Vatican City state is the smallest country in the world (about 62 football pitches), but it is also one of the most significant. As the seat of the Catholic Church it is home to some of the most famous and important religious sites in the world.
The Holy See is not a country but a sovereign entity exercising "full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction" over the Vatican, and is headed by the Pope as the Bishop of Rome.
If you are interested in history, art, or religion, then a trip to the Holy See is a must. You can spend hours exploring the Vatican Museums, admiring the Sistine Chapel, and contemplating the great movements in world affairs due to the power held up in this small place.
But be warned, the Holy See as located in Vatican City State is a very popular tourist destination and unless it's specifically religion you are interested in, be careful you don't visit during a holy festival.
History of the Holy See
Preceding Vatican City State, the Diocese (a district under the jurisdiction of a Bishop) of Rome was established in the 1st century in what was then the capital of the Roman Empire, at a time when to be a Christian was very dangerous. However, the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine the Great through the proclamation of the Edict of Milan in 313 made Christianity acceptable in the Roman Empire. The Edict of Thessalonica in 380 by Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Even after the fall of Rome papal primacy continued, with influence growing to control what are referred to as the Papal States (756–1870) which were territories in central Italy that were directly governed by the papacy up to 1870, with an interruption due to French occupation from 1798 to 1799.
Despite the Capture of Rome in 1870 by the Kingdom of Italy marking the final defeat of the Papal States under the Pope and the unification of the Italian Peninsula (except San Marino) under the Kingdom of Italy (which made the pope a "prisoner in the Vatican" from 1870 to 1929), its international legal status was "constituted by the ongoing reciprocity of diplomatic relationships" that not only were maintained but multiplied.
The Lateran Treaty on 11 February 1929 between the Holy See and Italy recognised Vatican City as an independent city-state.
History of Vatican City State
The Holy See dates back to early Christianity but the independent state of Vatican City only came into existence on the signing of the Lateran Treaty, considering it to be a new creation unrelated to the much larger Papal States.
The 'Vatican' as an area can be traced back to the Roman Republic of antiquity and was a marshy area outside the walls of Rome. At first an undesirable area, it was drained in 33 AD and gardens and villas were constructed there along with a circus for charioteers. The circus was eventually completed by the mad Emperor Nero. The Vatican Obelisk in St. Peter's Square is a remnant from the Circus of Nero, though is not positioned in it's original location.
Popes had spiritual as well as a secular role as governors of regions near Rome, these being called the Papal States, until they were seized by the newly created Kingdom of Italy.