swiss guard vatican

Swiss Guard Vatican Facts & Secrets – Where to see them

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The Swiss Guard – which is also known as the papal guard – is the equivalent of the army of the Vatican City. The mission of the Swiss Guards at the Vatican – taken as an oath – is to   protect the Pope and the Vatican City. In existence since the early 16th century, the Vatican Guards are one of the world’s oldest units.

The name Swiss Guard isn’t just for show – we’ll tell you more about how to become one later and just what the “Swiss” element involves. From the unique Swiss Guard uniform to the Swiss Guard weapons, this guide will help you impress your friends with your knowledge. Read on to find out more!

Swiss Guards at the Vatican – what are they exactly

Pope Sixtus IV began using the Swiss as a form of national defence since the mid to late 15th Century. Swiss mercenaries were known for their military skills and loyalty. They were popular amongst monarchies across Europe, but none but the Vatican has retained their services.

The usual number of Swiss Guards at the Vatican is about 135. During the day, the Swiss Guard Uniform can be seen at many of the entrances to the Vatican. The guards will also have recreational time with their peers, practicing how to use Swiss Guard weapons or performing other official duties.

st peter's basilica guards

Swiss Guard History – The Last Stand of the Swiss Guard 1527

As mentioned, the Swiss Guard began to make an appearance as the Swiss Guard of the Pope during the 15th – 16th Century. Growing from strength to strength, the most notable dispute in which they were involved happened in 1527.

During the Sack of Rome, the entire Swiss Guard of the Pope was nearly eliminated during a confrontation with troops belonging to Emperor Charles V. 147 Swiss Guards died from a total of almost 190. The event became known as the last stand of the Swiss Guard 1527. Their efforts enabled Pope Clement VII to escape.

During the early 19th century, the Swiss Guard’s reputation declined. The numbers of active servicemen fell to just 90, and discipline was notoriously lax. Even the Swiss Guard Weapons fell into disuse. Largely ceremonial in nature, the Swiss Guard was far removed from its elite origins. Even the amazing Swiss Guard costume was worn only haphazardly, with the recruits performing many duties in civilian clothing.

swiss guard vatican

Swiss Guard Uniform

You can’t miss it if you visit the Vatican City. The Swiss Guard Uniform is simply AMAZING. Whilst the Swiss Guard has had several changed over time, but generally maintain the same theme. The current one we know and love dates back to the early 1900s, and remains largely unchanged from the uniform worn in the late 16th century. The general ceremonial uniform consists of amazing plumes, an armoured plate and some cool Morion helmets.

The colours are yellow, orange, red and blue, and look GREAT in photographs. The design of the uniform is said to be modelled on Renaissance dress. For more general duties, the guards wear a plainer blue uniform, although it is still very interesting.

swiss guard vatican

Swiss Guard Weapons

The Swiss Guard carry both traditional and modern weapons. The modern weapons became even more important when John Paul II came under attack in an assassination attempt. Since then, Sig Sauer P220s have become the weapon of choice for the Swiss Guard. That fits pretty well – the Sig Sauer is used by the Swiss Army too.

There are lots of other guns in the armour too, including the Hispano Suiza MP43. Submachine guns are carried undercover by the plain clothes Swiss Guard officers that are closest to the Pope.

 More traditional weapons are largely for show, ceremony and to keep the tourists entertained. The sword carried by the general ranks of the Swiss Guard is pretty standard, although officers carry interesting rapiers.

swiss guard vatican Pope

How to become a Vatican Swiss Guard ?

Want to become a Vatican Swiss Guard? Back in the early 19th Century, long after the Last Stand of the Swiss Guard, things became a little lax. You could join for example if you were the long lost descendant of a Swiss guy. You probably only spoke local Roman dialect of Italian. The prestige was waning.

Nowadays things have changed, and the Vatican Swiss Guard of the Pope is back to its former glory. Here are the rules and regulations of becoming a Vatican Swiss Guard.

  • Gotta be Swiss. Sorry. It’s a deal breakerMust be Catholic
  • Must be over 5ft 8” tall
  • Then, must be between 19 and 30 years old
  • Must have trained in the Swiss Army
  • Finally, must have a diploma or university degree

It’s a pretty good deal if you meet the above criteria. You’ll get to serve in the smallest army in the world. Take home pay is a tax free €1300, with free accommodation and board! That’s pretty decent.

swiss guard vatican

Top 6 Swiss Guard Secrets in the Vatican City

  • “Meet a Swiss Guard” parties are happen regular on the Roman social circuit – these young men need time to relax too!
  • After finishing their 25 month contract, the uniform of the Swiss Guard is destroyed! They don’t even get to keep a souvenir!
  • You can only talk to a Swiss Guard when he is standing with his hands crossed – not when he is standing with his sword.
  • Swiss Guards are supposed to be single during their service. However, one slipped through the net and got special permission to marry. You can check out the wife’s Instagram here!
  • Randomly, there is a Swiss Guard Bookshop. It is – you guessed it – only for members of the Swiss Guard. We have heard rumours of tourists occasionally being allowed access. If you can manage it, let us know!
  • If you ever want to know what the Swiss Guards eat for dinner, check out the Swiss Guard cookbook!

Where to see Swiss Guards ?

You can spot the Swiss Guards guarding the Arch of the Bells when you visit the St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City – they won’t let you through this way. They are also to be seen standing at the bronze doors to the Apostolic Palace. Interact with them here and get your tickets for the Papal Audience. The guards change position every hour, although there is no ceremony per se in contrast to what you would see for example at Buckingham Palace.

Check our article to find how to get to the Vatican by public transport.

swiss guard vatican Arch of Bells

FAQ – Swiss Guard Vatican

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Why Swiss Guards at Vatican City

Swiss Guards are protecting the Pope. They are in fact the army of the Vatican and participate in the national defence of the State…


Keep your eyes out for the Swiss Guards during your time at the Vatican City. It’s a fun – and free- thing to do. If you can get your picture taken with a Swiss Guard even better! Of course, that won’t be enough to fill your day. Jump on over to our Vatican City guide for all the best things to do in the Vatican City and start planning today.

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