Popes in their secular role ruled portions of the Italian peninsula for more than a thousand years until the mid 19th century, when many of the Papal States were seized by the newly united Kingdom of Italy.
In 1870, the pope's holdings were further circumscribed when Rome itself was annexed. Disputes between a series of "prisoner" popes and Italy were resolved in 1929 by three Lateran Treaties, which established the independent state of Vatican City and granted Roman Catholicism special status in Italy.
In 1984, a concordat between the Holy See and Italy modified certain of the earlier treaty provisions, including the primacy of Roman Catholicism as the Italian state religion. Present concerns of the Holy See include religious freedom, international development, the Middle East, terrorism, the death of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), interreligious dialogue and reconciliation, and the application of church doctrine in an era of rapid change and globalization. About 1 billion people worldwide profess the Catholic faith.
The façade of Saint Peter's Basilica as viewed from St. Peter's Square in front of the church. The attic or upper story displays statues of Christ, his apostles, and Saint John. Constructed over a period of 80 years and consecrated in 1626, it is capable of holding 60,000 people.
Country name: The Holy See (State of the Vatican City). Local: Santa Sede (Stato della Citta del Vaticano).
Government type: ecclesiastical. Constitution: new Fundamental Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 26 November 2000, effective 22 February 2001 (replaces the first Fundamental Law of 1929).
Total area: 0,44 km². An enclave of Rome, Italy. The world's smallest state; outside the Vatican City, 13 buildings in Rome and Castel Gandolfo (the pope's summer residence) enjoy extraterritorial rights.
Climate: temperate; mild, rainy winters (September to mid-May) with hot, dry summers (May to September).
Note: defense is the responsibility of Italy; Swiss Papal Guards are posted at entrances to the Vatican City to provide security and protect the Pope.
Main source: CIA - The World Factbook.
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