Where Is the World’s Smallest Country?
Based on landmass, the smallest country in the world is the Vatican City. The Vatican is an independent and sovereign state within the boundaries of Rome in Italy. Although the Vatican has always been the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church, it did not become an independent state until 1929. Its government type is considered ecclesiastical and its chief of state is the Catholic Pope, Pope Benedict XVI. The city state has a daily newspaper, a railway station, and its own bank. Perhaps it is the most unusual country with own government, army, diplomatic missions, but without permanent native population (the citizenship is granted only to persons who work in the Vatican and its missions abroad).
It has an area of 0.2 square miles (.51 square km) and it has a December 2019 population estimate of 810, but many more commute into the area for work. There are no frontier formalities for those entering Vatican City, where millions yearly visit St. Peter’s and the exhibition galleries. The chief treasures to be seen are the Michelangelo frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, paintings by Raphael, Fra Angelico and Caravaggio, the frescoes of Pinturicchio and the Codex Vaticanus of the Greek Bible.
Situated on the western bank of the Tiber River, Vatican City’s 2-mile border is landlocked by Italy. The official seat of the pope of the Catholic Church since 1377, Vatican City was not declared an independent state until the Lateran Treaty of 1929. After years of power struggles between popes and the political leaders of Italy over who could claim supreme authority in the region, Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI agreed to the Lateran Pacts on February 11, 1929, which created the independent state of Vatican City for the Catholic Church in exchange for the pope’s recognition of the Kingdom of Italy. Today, nearly 75 percent of the Vatican’s citizens are members of the clergy.
In comparing countries by population, however, Vatican City loses out to the Pitcairn Islands for the title of smallest country. Compared to the 800-850 residents who live in Vatican City, the population of the Pitcairn Islands has fluctuated between 40 and 60 inhabitants over recent years. This British territory, located in the Pacific Ocean halfway between Peru and New Zealand, is composed of four islands, but Pitcairn is the only one that is inhabited.
Pitcairn’s tiny population is also noteworthy due to its peoples’ heritage: They are descended from Tahitians and the mutineers on the Bounty. Fletcher Christian and eight other mutineers fled to Tahiti after their revolt at sea, but when hostilities arose with their new neighbors and they began to fear arrest, they escaped to the deserted island of Pitcairn to hide from British authorities, bringing a handful of Tahitians with them. The British rediscovered the islands in 1791 during a search for the mutineers, and they were named a British colony in 1838. Though the population has swelled since then to a whopping 223 just before World War II, the current population stands at about 65-70.