Vatican - Swiss Guards, Rome
Recruits to the guards must be Swiss citizens, Catholic, single, with Swiss military basic training, a certificate of good conduct, have a professional degree or high school diploma and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm tall.
The term of service is between 2 and 25 years. The official language of the Swiss Guard is German. The colonel of the 110 Guards is an "Oberst". The lowest in rank are the "Hellebardiers".
Except officers and NCO's who have the right to marry, the Guards have to be single and are housed at the beginning in dormitories, later in double or triple rooms. To sleep outside the Vatican is strictly forbidden.
Regular guardsmen (hellebardiers) receive a tax-free salary of SFr 1.800 (in 2006) = ± 1500 Euros per month plus extra pay for hours worked overtime.
I suppose that body guards get better financial conditions elsewhere so that the motivation of the Swiss Guards is, I think, essentially spiritual.
However after three years Guards are qualified to take the exam as a certified Swiss Federal Security Expert.
Quite visible and a pleasure for the tourists is the Renaissance style "Gala Uniform" (designed by their commander Jules Repond 1910-1921) of blue, yellow and red; plus black "Alpine" beret.
For ceremonial duties a black or silver morion helmet and eventually cuirass are worn.
Sergeants wear a black top with crimson leggings, while other officers wear an all-crimson uniform. The original blue and yellow colors are those of Pope Julius II from the Della Rovere family. The red color of the Medici family was added by Pope Leo X. The uniform for each guardsman is tailor-made and requires 154 pieces. At the end of his years of service the guardsman uniform is destroyed (to avoid any misuse or abuse).
Each guard has a halberd of 2,30 meters and a sword. Swiss Guards are trained in the use of all kinds of pistols and rifles, as well as combat sports especially since the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. The medieval tradition forbidding them to turn back to the Pope was also not efficient for his security. The handgun of the Swiss Guard is a Sig Sauer it is said but I wonder how they hide this pistol under their Renaissance ceremonial uniform?! Actually the Pope is also closely protected by Swiss Guards in plainclothes.
For the history of the Swiss Guards see also The sack of Rome and Swiss Mercenaries
The Swiss Guards of the Vatican are the last survivors of Swiss soldiers who have served as palace guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. The earliest of these mercenaries served at the French court and were called the "Cent Suisses" the Hundred Swiss serving within the Palace essentially as bodyguards and the "Gardes Suisses" Swiss Guards guarding the entrances and outer perimeter. Their officers were all Swiss and their rate of pay substantially higher than that of the regular French soldiers. Later they were completed by Swiss regiments of line infantry. At one time there were eleven such Swiss regiments in France.
In the early 16th c. the Swiss were the most powerful military machine in Europe but founded on an anachronism. When guns were coming into use the Swiss revived the ancient Greek phalanx i.e. large columns of men in serried ranks all armed with long pikes forming a hedgehog.
The Swiss Guards had a reputation for discipline and loyalty so that they served in various courts a. o. Spain, Savoy, Naples, Prussia, Holland, Austria (from where the Schweizerhof - Swiss Court in Vienna), Portugal.
A famous and sad episode (1792) in the history of the Swiss Guards was their defense of the Palais des Tuileries in Paris where King Louis XVI had been moved from Versailles during the French Revolution. Of the nine hundred Swiss Guards defending the Palace about six hundred were killed during the fighting or massacred after surrender.
But this was not the end of the Swiss troops in France as Napoleon I and the Restoration Monarchy made use of Swiss troops till in 1784 the Swiss constitution forbade all military recruitment of Swiss by foreign powers except the Papal Swiss Guard.
The story of the Swiss Guards and the popes started at the end of the 15th c. when Swiss mercenaries were enlisted during the Italian wars.
It was Pope Julius II, Cardinal della Rovere, who asked the Swiss Diet to provide him with a constant corps of Swiss mercenaries. He was well acquainted with the Swiss having been Bishop of Lausanne. In those times Switzerland was a poor country so that young men often engaged as mercenaries. They had a reputation of being powerful troops, disciplined and loyal. In the early 16th c. the Swiss were the most powerful military in Europe.
The first contingent of 150 soldiers marched in winter through the St-Gotthard Pass and arrived in Rome on 22/01/1506 the official date of the Pontifical Swiss Guard's foundation.
Terrible historical fact is that their most significant fight was against the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V during the horrible Sack of Rome.
This catholic Emperor attacked Rome and killed 147 of the 189 Swiss Guards who defended the Pope Clement VII. They were massacred by the Imperial troops on the very steps of St Peter's Basilica.
By their sacrifice the Pope could escape through the Passetto di Borgo to the Castel Sant Angelo.
Actually the imperial troops, Spanish and German Landsknechts, were commended by Charles III de Bourbon who was fatally wounded in the assault. The troops who had not been paid became undisciplined and looted and destroyed churches, monasteries and palaces of cardinals. About 10.000 people were murdered. The Emperor was in Madrid and powerless to stop his troops.
