The life of a Swiss guard has never been very accessible, but thanks to Joanne Bergamin, this secret life is more open than ever before.
Berganim, or SwissGuardWife, as she goes by on Instagram, met her husband in uniform while working for the Pope’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, inside the Vatican walls. Like most love stories, the two clicked instantly, fell in love, got married, and moved into a humble abode – the Vatican. Nope, nothing strange here, right?
Recently, this feisty, young, and fun-loving Australian began offering small group tours, which she calls, “Jo’s Backyard Tour.” Bergamin describes it as an, “Intimate 2-hour tour for maximum 4 people to experience the beauty of the Catholic Church from behind the Vatican walls.”
After meeting Bergamin over a coffee, she invited me along for a tour. Naturally, I obliged.
I met with the rest of the small group and the tour began. As we passed through the Vatican gates, I felt like I was entering into a mystical little village. The Swiss guards greeted us with smiles and “goodmorning”s in a variety of different languages. What seemed like hundreds of cars sped by on the main cobblestone road. Bergamin warned us to stay out of the street. Nobody follows a speed limit behind the Holy Walls.
First, we saw the basics – a magnificent fountain, a view which stands 60 meters above sea level; a giant piazza, which rests atop of all documents about the Vatican and Catholic church; and we even saw a tiny truck with the Vatican logo printed across the door!
The building below, Bergamin explained, is actually an office. The workers inside have the hefty task of reducing child trafficking.
My favorite part of all was the vast green gardens inside the Vatican walls, which date back to medieval times. It felt like an oasis right in the middle of Rome – an abundance of vibrant colors, an absence of trash, and no crowds or loud noises.
There was a series of small trees lined up along a pathway. One displayed grapes for making wine. Another grew olives. The most significant, though, was the “spinidicristi” or thorns of Christ. Next we got to see the rusty old train track, the Ferrovia Vaticana – the shortest national railway system in the world.
The tour wrapped up with a brisk walk past the Palace of the Governorate of Vatican City State, the actual room where the pope lives – yes I got to see his window – and exclusive access through the back entrance to Saint Peter’s Basilica. Casual. At least it sure seemed that way for Joanne Bergamin.
This tour was a real treat. I highly recommend it for anyone living in Rome or even just visiting for a short period of time.
Tours available for weeknights and Saturdays