Visiting the Vatican - What to See and Do

Swiss Guards, the Swiss soldiers in The Vatican

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Swiss guard

The Swiss Guard is the group in charge of the Vatican City’s State’s safety. It is the smallest professional army in the world with about 110 soldiers.

Dressed with an unmistakable uniform, the Swiss Guard offer one of the most picturesque images of the Vatican, although its role is far from being merely decorative.

Roles

The Swiss Guard is in charge of  the vigilance, safety and protection of the Pope inside the Apostolic Palace, as well as honorific services during ceremonies, audiences and receptions.
They are also in charge of the Vatican’s control accesses and of the protection of the College of Cardinals during Sede Vacante.

Origin

The Swiss Guard is the last army of Swiss mercenaries, a group that reached great popularity during the XV and XVIII centuries because of their special effectiveness.

The body was created on January 21st 1506, three years after Pope Julius II occupied the Chair of St Peter and requested soldiers to the Swiss nobility for his own protection, thus creating a group of 150 men.

Uniform and weapons

The Swiss Guard’s uniform is recent (XX century), although it is inspired in a model attributed to Michaelangelo designed in 1505 following the latest trends of the time and based on Pope Julius II’s House colours.

Curiously, the guards are armed with halberd and a rapier, although they carry modern weapons (pistols, machine guns, submachine guns and assault rifles) while on duty, due to being trained at the highest level.

Interaction with visitors

The Swiss Guard are also in charge of the surveillance, protection and control of accesses. This is the time when they are most visible. Tourists and pilgrims are usually a cause of headaches for them, though they regularly stay away from the public.
You will have to relate to them if you intend to have a guided tour to the Vatican Necropolis. You will need to pass a control and they will ask you for your entrance ticket.

We will provide you with some tips to deal with this military group.

– This body is very serious, not folkloric. For this reason, they do not pose for photos, and if we decide to approach them, we must be very respectful.

– It is not a problem to take a photo where a Swiss Guard appears in it, as long as it is done from a safe distance.

– As happens with any other safety group in the world, we can resort to them if we need to. They do not mind assisting the visitor. However, it is best to avoid trivial questions related to the location of things, for example. A good way to start the question would be: “Scusi Signore…”

– Inside St Peter’s Square, you may resort to the Italian Police in case you need to, since it provides assistance here.

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