10 things you need to know about the Hills of the Prophecy

2 minutes read

What do you know about the Holy See? Explore 2000 years of Vatican history through 10 interesting anecdotes. Let’s the prophecy begins!



  1. Vatican comes from the Latin word “vaticinari”

The Holy See (Vatican City), from its local appellation “La Santa Sede”, comes from the Greek word “hera” (sacred) and from the Latin word “sedes” (seat in reference to the episcopal chair). The Vatican is named after the hill it’s located: Mons Vaticanus, the hills of the prophecy. This appellation inheritance from the Roman times, when the tellers of the future, fortune tellers and soothsayers, stayed/lived on the hill.



  1. The first stone of St Peter’s Basilica was laid on the site of Peter’s martyrdom.

Emperor Nero accused Christians to be responsible for the great fire of Rome (64 AD) and executed them in his circus on the Vatican hills. Supposedly, they were buried there. St Peter, the disciple of Jesus Christ, leader of the Apostles and the first bishop of Rome was one of them.

As Christianity was legalized in 313, Emperor Constantine built a church atop this necropolis and St Peter’s suspected grave.



  1. The Vatican Obelisk is standing on the hills since Roman times.

What we referred today as Nero’s circus was originally built by Emperor Caligula. The red granite obelisk was transported from Egypt (Heliopolis) and erected at the center of his circus in 37 AD.  The origin of it is unknown as there are no hieroglyphs to identify the Egyptian pharaoh.

A century after, Pope Sixtus V relocated the Obelisk at the center of Piazza San Pietro (St Peter plaza).



  1. By the 14th century, the Vatican became a papal residence.

The Holy See is the historic seat of Roman Catholicism since the 14th century. Indeed, from the construction of St Peter’s Basilica to 1309, popes lived in Rome, at the Lateran Palace, the ancient palace of the Roman Empire. From 1309 to 1377, the papal residence moved to Avignon in the South of France. When they returned to Rome, they set up to the Vatican as the Lateran Place had burned.



       5. The pope is protected by the Pontifical Swiss Guards, a formerly mercenary force.

In 1506, Pope Julius II recruited 150 Helvetian soldiers for protection. This mercenary force was renowned in Europe for its loyalty, courage, noble intentions and fighting qualities. Since the safety of the Pope is/remain their responsibilities.

Today, the Swiss Guards are still highly skilled and trained. There are many conditions to join the force like being a Catholic, Swiss citizen, and have an irreproachable reputation.



  1. What represents the Swiss Guard uniform?

One of their most recognizable uniforms, the « Gala Uniform », is composed of a designed Renaissance-era vest and pant along with a Basque cap. This colorful outfit – red, blue and yellow – represent the traditional colors of the Medici family.


  1. The Vatican became officially a country-state in the 20th century. 

The signing of the Lateran Pact in 1929 ended the dispute between the Italian government and the Catholic Church. It recognized the Vatican as a sovereign state and guaranteed its extraterritorial authority over 23 sites in Rome and five outside.



  1. The Vatican is the smallest country in the world.

The world’s smallest country-state is a 100 acres (0.44 square km) enclave in Rome, Italy. As a comparison, it’s 0.7 times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC and/or one-eighth the size of Central Park in New York. As of 2017, the estimated population was 1.000 inhabitants.



  1. The Holy See is an ecclesiastical elective monarchy.

The Holy See is an ecclesiastical elective monarchy governed by the Pope. He holds full legislative, executive and judicial powers. The city-state has its own anthem (initially written in Italian, not in Latin) since 1949 and flag. In addition, this absolute monarchy mints its own euros (with the portrait of the Pope), passports and stamps. Media are represented with a daily newspaper the “Observatore Romano”, television, and radio (KPOP) broadcasted daily in over 20 languages. 



  1. The Supreme Pontiff is one of the official names of the Pope

We may often called him “Holy Father” but, officially, the pope is the “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles; Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy; Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.” (Vatican website source)


Which anecdotes above do you prefer? Share in comments!



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