The Vatican City is the main destination of pilgrimage and religious tourist attraction in Italy. It was officially born on 11 February 1929, after the signing of ‘Lateran Pacts’ between the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy and the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Gasparri. The long standing dispute between the State and the Church came to an end with the creation of the autonomous government of the Vatican City.
The Vatican City is the smallest independent sovereign state in the world with a government, statutes and head of state of its own (the Pontiff of the Catholic Church). It covers an area of just 0.44 square kilometers, is located inside Rome, and as an autonomous State keeps its own laws, public institutions, coins and official press. Despite it’s size, it holds within it’s boundaries the residence of the Pope, the site of St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.
The core of the Vatican City is St Peter’s Square and Basilica, where it’s possible to admire the ‘Palace of Governorship’ and the Vatican Gardens. Built in 1506 over St Peter’s tomb, Saint Peter’s Basilica is the world’s largest. In 1547 Michelangelo took over and simplified Bramante’s previous plan, increasing the scale. At his death in 1564, one of Michelangelo’s students, Giacomo della Porta, looked after the erection of the Dome following the master’s design. The beating heart of the Vatican City, St Peter’s square gathers thousands of believers and tourists, all fascinated by it’s powerful artistic and religious scenography.
The Vatican City is a popular destination for tourists, especially Christians wishing to see the Pope or practice their faith. Pilgrims will most often visit Vatican City at special moments in the liturgical year, such as Christmas, Easter or during important periods such as the proclamation of a holy year or the funeral and election of a pope. The business of Vatican Tours is one of the main sources of revenue in the economy of the Vatican City. Although less than a quarter of a square mile in area, in 2007, some 4.3 million people visited the Vatican Museums.
The practice of pilgrimage has ancient origins. It is deeply rooted in Christianity and holds a profound spiritual value for believers who travel (by tradition on foot) from their homes to holy places. The term itself means ‘journey to join the sacred’, done for devotion or as a sign of penance, but also a simple and ancient version of modern tourism, or more precisely, religious tourism. The positive trend and number of pilgrims of the last few years prove that it’s popularity is increasing.