As if Vatican City wasn’t already the smallest independent city-state on earth, more than half of its land is taken up by the Vatican Gardens. The gardens cover about 57 acres and are enclosed by the city walls, but people are permitted to visit the gardens if they book a tour. The Vatican Gardens may not exactly be off-limits, but it’s not a public green space anyone can just wander into at will.
The first Vatican Gardens were simply vineyards and orchards laid behind the Apostolic Palace in the Middle Ages. The garden was formally established in the 13th century, when Pope Nicholas III moved his living quarters from the Lateran Palace in Rome back into Vatican City. When he took up residence in his new home, he had a garden and orchard planted within the newly-built city walls. In the 16th century, during the reign of Pope Julius II, the Vatican Gardens were redesigned, creating three separate courtyards and a formal labyrinth. It was during this redesign that the original city walls were rebuilt as the huge walls you see today.
The grounds of the Vatican Gardens now contain not only expansive lawns, flower gardens and forested areas, but also several fountains, sculptures and grottoes. There are also a number of structures within the Vatican Garden grounds, including medieval fortifications as well as the building housing Radio Vatican.
In order to visit the Vatican Gardens you must book a guided tour organized through the Vatican Museums’ tour office. Tours leave from the Vatican Museums and the “proper attire” restrictions apply to the gardens as well as just about everything else in Vatican City – no bare knees, shoulders or midriffs allowed. You can call the Vatican Museums’ tour office or email them, or book a guided Vatican City tour that includes a walk through the Vatican Gardens.