Within the walls of Vatican City is stored one of the most important treasures in the world, the Vatican’s Secret Archives.

Only a limited number of people can access documents kept here by the Catholic Church. It’s free to gain access, but only academics and historians are allowed and they must request authorization from the Vatican.

The Vatican Secret Archives began under Pope Paul V. It was officially opened 400 years ago on January 31 in 1612. It’s called “secret” from its Latin name “secretum” meaning “private”. Since it opened, it’s become the private archive of the popes.

In 1810, Napoleon Bonaparte took over 3,000 documents to Paris. After his fall from power, the files over time made their way back to the Vatican. Although during these transfers, many valuable documents were lost, some of which were from the fifth century.

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