One of the latest events celebrated in the Vatican City was the Swiss Guard’s birthday, occurring every year on 22 January. The history of this handful of soldiers in charge for the Pope’s security is quite intriguing beyond the attractive colors of their uniforms.
It all begun in 1506, when the then Pope Julius II (who commissioned his grave sculpture to Michelangelo) hired them for his own protection in a time of great political instability. The choice had fallen upon soldiers from today’s Switzerland on the ground of the wide appreciation they had gained all lover Europe since the Middle Age. Ancient times Switzerland was indeed a land very poor in economical resources, so that military art was often the only option for young men: with time passing they became the most well trained and loyal men-at-arms in the continent, to the extent that European rulers used to call them to service. And so did the Pope, who was no less than a sovereign at that time.
Few years after they gave proof of their trustworthyness as soldiers: in 1527 Rome was invaded and brutally ravaged. The Pope was taken by them to Castel Sant’Angelo, his fortress. Out of the 189 guards only 42 survived, right those who had accompanied him to the castle still standing today on the Tiber river.
A little note: their outfit is not as ancient as we might think. It dates back to 1914, when it was re-designed following Raffaello’s drawings.
Delve into Roman history and visit the Vatican area! Carlito Hotel & Hostel is at few metro stops from it: just catch line A and get off at Ottaviano!