UNESCO has backed a multi-million-euro plan to renovate the barracks of the papal Swiss Guard within the Vatican, a World Heritage Site, organizers said Thursday. An assessment by experts for the UN cultural agency was “overall very positive,” Jean-Pierre Roth, president of the foundation set up to oversee the renovation, told reporters. Some “architectural elements” had still to be defined in the 44-million-euro ($47.4 million) project, he said.
The Swiss Guards, the world’s oldest practicing army who currently number about 125, was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506 and is renowned for its blue, yellow and red striped uniform. Under plans launched in 2016, the foundation aims to demolish the 19th-century buildings that house the pope’s personal protection force and construct new facilities.
The project, which is due for completion by 2029, was originally forecast to cost 42 million euros, Roth said. He said the foundation had received some 48.5 million Swiss francs (around 51.5 million euros), in donations and pledges. With UNESCO’s approval, the project has “cleared a decisive hurdle,” allowing detailed planning to begin in 2024, the foundation said in a statement. The Vatican has the final say, with construction expected to begin in 2026. The foundation said UNESCO had recognized the dilapidated state of the current barracks, which are plagued by damp and comprise of cramped rooms without individual bathroom facilities.
The UN body also recognized the Swiss Guards as “one of the living institutions that contribute to the outstanding universal value of the Vatican as a cultural heritage site,” the foundation said. Recruits must be unmarried, male, Swiss, practicing Catholics, aged between 19 and 30 and at least 1.74 meters tall. — AFP