Crime in The Vatican – Essential Tips to Stay Safe

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This is the world's smallest sovereign state, but it is packed with magnificent architecture, beautiful art, religious significance, and tourists.

The official population is less than a thousand, and they entertain close to 4 million visitors a year! This is how the place ends up with the world's worst crime rate, 87% of the population.

Crime watch

Clearly, it's not the cardinals making off with your camera, it's just one of those statistical anomalies. But pickpocketing and petty crime is a problem just because it is a huge tourist draw card with bustling crowds, crushing queues and distracted sightseers.

The official police force is the para-military Swiss Guard. Don't be fooled by their slightly comical Renaissance-style uniforms. These are highly trained soldiers. Do not mess with them.

Their primary functions are to protect the Pope and the Vatican's many priceless artworks. Putting out an APB to find the thief who stole your $200 digital camera is not high on their priority list. The pickpockets and bag thieves know this, and few are ever caught. Take your own precautions with your valuables.

Papal attacks

Being in St Peter's Square or the Basilica when the Pope is in attendance poses an incredibly slim chance you could be hurt. During the 1981 assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II, 2 bystanders were also shot and wounded, one an American woman and the other a Jamaican man - thankfully, like the Pope, they both recovered.

Security surrounding the Pope was increased after that incident, but it's not watertight. In 2007 an unarmed man jumped the barricades in the square and tried to get onto the Pope's jeep.

In 2009 a woman inside the basilica also jumped the barricades and knocked the Pope over just before Christmas Eve mass.

Back in 1981, would-be-assassin Mehmet Ali Agca was prevented from firing more shots by spectators, including a nun, who wrestled him to the ground.

Be prepared for anything!

Dress appropriately

Make sure you are wearing the appropriate attire - long pants or skirts (that cover the knee), long sleeves, no midriff showing. And no shorts for men either. This is a significant religious site.

Be prepared to queue - and make sure you are in the right queue! You could end up touring the gardens (nice though they are) when you really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica.

Speaking of the Sistine Chapel, don't even bother trying to sneak a photo of Michelangelo's The Last Supper- the guards are OBSESSED with preventing any digital memories of your visit and will shout loudly at you.

If you elect to climb to the top of the basilica be prepared for a lot of stairs, it's not for the faint-hearted (literally) and gets claustrophobic towards the top, but is worth the effort.

The Pope's address every Wednesday at 11am is free, but you need a ticket, so book early.

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