By Antonia Komarkowski
Something that is unique to Greece are the Evzones and the Changing of the Guard at Syntagma Square, Athens which occurs every day, every hour on the hour.
The Presidential Guards, Evzones guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament 24/7. They stand proudly in perfect stillness, both motionless and expressionless, regardless of weather conditions; whether it’s a rainy winters night or the hottest summer day, you are guaranteed to catch them in action.
Evzones are an elite unit of the Greek army and it is the highest honour for a Greek Guard to be selected as an Evzone. The guards are handpicked according to their height (they must be a minimum of 1.9 meters), in excellent physical condition, they must have stamina and are disciplined and proud to serve their beloved country.
The Presidential Guard are the epitome of bravery and freedom, honouring the heroes thousands of years on, who fought and sacrificed for the land on which they stand on.
Two Evzones every hour on the hour guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in one-hour shifts around the clock, three times every two days. They work in pairs in order to perfectly coordinate their movements which are done in slow motion to preserve the guards circulation after standing completely still for one hour.
From Monday to Saturday, the Evzones dress in their khaki summer service uniform or in their black winter uniform, depending on the season.
Every Sunday at 11.00am there is a Grand Change. All the guards ceremoniously march from the barracks to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a marching band. The police block the street off for the procession and also because this is the most popular time to see the Evzones. Crowds gather in front of the Parliament building at Syntagma Square to see the official change, so it is advised that if you want to see them at this time, you should stake out your position early.
For the Grand Change on Sunday and on National holidays, the Evzones are also in the “Foustanella”. The uniform includes the kilt-like foustanella which has 400 pleats, representing the number of years Greece was under Turkish occupation, Ypodetes (a white shirt with very wide sleeves), Phemeli (black waistcoat embroidered with with designs of tradition and folklore importance), Krossia (a blue and white fringe), black leather cartridge belt with a bayonet holder, Phareon (the red cap with the national emblem on the front) symbolising the blood shed during the War of Independence with a long black silk tassel representing the tears shed by the Greeks during the years of Turkish occupation, two pairs of white woollen stockings, black silk tasselled knee garters and the Tsarouchia (red leather shoes with black pompons). Each uniform takes 80 days to create, by specially trained craftsmen.
In official ceremonies, the Evzones also wear the traditional uniforms of Crete and Pontus, in recognition to the contribution these regions played in the national fights.
You haven’t had a complete Athenian experience unless you have stopped by at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the Changing of the Guard, no matter what time of day.
It’s no secret we love seeing them when we are in Syntagma!