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|Stato della Città del VATICANO||State of the VATICAN City|
The State of the Vatican City (Stato della Cittą del Vaticano, Status Civitatis Vaticanae) is the sovereign territory of the Holy See, an enclave within the city of Rome and governed by the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the smallest independent nation state in the world in terms of area (0.44 km²) and population (est. 2005: 925).
Until the 14th century the seat of the popes was not the Vatican but the Lateran Palace in Rome. Between 1309 and 1377 several popes resided in Avignon in France, starting with Clemens V and ending with Gregor XI in 1377. Two further (anti)popes, this time considered illegitimate, resided there from 1379 (Clemens (VII)) until 1403 (Benedict (XIII)). When after the Council of Constance of 1418, which ended the Western Schism, the popes returned to Rome and chose the area of the Vatican Hill, the site of the martyrdom of St. Peter, as their residence. Julius II initiated the construction of St. Peter's basilica in 1505, Sixtus V began the construction of the Apostolic Palace in 1589. The territory of the Papal States increased up until the 19th century when they covered a large part of central Italy. After the French Revolution the state was declared the 'Roman Republic', which was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1808. The Congress of Vienna, however, restored the Papal States in 1815. In 1870 King Vittorio Emmanuele II of Italy occupied the state and its status remained undecided. After 1870 most of the ecclesiastical administrative bodies took their seat in the Vatican City. The Lateran Treaties of 1929 between the Holy See and the Fascist Kingdom of Italy under Benito Mussolini finally restored the sovereignty of the Papal State which since then only consisted of the Vatican itself. The principal ecclesiastical seat of the Holy See, however, is the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which is located in Rome itself.
The Vatican City was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 (see also list of other UNESCO heritage sites).
St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano) is one of the central churches of the Roman Catholic Church and is one of the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome. With its capacity of about 60,000 St. Peter's was the largest Christian church building until the completion in 1989 of Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix in Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast). The church is located above the remains of the Circus of Nero where Saint Peter was buried upon dying on an inverted cross in AD 64. After Constantine I officially recognised Christianity, he started construction in 324 of a great basilica. Over the centuries it was richly decorated with the wealth brought by the flow of pilgrims, but by the mid 15th century the south wall was in danger of collapse and it was decided that the basilica should be rebuilt. Pope Julius II started to add to the old church in 1506. Donato Bramante was to be the first chief architect. Michelangelo, who served as main architect for a while, designed the dome (42.3 metres or 138.8 ft in interior diameter, rising to 120 metres, 394 ft, above the floor). After the death of Julius II, building was halted until Pope Paul III asked Michelangelo to design the rest of the church. After Michelangelo's death his student Giacomo della Porta continued with the unfinished portions of the church. Carlo Maderno became the chief architect later on, and designed the entrance. The church was finally completed in 1615.
Directly to the east of the church is St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro), built between 1656 and 1667. It is surrounded by an elliptical colonnade designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The obelisk in the centre of the square was moved to its present location in 1585 by order of Pope Sixtus V. The obelisk dates back to the 13th century BC in Egypt, and was moved to Rome in the 1st century to stand in Nero's Circus some 250 metres (820 ft) away. Including the cross on top and the base the obelisk reaches 40 metres (131 ft). There are also two fountains in the square, the south one by Carlo Maderno (1613) and the northern one by Bernini (1675).
[Text adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vatican_City, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter's_Basilica]