The Pontifical Guard
One of the world’s oldest military units, the Swiss Guards is part of a military tradition that goes back five centuries
These colourful soldiers may appear to be bringing renaissance flair for the delight of tourists, but in fact they serve an important purpose in providing security for the Pope. the origins of the Pontifical Guard date back to 1506, when Pope Julius ii hired a unit of swiss soldiers for use as his personal bodyguard. During this period the Papal states extended far beyond the limits of the Vatican walls, and the Papacy was often involved in conflicts with neighbouring nations. swiss mercenaries were regarded as excellent fighters, and for the right price any ambitious prince or duke could hire a band of these elite soldiers, who could potentially be decisive on the battlefield. however, in 1527 the Guard faced disaster during the sack of rome by an invading army of the holy roman emperor charles V. 189 guardsmen stood their ground to defend the Vatican and Pope clement Vii, with all but 42 killed in a brutal last stand by the shrine of saint Peter. the guards had bought the pontiff enough time to escape through a secret passage out of the city. While today’s guard has not faced anything nearly so perilous, it maintains high standards of military training. although they carry traditional halberds and swords, each recruit must have served in the swiss army, with proficiency in firearms and close-combat techniques. along with the Gendarme corps, the Guard also provides protection for the Pope on his visits abroad.