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  • Hi, I'm Rick Steves and I'm standing atop one of the tiniest countries in Europe.

  • Europe has a handful of these little "don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-'em" lands:

  • There's Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Vatican City, and San Marino...

  • we're about to visit them all. This time, it's Little Europe.

  • Thanks for joining us.

  • Medieval Europe was a patchwork of miniscule dukedoms, princedoms, and feudal states. Modern-day

  • Germany - about the size of Montana - was fragmented into over 300 of these...each with

  • its own petty ruler, weights and measures, crown jewels, and curfew. These "countries"

  • were only about as big as the distance a cannon could fire from the town walls. And today,

  • only a handful of Europe's mini-nations survive.

  • The world's smallest country comes with the planet's biggest church. Another is famous

  • for its casino and car races. A stone's throw from the Adriatic Sea, the last of the independent

  • hill towns still looks pretty formidable. This castle-guarded principality is a remnant

  • of Europe's once-mighty Holy Roman Empire. And here, where Spain and France meet, another

  • tiny country entertains shoppers and hikers alike with the rugged beauty of the Pyrenees.

  • Europe's "microstates" are scattered far and wide. We'll start at Vatican City, drop by

  • San Marino, hike up to Liechtenstein, speed over to Monaco, and finish high in the Pyrenees

  • at Andorra.

  • Our first country is ruled by a man from another country, it has less than 1,000 permanent

  • residents, and its birthrate is zero. It's visited by hordes of tourists daily, and it's

  • the capital of a holy empire with more than a billion subjects worldwide. Any guesses?

  • The Vatican City. This is the smallest independent country on earth. Even though it occupies

  • less than a square mile - this country has its own radio station, newspaper, post office,

  • and a cute little train station. Along with the grandest church on Earth, it has a massive

  • museum. The Vatican is ruled - both politically and religiously - by the pope.

  • Vatican City is embedded in the city of Rome. It's surrounded by a mighty medieval wall

  • that evokes a less-than-peaceful history.

  • After the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century, the city of Rome gradually came under control

  • of the pope. In fact for centuries, the pope was called the "King Pope." Little by little,

  • the "King Pope" built his own empire. At its peak around the 17th century, the "Papal States,"

  • as they were called, encompassed much of the Italian peninsula. When the modern nation

  • of Italy was united, it absorbed most of the Papal States, including the city of Rome.

  • But the pope held out.

  • For sixty years the pope was holed up here, behind the Vatican Walls. Finally, in 1929,

  • the pope and Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty, establishing the Vatican as its own

  • nation. The garden-like core of the country - where serious administration takes place

  • - is closed to the public.

  • The Vatican "military" is made up of the Swiss Guard. In 1506, the pope imported mercenaries

  • from Switzerland, who were known for their loyalty and courage. Today, about 100 Swiss

  • soldiers still protect the pope, keep the crush of tourists as orderly as possible...and

  • wear the flamboyant Renaissance-style uniform that tourists just love to photograph.

  • The Vatican has its own postal service. Many consider it to be more reliable than mailing

  • things from across the street, in Italy...and Vatican stamps are a fun souvenir.

  • The Vatican is built on the memory and tomb of the first pope, St. Peter. Piazza San Pietro

  • sits on what was the site of a Roman racetrack. Imagine chariots making their hairpin turns

  • around that obelisk.

  • For added entertainment during the games, Christians were executed here. In about 65

  • A.D., the apostle Peter was crucified within sight of this obelisk. His friends buried

  • him in a humble graveyard atop what pagan Romans called the Vatican Hill. For about

  • 250 years Christians worshipped quietly on this spot. Then, when Emperor Constantine

  • legalized Christianity in 313 A.D., a basilica was built here, and this became the head of

  • the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Twelve hundred years later, the original St. Peter's was replaced by this, the most glorious

  • church in all Christendom. Upon entering, your first impression is: It's big...over

  • 600 feet long, bathed in glorious sunbeams. It can accommodate thousands of worshippers.

  • Near the entrance, Michelangelo's Pietà is adored by pilgrims and tourists alike. Here

  • the 25-year-old Michelangelo intends to make the theological message very clear: Jesus

  • - once alive but now dead - gave his life for our salvation. The contrast provided by

  • Mary's rough robe makes his body - even carved in hard marble - seems soft and believable.

  • The high altar, like so much of the art decorating the Vatican, is a masterpiece by the great

  • Baroque artist Bernini. With sunlight illuminating its alabaster window - as if powering the

  • Holy Spirit, it encrusts the legendary throne of St. Peter with a starburst of Baroque praise.

  • Directly above the altar which marks the tomb of St. Peter, stands Bernini's bronze canopy,

  • and above that Michelangelo's dome - taller than a football field on end. The inscription

  • declares, in Latin: Tu es Petrus..."You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church."

  • This is the scriptural basis for the primacy of Rome in the Catholic Church.

  • A viewing perch gives travelers a close-up look at those huge letters and a heavenly

  • perspective into the church. From the rooftop you can size up the dome you're about to climb.

  • For a close look at Michelangelo's dome-within-a-dome design, lean in as you climb 300 steps to

  • the cupola.

  • The view from the top is unrivaled: both of the city of Rome...and of the Vatican grounds.

  • You can survey the entire country from this lofty perch. The long rectangular building

  • is the Vatican Museum with the adjacent Sistine Chapel. These buildings and courtyards display

  • some of the greatest art of Western civilization.

  • Over the centuries the popes have amassed enough art to fill what many consider Europe's

  • richest museum. Long halls are sumptuously decorated with precious tapestries, frescoed

  • ceilings, and ancient statues.

