Vatican City (Holy See)

General Information

Administrative status

Sovereign State

Vatican City

Registration Year


Historical function

Religion and administration

Location and site

As a 50-hectare enclave of Rome, Vatican City is near the south bank of the Tiber River. It is north of the Janiculum Hill and extends over part of the Montes Vaticani. It was constructed on the burial site of Saint Peter the Apostle.

Urban morphology

While walls enclose most of the territory occupied by Vatican City, the axis of the Basilica is open to the exterior (although the limits of the city across this opening are traced on the ground). The spatial organisation of the ensemble includes long perspective views and a regular layout of buildings, squares and gardens.

Religious and civic monuments, including masterpieces of the Renaissance and Baroque art, make up the small site. Two of these large buildings, charged with symbols of history, are particularly prominent. Vatican Palace, the papal residence since the return from Avignon, was improved, in terms of its defense features, by Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455). Saint Peter’s Basilica was constructed, on the site of the basilica built by Constantine, as a result of the initiative of Pope Julius II (1503-1513).

Registration criteria

Criterion (i): “The Vatican, a continuous artistic creation whose progress spreads over centuries, represents a unique masterpiece of the modeling of a space, integrating creations which are among the most renowned if mankind” (Fra Angelico, Raphael and his students, Botticelli, Michelangelo).

Criterion (ii): “The Vatican exerted a underlying influence on the development of art from the 16th century,” through its architecture (Bramante, Michelangelo, Bernini), its painting and sculpture (Raphael, Michelangelo) and the antiquities of the Museum.

Criterion (iv): “The Vatican is both an ideal and exemplary palatial creation of the Renaissance and of Baroque art.”

Criterion (vi): “[…] the Vatican is directly and materially connected with the history of Christianity. For more than a thousand years, mankind has accumulated, in this privileged site, the treasures of its collective memory […] and of its universal genius.”

Historical reference

  • Under the rule of Gregory the Great (590-604), the Papacy was the most important property-owner in Italy.
  • The Italian wars and the Roman Anarchy led to the exile of the popes to Avignon between 1309 and 1377.
  • Although weakened by the Great Schism of 1378-1417, the Papacy experienced a political recovery during the Renaissance.
  • The French Revolution led to the decline of the Papal States, followed by a difficult period of restoration.
  • Rome was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. As a result of the Lateran agreement between the Holy See and Italy in 1929, the question of the mutual acknowledgement of sovereignty, which had been on hold since 1870, was resolved.