It’s incredibly exciting to attend university in a country steeped in history and culture, and thrumming with international activity. And, while that statement very much applies to John Cabot University’s home in the heart of Rome, it also applies to its closest and smallest neighboring country, Vatican City.
One terrific benefit of studying in Italy is the unparalleled opportunity to visit nearby countries. None though is closer than Vatican City. As the smallest country in the world – small enough to fit snuggly into the city of Rome – this religious hub is a must-see for students at JCU, whose campus is just a short bus ride away. The city’s long and fascinating history, exquisite art and architecture, and modern quirks make it one of the most interesting destinations in the world.
Whether you’re studying Art History, Classical Studies, or Business Administration, everyone can find something in the Vatican to engage the senses and capture the imagination. Here are just some of the many fascinating and little-known facts about this unique city-state.
1. The Vatican Obelisk has Been Standing Since the Days of Roman Emperors
Deciding to study Classical Studies in Rome has many unique advantages, such as regular class visits to archaeological sites, and troves of ancient artifacts and resources to complement your research. One other advantage is that Rome boasts more ancient Egyptian obelisks than anywhere else in the world – including Egypt! One of the most famous is the Vatican Obelisk situated right in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. Brought to Rome by Caligula in 37AD, this 326-ton beauty is still standing today.
2. Vatican ATMs Offer Service in Latin
Business students enrolled at a university in Italy might be intrigued by one peculiar feature of Vatican ATMs – they’re the only ones in the world to offer service in Latin.
That’s not the only unusual feature of the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for the Works of Religion. This small private bank can only open accounts for clerics, Vatican employees, accredited diplomats, and members of Catholic and other religious institutions. Classical Studies students will find this incorporation of Latin into modern day life a fascinating part of Vatican culture, and an interesting way to preserve what many consider a famously dead language.
3. The Pietà: The Only Work Ever Signed by Michelangelo
Art History students who admire Michelangelo’s skillfully crafted sculptures should take a close look at the Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica. This famous statue of Mary holding Jesus’s body after the crucifixion is worth seeing for its exquisite beauty alone. But, for students who choose to study Art History in Italy, getting the chance to see Michelangelo’s signature on the statue is also a rare treat.
Legend has it that the young sculptor carved his name on Mary’s sash after overhearing someone say he couldn’t possibly be the creator of such fine work. Many of Michelangelo’s other works were commissioned by the wealthy who didn’t want a signature marring their final “product” – so it’s challenging to find a piece bearing his name. Students can visit the sculpture at the Pietà in Vatican City to get a once-in-a-lifetime look at the mark of one of the worlds’ most revered artists.
4. The Vatican Was Once Abandoned
During the Avignon Papacy, the Vatican was essentially abandoned when the papal court moved to France and continued operations there for over 60 years. During this time, the Vatican fell into such disrepair that cattle were sometimes seen wandering through the ruins of the original basilica, and there were even accounts of wolves picking through the graveyards!
Although almost all of the original basilica was eventually torn down, one of its mosaics remains on display in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin—a great opportunity for Art History majors to view a special piece of the Vatican’s past.
What other fascinating facts do you know about Vatican City?