  • The museum features art from every age. Its exquisite painting gallery includes Raphael's

  • much-loved painting of the Transfiguration. Halls and courtyards are littered with ancient

  • Greek masterpieces - like the Laocoön...so inspirational to the great masters of the

  • Renaissance.

  • And the pope's apartments tell Christian history - this is the battle in which Emperor Constantine

  • was led by angels and a holy cross both to a key military victory and to his own religious

  • conversion.

  • And these rooms celebrate pre-Christian philosophy. Here Raphael paints the School of Athens...the

  • who's who of ancient Greek intellectual heroes...many painted with the features of Renaissance greats...Leonardo,

  • Michelangelo...and a self-portrait of Raphael in the black cap.

  • But of course, we've just scratched the surface. If you're pondering eternity, try covering

  • the Vatican Museum thoroughly.

  • On the opposite side of the Italian peninsula, just a few miles inland from the Adriatic

  • coast, is another tiny nation that's entirely surrounded by Italy...San Marino.

  • The Republic of San Marino brags it's the world's oldest and smallest republic. It's

  • remained sovereign through almost all its 1,700-year history. San Marino's isolated

  • location has helped it maintain its independence. The 24-square-mile country clings bravely

  • to Monte Titano, in Italy's rugged Apennine Mountains.

  • A thousand years ago, Italy was made up of dozens of independent little states like this.

  • Over the centuries, virtually all of them disappeared from the map. First, Europe's

  • dominant royal families snatched up these tiny territories, and added them to their

  • vast kingdoms. Then, in the 19th century, Italy's unification movement consolidated

  • virtually the entire Italian peninsula into the modern nation of Italy.

  • San Marino survived because of Giuseppe Garibaldi. A leader of the Italian unification movement,

  • Garibaldi hid from his enemies here in San Marino. In appreciation, Garibaldi allowed

  • San Marino to remain independent.

  • Perched above the old town are San Marino's three characteristic castles. This trio of

  • fortresses has done its part to keep San Marino free and independent over the centuries. A

  • ridge-top trail connects the fortresses.

  • Since the 1960s tourism has brought prosperity - and along with it streets of tacky shops.

  • About half the country's economy is based on tourism.

  • As in other tiny states, quirky laws and tax regulations are used to stoke the economy.

  • As sales tax is half what it is in surrounding Italy, shoppers have long come here for the

  • savings.

  • Several of Europe's tiny countries produce their own stamps and coins - much sought after

  • by collectors.

  • Rick: Buongiorno. Woman: Buongiorno.

  • Rick: A stamp for my passport please. Woman: Yes.

  • And for a fee, they'll even stamp your passport.

  • The town's focal point is the long, balcony-like Piazza della Libertà, with sweeping views

  • over the realm. The statue depicting Liberty - wearing a crown with the three castle towers

  • - celebrates this country's passion for independence and democracy.

  • The Palazzo Pubblico, or "Palace of the People," is guarded by some of San Marino's tiny security

  • force, in their distinctive uniforms.

  • A modest stairway leads to the room from where the country is governed. Paintings remind

  • legislators of its long history and the saint who's considered the father of this little

  • nation.

  • In about the year 300, Marino, a stone cutter from present-day Croatia, fled persecution

  • from the Roman Emperor. He found refuge here, on Monte Titano and decided to stay and help

  • the community of other fleeing Christians. He was made a saint for his efforts, and remains

  • the patron saint of this country to this day.

  • From this lofty perch, San Marino's soldiers have defended their homeland - with the latest

  • in military technology. Ever since a key victory back in the 15th century, the crossbowmen

  • of San Marino have been a part of state celebrations.

  • Traditionally, this forced the marksmen to stay sharp and keep their crossbows in good

  • working order. While today it's mostly an excuse to show off for tourists, their sport

  • is still taken seriously. The marksmen hit their target with armor-piercing force - illustrating

  • the pride of nation with a long if not mighty heritage.

  • As if celebrating their bulls-eyes, the San Marino Crossbowman Federation enlivens their

  • mountain top republic with traditional fanfare.

  • [Crossbowman performing]

  • San Marino takes you back to the age of city states, an era of pageantry, pride and fierce

  • independence. Further north lays another pint sized country that is tucked away not on a

  • hill - but in the mighty Alps.

  • Two centuries ago, there were dozens of independent states in German-speaking Europe. Today, there

  • are only four: Germany, Austria, Switzerland...and Liechtenstein.

  • Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, the Principality of Liechtenstein is defined by

  • the mighty Alps to the east, the baby Rhine River to the west, and a stout fortress protecting

  • the mouth of its valley to the south. This quirky remnant of medieval feudal politics

  • is just about 62 square miles. It is truly land-locked, without a seaport, or even an

  • airport.

  • Liechtensteiners - who number about 35,000 - speak German, are mostly Catholic, and have

  • a stubborn independent streak. Women weren't given the vote until 1984.

  • The country's made up of 11 villages. The village of Triesenberg, high above the valley,

  • gathers around its onion-domed church, which recalls the settlers who arrived here centuries

  • ago from the western part of Switzerland.

  • The town of Vaduz sits on the valley floor. While it has only 5,000 people, it's the country's

  • capital. Its pedestrianized main drag is lined with modern art and hotels bordering a district

  • of slick office parks.

  • Historically Europe's tiny countries have offered businesses special tax and accounting

  • incentives. For a place with such a small population, Liechtenstein has a lot of businesses.

  • Many European companies locate here to take advantage of its low taxes.

  • And that's how the Prince of Liechtenstein, whose castle is perched above his domain,

  • likes it. The billionaire prince, who looks down on his 6-by-12-mile country, wields more