Vatican – a city state and enclave

Vatican City, officially Vatican City State (Italian: Stato della Città del Vaticano;) is the Holy See’s independent city-state. The geography of Vatican City is unique due to the country’s position as an urban, landlocked enclave of Rome, Italy. With an area of 49 hectares it is the world’s smallest independent state. Outside the Vatican City, thirteen buildings in Rome and Castel Gandolfo (the pope’s summer residence) enjoy extraterritorial rights. (One building, the Paul VI Audience Hall, straddles the border, but its Italian portion has extraterritorial rights.) The Vatican border is the World’s shortest entire boundary, only 3.2 km. The Vatican is often cited an an example of an Enclave, a territory that is completely surrounded by the territory of one other state, in this case Italy.

By Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Vatican was established as an independent state through the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy in 1929.

When the Lateran Treaty of 1929 that gave the state its form was being prepared, the boundaries of the proposed territory were influenced by the fact that much of it was all but enclosed by this loop. For some tracts of the frontier, there was no wall, but the line of certain buildings supplied part of the boundary, and for a small part of the frontier a modern wall was constructed.

The territory includes St. Peter’s Square, distinguished from the territory of Italy only by a white line along the limit of the square, where it touches Piazza Pio XII.

St. Peter’s Square is reached through the Via della Conciliazione which runs from close to the Tiber to St. Peter’s. This grand approach was constructed by Benito Mussolini after the conclusion of the Lateran Treaty.

Italy – Vatican Borders

The columns and white lines marks the border.
The outer columns of St Peters Square mark the border
The Vatican Post Office sits right on the border so the nearest post boxes overhang Italian territory.
The white line marks the border
The outer columns of St Peters Square mark the border
The white line marks the border
The Vatican Museums entrance is on the border.
The Paul VI Audience Hall, straddles the border.

Border Dispute

As noted earlier the Vatican has a very short international border (3.2 km long). The map on the right indicates the extraterritorial zone, to the left of St Peter’s Square, marked in blue, most of this is the Papal Audience Hall. The map also indicates a small section (60 metres long and 3 metres wide) in red which is an area of the border which is contested. Italy contends  that the Lateran Treaty stipulates that this is Italian territory, but the Vatican disputes this. The difference between both states has remained unresolved since 1932, when a mixed Italian-Vatican commission tasked with demarcating the border agreed to disagree. I cannot recollect how the area is demarcated but the pictures I do have the border following the contours of the columns.

The Pilgrims

German Pilgrims at the Vatican

Elements of Statehood

The Vatican is the smallest sovereign state in the world. Vatican City is governed as an absolute monarchy with the pope at its head. There are no taxes, no restrictions on the import or export of funds, and no customs or excise duties payable in the Vatican City. Employees of the Vatican pay no income tax and no customs duty on gasoline or goods that they buy in the Vatican. Non-Italians enjoy allowances on their monthly salaries. Vatican City generates revenue through museum admissions and the sale of coins, stamps, and publications. As one walks around the area Vatican specific symbols are available.

Vatican Licence Plate
Vatican Fire Brigade
Vatican Post Office
The Swiss Guard are the armed forces of the Vatican.

Vatican Embassy’s

Embassy’s linked to the Vatican are easy to observe in the streets surrounding the Enclave.

Dutch Embassy to the Vatican
Bolivia Embassy to the Vatican
Lebanese Embassy to the Vatican
Peru Embassy to the Vatican
The Vatican Flag is square.


1) St Peters Basilica is available here

2) The Holy See Information website here

Date of Visit: October 2011