A lot of Americans applaud Pope Francis’ simplification of papal ceremonial dress, whereby he has eschewed certain things that popes wore for centuries until February 28, 2013. But ours is a fairly casual culture, where even the President often appears in public without a necktie, many businesses have gotten rid of or greatly simplified their traditional uniforms, and things in general – from the way we dress to the way we speak – are becoming ever more casual all the time.
Italy is also experiencing some simplification, but there is still a great deal of pageantry and formality here. In January I posted some colorful shots from the opening of the judicial year of the State and of the Vatican. Be sure to go back and check out those posts.
But today’s presidential visit provided another occasion for the Italians to bring out some of their elaborate uniforms, in which they take great pride – even as those uniforms look, to us, like something from a bygone era.
Here is a group of the Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza), in ceremonial uniforms to welcome President Obama’s arrival at the presidential palace, called the Quirinal Palace (which, in fact, used to be a papal residence):
Here we see President Obama walking with what appears to be a general of some branch of the Italian military – they had to walk a fair amount, because the enormous presidential SUVs that they flew in from the States could not fit through the courtyard entrance that would have gotten them a parking spot by the door! Note the guards standing along the right side with the really wild helmets (more on them in a moment):
And here’s a closer shot of those guards. They are called the Reggimento Corazzieri, which basically translates as “armed regiment”. They are an honor guard for the President of the Italian Republic now, but historically they were a corps of heavy cavalry that wore armor and fought on the front lines:
In order to serve in this honor guard, several requirements have to be met: the candidate has to be at least 190cm tall (just shy of 6’3″) – Italians are generally not known for their height, so this greatly reduces the pool of candidates; they also have to be men of undisputed integrity, and expert horsemen (for a certain type of Irish horse that is used). There are various other physical and experiential requirements besides, including that of knowing how to drive “with great expertise” a particular make and model of motorcycle!