This happened on May 6, 1527. Since then, each year on May 6 the new Swiss Guard recruits take their oath of allegiance in the Cortile di San Damaso inside the Vatican.
"The papal guards, in the strangest antique and antic costume that was ever seen, — a party-colored dress, striped with blue, red, and yellow, white and black, with a doublet and ruff, and trunk-breeches, and armed with halberds, — were on duty at the gateways, but suffered us to pass without question."
— From the 1858 "French and Italian Note-Books" of Nathaniel Hawthorne
THE BOYS IN BLUE & YELLOW & RED On a visit to the Eternal City you will be well protected by Vatican City’s finest and Rome’s finest. It is easy to see these guardians of Rome; they are everywhere.
In our post-9/11 world it is now necessary to pass through metal detectors and a bag check before entering Saint Peter’s Basilica; this check-point is manned not by the Swiss Guard but by Roman police.
The Papal Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II and is the only Swiss Guard still in operation. To join one must be an unmarried Swiss male, a high school graduate and Roman Catholic.
A carabinieri kept an eye on the comings and goings in Piazza del Popolo (see photo #1). Their motto is Nei Secoli Fedele (Faithful Throughout the Centuries).
Members of the corazzieri, which is a specialized company of the carabinieri, have a minimum height requirement of 6 feet 3 inches; when the elaborate helmet is put on, these men are positively gigantic (see photos #3 & #4)! Their sole duty is to stand watch at Palazzo Quirinale, home to the president of the Italian Republic.
All photos taken during a late May 2007 visit to Rome.
Tradition of Swiss guards still looking after the Pope. This goes back to the days of them being mercenary soldiers and for pay will defend to the death. They make this vow, and it is a great priviledge for a soldier to serve at the Vatican. They are on guard all the time and go wherever the Pope goes, meaning even out of town. They plan the trips and have an entrage go ahead to scope out the potential dangers and routes. Uniforms were designed by Michelango, with the red, yellow, and blue colors. There are 90 guards, and all are 19-25 years. They commit to serve between 2-20 years
The Swiss Guards was established in 1506 to guard the Pope.
They are highly trained soldiers and have done their national service in Switzerland. They must also be catholics and of 'high moral standards'.
Those men in the funny looking outfits that you see throughout the Vatican are the Swiss guards. Effectively, they are the army of the Vatican. They have guarded the pope since the early 1500's. They all must be both Swiss and Catholic, and swear an oath of allegiance to the Pope.
Near the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica you will probably encounter some of the famous Swiss guards.
Since 1506 when pope Julius II invited Helvetian soldiers to join the small Vatican army, they have been the guards of the Vatican and the pope in particular.
All entrants to the army must be Swiss, catholic and they must take the oath of loyalty to the pope. This oath is taken May 26th, to commemorate the sacking of Rome on the same day in 1527 when Swiss guards protected pope Clement VII during his escape to the Castel Sant'Angelo.
Of the 189 guards, only 42 survived.
The Vatican City is a state within a city. This tiny sovereign state contains the residence of the Pope, the world’s largest church and most famous square and many art treasures. It has its own post office and issues its own stamps. It is governed by the Pope and protected by a small army of Swiss Guards
The Papal Swiss Guard has been in operation since 1506. They are a highly trained unit that has succesfully defended the Vatican. In 1527, 189 Swiss Guards defended Pope Clement VII against Charles V and a Spanish-German army of 22,000. Out of 189, 147 Swiss Guards perished honorably defending the Vatican.
I know that Rome is one of the world's fashion meccas, but COME ON!! Look at these guys! Blue and Orange! Isn't that worse than the white after Labor Day thingy?? Oh, sorry, wait. They are the Swiss guards that have been assigned to guard the Pope against any harm and that's their uniforms. Yes, blue and orange.
They are actually called the Cohors Helvetica. There are over a hundred of these guys brightening up St. Peters and the Vatican.
What does someone get paid to stand in one place for a long time, you might ask.
Well, the answer is the equivalent of just over 1,000 USD per month, paid in Swiss francs. But they are given full board and lodging.
Their current costum... sorry, uniforms were adopted in 1548. Legend has it that Michelangelo was the designer, but come on. Could someone who painted the Sistine Chapel have that bad of eyesight?
Look at the Swiss Guard and their colorful uniforms. While they may look rather ceremonial they are actually highly trained soldiers. They are the Pope's personal security force and stand very stoically on guard.
A must see are the Swiss guards outside the Vatican.
We did not see the change of guards but these ones were fine! Lol
Selected bodyguards - the swiss soldiers should be the best and the change of guards is as popular for tourists as the change of guards in London.Buckingham palace.
Visit Vatican and see the replacing of guards.
This is taken on a small scale but the uniform of this swiss guard is really unique and is famous for Michelangelo's work.