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7 Things You Didn't Know About the Smallest Country in the World
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January 5, 2019
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Matt Harding
Matt Harding is a magazine writer, photographer and former newspaper reporter who loves to travel.
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First off, for the unfamiliar, the smallest country in the world is Vatican City. Landlocked entirely by the Italian capital of Rome, most people know Vatican City as the headquarters of the Catholic Church. It’s home to the Pope and between 800 and 1,000 other residents.

A unique place with some really wild facts, here are seven things you probably didn’t know about the smallest country in the world.

It Was Officially Formed in 1929

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St. Peter’s Basilica — the largest Catholic church in the world — was completed in 1626. But it wasn’t until 300-plus years later that it would be located in Vatican City. The smallest country was created on June 7, 1929, when the Lateran Treaty came into effect. Signed by Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, the pact gave the Holy See (the political arm of the Catholic Church) complete sovereignty from Italy.

It’s Even Smaller Than You Think

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At only 0.44 square kilometers (0.17 square miles), Vatican City is smaller than the parking lot at Disney World and one-eighth the size of Central Park. It’s even four times smaller than the next smallest country in the world: Monaco.

Latin Is the Official Language

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While a former priest who had an office at the Vatican estimated only 100 people there speak it fluently, Latin remains the official language of the Church. In fact, they continue to give announcements in Latin that are then translated. When Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013, there was a lone reporter who was able to immediately dispatch that news to the world due to her Latin language skills, according to the BBC.

It Has the World’s Highest Crime Rate, Sort Of

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So, with less than 1,000 residents but millions and millions of annual visitors (some 5 million to the museums alone), these numbers are obviously skewed and shouldn’t be taken to mean Vatican City is a dangerous place. Far from it. Still, St. Peter’s Square, with its shoulder-to-shoulder pedestrian traffic, is a pickpocket’s dream. According to The Week, the crime rate is 1.5 crimes per citizen.

They Drink a Lot of Wine

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According to statistics released by the Wine Institute, residents of the Vatican consume the equivalent of 105 bottles in the course of a year. For reference, that’s double the amount consumed by the average person in France or Italy.

Swiss Guards Serve the Pope

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With their distinct red, blue and yellow attire, you may notice guards throughout your visit to Vatican City. What you may not know is that they’re called the Pontifical Swiss Guard, and they are entirely made up of citizens of Switzerland. The smallest and one of the oldest continually operating military units in the world (established in 1506), the Swiss Guard stands 135 men strong, according to the Catholic News Agency.

The Country Owns a Telescope in Arizona

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The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is located on Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona, according to the University of Arizona, the Vatican’s partner operator at the site. The observatory location is known for its clear skies and views of the cosmos.