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108. Swiss Guards, a colorful tradition in the Vatican City

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

By Giulio D'Ercole -

The Rome by Day Beauty and History Photo tour, as much as the Rome Churches, Angels and Art Photo Tour, will give you the opportunity to photograph the most colorful and fascinating soldiers in the world: the famous Swiss Guards, the tiny, but very respected "army" of the Vatican State.

But who are the Swiss Guards, how did they become the "army" of the Pope?

To answer this question let me ask you something. Can you guess which, in the heart of Europe, was a very poor country 500 years ago? Well, you will answer that in fifteen hundred many European countries were poor. True, but this one in particular was actually so depressed that much of its youth had to migrate abroad in order to find work and survive. You haven’t guessed yet? Well, the answer is Switzerland! Yes, the today prosperous and very rich Switzerland! How things change, right?

Well, the other peculiarity is that in those times, the Swiss youth were not actually looking for any job, no, not all, most of them became mercenaries. Yes, the country that today has an army that participates only in peace keeping missions, five hundred years ago "exported" soldiers of fortune. These Swiss fighters were actually so good at what they did that they were hired by many little and bigger states in Europe. One, over all, was the Pontifical State, which, during Renaissance was not only very vast, covering almost the whole of the Italian peninsula, but also very powerful! 

Though in 1872, after the unification of Italy, the Pontifical State became the Vatican City, shrinking from a large and extremely rich state to the smallest one in the world, and today the Swiss Guards in it are only 130.

Even though they are certainly not many, they have quite a big responsibility, since they must ensure Pope’s safety and the security of the Apostolic Palace.

Another peculiar aspect of this army relates to the requirements needed to become part of it: a Swiss Guard must be an unmarried Catholic Swiss citizens, he must have completed Swiss military service, and he has to be at least 5ft 8in tall and between the ages of 19 and 30.

One thing is sure anyway, photographing them, in their beautiful and colorful uniforms, while they attend their duties at the doorsteps of the Vatican city, is always a great opportunity for taking great shots!

Giulio D'Ercole

Company Owner and Professional Photographer at Rome Photo Fun Tours

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