Membership in the Swiss Guard is considered a privilege. The Swiss Guard has long since ceased to be a mercenary force, rather it is a standing unit drawn from the Swiss military forces. I don't remember hearing who they are actually paid by.
Requirements for membership are:
1. Swiss citizenship
2. Practicing Roman Catholic
3. Good moral ethical background
4. Between the ages of 19 and 30
5. at least 174 cm tall
7. Attended military school in Switzerland
8. Professional degree of high school diploma
Some things I noticed:
The Swiss Guards site (http://www.gardesuisse.va/requirements-2.html)
-the requirement of Swiss nationality seems to be more a preference. Dual citizenship allowed?
-Unmarried male- Guards are housed in dormitories and then double or triple apartments.
-this site seems to require celibacy. based on the reasons that they must live in the Vatican and there are limited opportunities for socialising. There are requirements to be allowed to marry.
Our guide told us additionally that membership in the Swiss Guard is something that is seen as a very high status thing and therefore a lot of the more important families like to have a son in the guard.
Interestingly, I saw one non-white Swiss guard on the day I visited the Vatican.
The upper terrace, which used to be a fountain, contains this strange looking sculpture dating from the first century AD. It is called the Fontana della Pigna (Pine Cone). The bronze pine cone once spouted water from its top. It is 4 meters tall and originally was located at the Temple of Isis by the Pantheon.
The bronze peacocks are copies of the ones decorating the tomb of Emperor Hadrian.
One of the pretty bridges of Rome, this bridge was originally built in 134 AD by the Emperor Hadrian. Originally, it was meant to connect the city of Rome to what is today the papal fortress Castel Sant'Angelo. Back in ancient times this structure was Hadrian's mausoleum.
Today it is a purely pedestrian bridge. Make sure to stop and get a good photo of Castel Sant' Angelo from here and the ten angels designed by the sculptor Bernini. The angels each represent an aspect of Christ's crucifixion.
There are excavations under the Basilica of St. Peter's. These excavations have uncovered a Roman-era cemetery that was on the mons vaticanus (Vatican Hill) next to a circus (Nero's?) (a circus is a racetrack and all-around party-place). Both Romans and Christians (often martyred in the circus) are buried here.
You must make reservations to see the excavations, and places are limited. However, since most tourists have no idea that the excavations are open, it's easier than you think. See the attached URL for information.
When you enter the excavations ("scavi" in Italian), you are entering an alley in the Roman-era cemetery - with all of St. Peter's over your head. Yep, you're walking down a 2,000 year old street, underground. Note to the claustrophobic - the area excavated is large and high, you won't feel confined at all.
You will see a number of Roman and Christian tombs, and the tour ends near the place where the Church's archeologists believe that St. Peter himself was buried. There is a fair amount of evidence that this is true. Well, believe it or not, it is a fascinating view into the past that is definitely off the beaten path.
If you look at your guidebook carefully you can appreciate the enormous amount of significant things there are to see in the Vatican. Honestly, in this case it is far better to go with a tour, which helps you to put it all in a more cohesive perspective and to make sense of the huge amount of information you will get.
I toured the Vatican with a group called Through Eternity. Their tour leaders are art historians. We met first thing in the morning by the entrance to St Peter's and it was an excellent tour, longer and more detailed than most and much more intensive in the art aspects of it all. All of us in the tour were very pleased with our guide, her name was Tanya, and would have gladly continued the tour had it lasted longer.
Even first thing in the morning an intimidatingly long line was forming to get into St Peters. Fortunately, the tour didn't have to endure the long lines and walked right in. I enjoyed that the tour was focused on art history and history and though there was an enormous amount of information that could be covered during this tour, Tanya made it interesting, entertaining and a springboard to further exploration. By design, the company limits their tour groups to no more than 15, which makes this sort of exploration much easier.
I would absolutely recommend Through Eternity for the tour of the Vatican, which included St Peters and the Vatican Museum.
Located on the edge of St. Peter's square, are Souvenir shops that sell religious items, and plenty of stalls that do the same. They were doing a brisk trade! Whether they were cheap or not, I don't know, I do know they had plenty of choices for you to choose from.
If you are feeling hungry or thirsty, then you may wish to stop at the stall next door that sells all of this!
The Swiss Guard (Corpo de la Guardia Swizzera) that today guards the Vatican originally was one of many Swiss mercenary units that served in various royal courts in Europe. Part of the reason for this was that in the middle ages there was apparently overpopulation and hence poverty in the Swiss cantons.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard, established in 1506, serves as the official bodyguard of the Pope. Apparently Italy provides the Vatican with more traditional military protection. Pope Julius II requested a constant corps of 200 mercenaries. Today the force numbers 135 but they are no longer mercenaries.
