Action Alert!

Is the Vatican a walled city? Yes and No.

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 19, 2016

OK, let’s set the record straight.

First Pope Francis said that the urge to build walls rather than bridges “is not Christian.” Next Donald Trump shot back that the Vatican is “completely surrounded by walls.” Then the New York Times, CNN, and other outlets “helpfully” assured readers that the Vatican isn’t really a walled city.

Actually it is and it isn’t.

When he said that the Vatican is “completely surrounded” by walls, Trump was wrong. A large swath of Vatican property—St. Peter’s Square—is ordinarily wide open to anyone who wants to walk in, through, or around it. You can also walk into the Vatican basilica (once you go through security) or the Vatican Museums (once you buy a ticket) during regular daytime hours.

However, the remainder of the Vatican—the offices, the gardens, the palaces—are walled off, with very restricted public access. The gates are manned by Swiss Guards, who will stop any tourist seeking to wander inside.

The walls of the Vatican do what walls are intended to do: protect the people inside from outside intruders. Yes, there are parts of the Vatican to which the public has ready access. But Vatican officials decide which parts you can visit, and when. And while you’re allowed to enter St. Peter’s Square whenever you like, you’re not allowed to stay.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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