They must be some of the most photographed young men in the world; decked out in their colourful uniforms, they stand guard at all of the entrances to the Vatican.
La Guardia Svizzera Pontificia, the Corps of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, has been in charge of protecting the Holy Father for over 500 years. The institution officially came into being on January 22nd, 1506, under the papacy of Julius II (r. 1503-1513).
New recruits enrol each year on May 6th, the anniversary of the Sack of Rome in 1527, when 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives in defence of the pope.
Many guide books are fond of peddling the myth that their flamboyant costumes were designed by no less a figure than that great all-rounder, Michelangelo Buonarroti.
In truth, the design is much younger than the institution itself, dating back no earlier than 1914. The designer was Jules Repond, who also served as a commandant with the Swiss Guards between 1910 and 1921.
To become a Swiss Guard you must, of course, be Swiss. You must also be Catholic, single, aged between 18 and 30, have completed your military service, be a minimum of 174 cms tall and, last but not least, be male.
Although the prospect of female Swiss Guards has not been definitively ruled out, they are unlikely to be seen any time soon.
Blogging about Rome, its history, art and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian, writer and guide