Their bright Renaissance inspired uniforms actually reflect the colors of the Della Rovere papacy (Julius II) and the red of the Medici (Leo)
You will see them guarding the entrances to the Vatican. During my visit to Rome they were especially visible since a major European Community meeting was taking place with visiting heads of state. It was all very ceremonial and colorful.
Raphael was a Renaissance painter from Urbino that worked in Rome and especially at the Vatican at the same time as Michelangelo and, for part of that time, they were literally in rooms beside each other as Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel and Raphael worked on his frescoes in the Vatican. Both were rivals for the attention and commissions of Pope Julius II. Both were phenomenal artists in their time. But that is where the similarities end. While Michelangelo was moody and preferred solitude, Raphael was a fun loving womanizer who enjoyed the pleasures of life and fame provided.
Raphael only lived until the age of 37 but accomplished quite a bit in his lifetime with the majority of his works in the Vatican. My favorite of all the works I saw while in Rome is Raphael’s School of Athens, a fresco on one of the walls in the Raphael Rooms on the way to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Raphael died in Rome and, at his request, is buried in the Pantheon.
For Raphael lovers, I’ve compiled a list of his works at the Vatican below – and there a lot - so you can be sure to see them all. For Raphael’s other works in Rome, visit my Raphael in Rome page.
Crowning of the Virgin (1504) – Room VIII in the Pinacoteca
Annunciation (1504) – Room VIII in the Pinacoteca
Adoration of the Magi (1504) – Room VIII in the Pinacoteca
Presentation in the Temple (1504)
Three Theological Virtues (1507)
La Disputa (1510)
School of Athens (1510)
Cardinal Virtues (1511)
Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple (1512)
Madonna of Foligno (1512)
Fire in the Borgo (1514)
Meeting of Leo the Great and Attila (1514)
Deliverance of St. Peter (1514)
The master artist Michelangelo Buonarroti was called to Rome by Pope Julius II to sculpt his future tomb, a project that Michelangelo would work all his life on but thwarted many times from completing the originally planned 40 sculptures. In the end, the tomb is just a small monument in San Pietro in Vincoli to the pope with three original sculptures by the artist, although other parts to the tomb are on display in other parts of Italy and France in various stages of completion.
Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor and not a painter so it is ironic that he is most famous for his painted ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, a project commissioned by Pope Julius II and the subject of books and movies.
The artist was not only a sculptor and and painter, but he was an architect as well and worked on some of the best known buildings in Rome and Florence. In his spare time he also was a poet and a writer and left a large legacy of poems and letters so that we can learn about the troubled life of this artist. Known for his temper and moodiness, Raphael painted the artist sulking in the center of his School of Athens fresco in the Vatican after seeing Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
The works of Michelangelo are all around Rome so I have compiled a list of them for Michelangelo lovers to easily track them down on my Michelangelo in Rome page.
Below is a list of Michelangelo’s works specifically in the Vatican:
Pietà (1500) – St. Peter’s Basilica
Sistine Chapel ceiling (1512)
Last Judgment (1541) – Sistine Chapel
Conversion of Saul (1545) – Vatican Palace
Crucifixion of St. Peter (1550) – Vatican Palace
St. Peter’s Basilica
the dome of St. Peter's Basilica
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a prolific sculptor and architect whose many works can be seen in Rome and he has a substantial amount of works in Vatican City, mostly in St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square. He was favored by Pope Urban VIII in the 1600s and was influential on many up and coming sculptors.
Born in Naples in 1598, he came to Rome with his father when he was 8 years old – his father was a master sculptor and had work in Rome, thus Bernini was influenced early in life and developed a love of art from his father and his skills were soon noticed by popes and cardinals, specifically Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Bernini died in Rome in 1680 and is buried in the Papal Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore near the altar. Although I think it is a shame that this fantastic sculptor is buried under a plain step in the church - I would have thought that his students or patrons would commission a wonderful funerary monument to this master sculptor that decorated so much of Rome.
Bernini lovers will want to explore Rome and will find many works by this busy sculptor throughout the city. I’ve tried to capture the majority of his works and grouped them by location to make it easier to find them on my Bernini in Rome page.
His specific works at the Vatican are listed below:
St. Peter’s Square
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter's Baldachinno (1624)
Tomb of Pope Urban VIII (1647)
Saint Longinus (1638)
Bust of Urban VIII
Altar Cross in Treasury (1661)
Throne of St. Peter (1666)
Statue of St. Augustine (1666)
Tomb of Pope Alexander VII (1678)
Charity with Four Children (1628)
Bust of Pope Urban VIII (1633)
Charity with Two Children (1634)
Daniel and the Lion (1655)
Habakkuk and the Angel (1655)
Constantine (1670) Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican City
Constantine (1670) Scala Regia, Vatican Palace, Rome
Many of Caravaggio’s exquisite paintings are on display in Rome, but he is not as prominent at the Vatican. This Italian artist was influential on the Baroque school of painting with his realistic portraits and scenes that played with light and emotions. Oftentimes with Caravaggio, the central subject of his painting appeared secondary to the other parts of the work – such as his Conversation of St. Paul when Paul’s horse appears to take up the majority of the painting and Paul is on the ground in the foreground.
