal ambassador is never called an ambassador but always a Nuncio. Foreign ambassadors to the Holy See take residence in Rome due to lack of space within Vatican City. Exceptions were made, one for the English Ambassador during World War II, the other for the German Ambassador during the Allied occupation of Rome. The Holy See represents Vatican City wherever it has Nuncios.

Vatican City has the oldest standing army in the world with the Swiss Guard since 1506. It makes it the only state in the world that keeps a resident foreign army for its defence of its own volition. The Swiss Guards form the core of the national soccer team which due to lack of a stadium in the territory play their home games in the Stadium Pope Pius XII in Rome. This lack of stadium also excludes it from becoming a member of FIFA and UEFA. The team is sponsored all the same by Adidas.

The national language of the Vatican is Latin. If you want to use the cash points there, you’d better get out your schoolbooks, as they are run in Latin as well. Vatican City is not a member of the United Nations, but the Holy See is a permanent observer. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO and is under special protection of the UN since 1959. 


Further reading
The First Woman Employee in The Vatican
San Marino, World's Oldest Republic
How Many Monarchies Exist in Europe?