When you visit Vatican City you expect to be wowed by the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. You’d probably also guess that there’s a relatively heavy guarded presence around for the Pope. What you may not anticipate is being wowed by the Vatican Swiss Guard, who are something of a tourist attraction themselves.
The Swiss Guards are the official guards of the Vatican. They are, indeed, Swiss, and they’re highly trained soldiers. Why, then, do they get so much attention? Simply put, their costumes make them look more like circus clowns than military men. The uniforms are brightly striped in yellow, red, and blue with a large, standing white collar, dramatically poofed sleeves (with a ruffle of red at the wrist), puffy pantaloons with coordinated stockings underneath, and typically a black or blue beret. While the uniforms are inspired by those worn during the Renaissance, the modern design only dates to the early 1900s.
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The division of the Swiss Guards that’s stationed in Vatican City is technically called the Pontifical Swiss Guard (other branches have served other European courts), and the Pope acts as the ceremonial chief. They’ve been the Vatican’s guards since 1506, and guards must not only complete military training but also be Catholic, single, and male. The Swiss Guards take their jobs very seriously, and do not pose for photographs with tourists. You can photograph them if you see them, but don’t expect smiles, and remember – no funny business. These guys are armed.