One of the identifying features of many Caravaggio’s is his realism. As Hubby was going around with me to the various churches to view these works, he came to recognize Caravaggio works by the “dirty feet” – a successful attempt by the artist to capture reality; something that was acceptable for peasants in his paintings, but critics were not pleased when saints were portrayed with these human characteristics.
Caravaggio had a fierce temper and trouble seemed to find him, so his great success as an artist was limited by his jail time and exile. He fled Rome after killing another man in a bar brawl and was subsequently in other brawls that left him with limited places to flee and injuries. Sadly, on his way back to Rome where he hoped to seek a pardon, Caravaggio died at the young age of 38, a seemingly waste of a talent and life. Caravaggio’s works found a resurgence of popularity in the 1900s when he apparently was rediscovered after years of being forgotten.
For Caravaggio fans, I have tried to list all his works on display in Rome on my Caravaggio in Rome page so you can make sure you see as many as possible.
Unfortunately, there is only one work of this great artist at the Vatican (and I don't have a photo of it):
Entombment (1603) Vatican Museum, Room XII of the Pinacoteca
Until April 29, 2011, you will see this stunning bronze display of the Stations of the Cross - along the left side of Via della Conciliazione leading up to Saint Peter's Square and the Vatican. Awesome in both size and detail, here are a few photos. View the travelogue to see all 14 stations and more detail.
For more information, visit the website: http://www.domusdei-pddm.com/
The day I visited Vatican City just happened to be the day of the Papal Blessing, given by the late Pope John Paul II. In the morning I saw the Vatican museums, including the Sistine Chapel, and toured Saint Peter's Basilica. Later in the afternoon I returned for the blessing. There were thousands of people gathering in Saint Peter's Square, and it was hard to find a good place to stand. Nevertheless, I found a good spot among all those people that afforded a distant view of the Pope. Although I am a Roman Catholic, I am not particularly religious. However, it was a moving experience to see and hear the Pope.
The Papal Blessing is performed every Wednesday afternoon in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
The Pope is barely visible in this picture. He is the figure dressed in white under the canopy.
Saint Peter's Basilica dominates Vatican City, as well as the skyline of Rome. It is one of the holiest Roman Catholic sites, as it is the burial place of Saint Peter, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus. It is believed that Saint Peter was executed by Roman Emperor Nero in 64 A.D. His burial chamber is located under the altar. Due to the holiness of the site, numerous Popes have been buried there as well.
The place where Saint Peter was buried has been the site of a cathedral since the fourth century. The present basilica was constructed between 1506 and 1626, at which time it was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII. The basilica was constructed in the Renaissance style of architecture, and was laid out in a cruciform shape with an elongated nave in the form of a Latin cross. It is the largest church in Christianity, covering six acres (two hectares) and having a capacity of 60,000. Needless to say, the interior of the basilica is the largest of any Christian church in the world. In addition, the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica is one of the largest and tallest in the world, at 138 feet (42 meters) in diameter, and 390 feet (119 meters) above the floor.
Contrary to popular belief, Saint Peter's Basilica is not the official seat of the Pope or first in rank among the four Pope's Basilicas. That honor is held by the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, located in Rome. However, Saint Peter's Basilica is the principal church of the Pope as it is the location of most of the ceremonies surrounding the Pope.
To get in, you will first go through a metal detector (after all,this is an important building). Don't be put off if there is a long line in front of the detectors; the whole thing moves quickly.
Baldacchino and Dome, St. Peter's BasilicaAside from going inside, you can take an elevator up to the roof and than make a long climb up 323 steps to the top of the dome for a spectacular view. It costs €6 for the elevator, and allow an hour to go up and down. During the climb and before reaching the very top, you will find yourself standing on the inside of the dome, looking down into the Basilica itself. Be warned that there are a lot of stairs so it is not for the faint at heart (literally or figuratively) nor the claustrophobic as the very last section of the ascent is through a little more than shoulder-width spiral staircase. Instead of leaving out the doors you came in, go down into the crypt to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II, the crypt leaves out the front.
Note: A strict dress code is enforced (as in many other houses of worship), so have shoulders covered, wear trousers or a not-too-short dress, and take your hats off (which is the custom in churches in Europe). You might be required to check bags at the entrance. Photos are allowed to be taken inside, but not with a flash. The lack of light will probably cause your pictures not to turn out very well, so you may want to buy a few postcards to keep as souvenirs
Vatican City is the capital of a functioning country as well as the home to several hundred people, including the Pope. Just as you can't wander at will through the halls of Buckingham Palace or...