The Pontifical Swiss guards are the Vatican's official military in charge of security.
Anyone who has watched the movie Angels & Demons recognizes the Pope's private guards wearing colorful attire. As their name implies, the Pontifical Swiss Guards are a militia of Swiss soldiers primarily responsible for guarding the Vatican.
The Vatican is the world's smallest country at 110 acres, but there is a guardsman or officer for every single acre of land. The permanent staff of 110 are recruited from the official Swiss military. Each member is a Swiss citizen under 30 and has volunteered to serve a contract lasting for 25 months.
As a group, the Swiss Guards make up the smallest active army in the world.
I find it interesting that the Swiss Guard institution reflects Switzerland's past: Unlike the present, there was a lot of poverty, which prompted young men to seek their fortunes abroad. Starting in the 16th century, Swiss Guard units were hired as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards at various European courts.
Due to Switzerland's political neutrality and reputation for honoring agreements, a pope or emperor could have the confidence that his Swiss Guards would not suddenly turn on him...
Each year, on May 6, a new batch of Pontifical Swiss Guards take an oath of loyalty.
The Swiss Guards are in charge of monitoring access to the Vatican and protecting its four entrances.
The festive uniform of the Swiss Guard in yellow, blue, and red:
The Pope's bodyguards may look old-fashioned on the outside.
When on public duty, they are equipped with Medieval weapons such as pikes or swords.
But the Swiss Guards are one of the best-equipped armies in the world.
Beyond their ceremonial duties, Swiss Guards are highly trained 21st-century security professionals. They are chiefly responsible for protecting the Pope and Vatican City from threats, including terrorism, cybercrime, and physical attacks.
The Swiss Guards are trained with firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and tactical maneuvering. They are proficient in using advanced communication devices, surveillance technology, and specialized equipment. Equally important is their expertise in crowd control and maintaining order during public events.
The metal helmet is traditionally decorated with an ostrich feather.
The colorful uniforms of the Swiss Guards are deeply symbolic, with each vibrant shade carrying historical meaning. The flamboyant tunics were first designed by Commandant Jules Repond in 1914, drawing inspiration from Renaissance-era mercenary outfits. While the metallic helmets feature ostentatious ostrich plumes, the fabric colors of the uniforms represent the military hierarchy.
The first Swiss Guards to enter the Vatican in 1506 were likely dressed like soldiers at that time - without a designated uniform.
Only in the 20th century were they provided the exquisite outfits they still wear today.
The famous Lion Monument in Lucerne commemorates the more than 600 Swiss Guards who were killed while defending Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution.
Swiss Guards FAQ
More Information about the Pontifical Swiss Guards
Watch the Swiss Guards changing ceremony:
(Swiss Guards photographs copyrighted, lion monument photograph copyright by Leiju/Wikimedia)