Vatican City and Geometric Art

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The Vatican City is an independent state whose territory consists of a landlocked enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, with an area of 44 hectares (110 acres). Since it is governed by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), its government can be described as ecclesiastical and the highest state functionaries are in fact clergymen. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See (Latin:Sancta Sedes) and the location of the Apostolic Palace—the Pope's official residence—and the Roman Curia. Thus, although the principal ecclesiastical seat of the Holy See (Basilica of St. John Lateran) is located in Rome itself, the Vatican City can be said to be the governmental capital of the Roman Catholic Church of both East and West.

The Vatican City is itself of great cultural significance. Buildings such as St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel are home to some of the most beautiful art in the world, which includes works by artists such as Bramante, Botticelli, Bernini and Michelangelo. The Vatican Library and the collections of the Vatican Museums are of the highest historical, scientific and cultural importance. The basilica can hold up to 60,000 worshippers. In front of the basilica is Saint Peter’s Square. Considered a masterpiece of design, the immense keyhole shaped plaza is rimmed by two massive semicircular colonnades. At the center of the plaza is an obelisk from ancient Egypt brought to Rome in the 1st century ad by Roman emperor Caligula.

Vatican City has its own post office, commissary (supermarket), bank (the automatic teller machines are the only ones in the world to use Latin), railway station, electricity generating plant, and publishing house. The Vatican also issues its own coins and stamps and controls its own Internet domain (.va).

Radio Vatican, the official radio station, is one of the most influential in Europe. L'Osservatore Romano is the semi-official newspaper, published daily in Italian, and weekly in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French (plus a monthly edition in Polish). It is published by Catholic laymen but carries official information.

Adjacent to the basilica and square is the Palace of the Vatican, also known as the Papal Palace. It is a complex of buildings that contains more than 1,000 rooms and houses the papal apartments, the government offices of the Roman Catholic Church, several chapels and museums, and the Vatican Library. The most famous portion of the palace is the Sistine Chapel, best known for the awe-inspiring frescoes painted by Michelangelo on its barrel-vaulted ceiling (restored 1980-1990). The chapel’s walls were painted by famous Renaissance artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Pinturicchio, Luca Signorelli, and Domenico Ghirlandaio. Raphael’s Rooms, a part of the palace that holds papal apartments, are adorned with frescoes painted by the great Raphael.

The Vatican’s outstanding museums include the Gregorian Museum of Egyptian Art; the Gregorian Museum of Etruscan Art; the Pio Clementino Museum, with a superlative collection of antiquities; the Chiaramonti Museum; and the Vatican Pinacoteca, an art gallery with representative works by Italian masters. The Vatican Library has a priceless collection of ancient manuscripts and more than 1 million bound volumes. Also within the Vatican’s walls are the Government Palace and the Vatican Gardens.

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Last updated: February 14, 2007