Today is a huge milestone for Greece’s Presidential Guard, as on December 12, 1868, the Evzones’ was founded as a combatant and ceremonial force, marking a historical 150 years since the Evzones began their duties in the Greek capital.
From Homer’s epic poems to Byzantine Empire’s final moments and from the Greek War of Independence to the modern Hellenic Republic- the Evzones- the elite light infantry of the Greek Army, have always stood proudly in history’s first line.
With their origins lost in the labyrinth of the nation’s ancient tradition, the Presidential Guard as we know it today was founded on December 12, 1868, during the first decades of the Greek independent state, as a combatant and ceremonial force that -among other duties- was tasked with King Otto’s safety.
Although, during the centuries that followed the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire in 1453 up until the 1821 Revolution outbreak the skirt-clad Evzones was renamed by Greece’s rural population to “tsoliades” (coming from the Greek word for rags) due to their appearance.
The Presidential Guard barracks have always been located around the back of Zappion Gardens, close to the Presidential Mansion on Herod Atticus Road.
All Evzones must be 1.9 meters tall and need stamina and discipline as they undergo intense training. Most importantly, they need to be proud of serving their country and must learn to stand still for long periods of time, avoiding eye contact and stare without flinching or blinking of the eyes.
During the warmer months from Monday through to Saturday (unless it is a National Holiday), the Evzones wear the Summer doulamas (the uniform from the Balkan war) and during the cooler period, they wear the winter doulamas (the uniform from the Macedonian war).
Every Sunday, as well as on National holidays, the Evzones wear the Ceremonial uniform, the “Foustanella”.
The uniform includes-
- 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 bloodshed 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
- Tsarouchia (red leather shoes with black pompons).
Each uniform is handmade by specially trained craftsmen and it takes approximately 80 days to create. Each guard also carries a gun.
On official ceremonies, the Evzones also wear the traditional Cretan and Pontian uniforms in recognition of the contribution these regions played during the war.
The duties of the Presidential Guard include:
- Guarding the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, Presidential Mansion and at the gate of the barracks 24 hours a day
- The official raising and lowering of the flag at the Acropolis
- Grand Change at The Monument of the Unknown Soldier on Sunday at 11am
- Guard of honour to the President of the Republic and to the leaders and ambassadors of foreign countries
Regardless of the weather conditions, from the hottest summer day through to snowfall, the Presidential Guard must complete their duties.
Led by a marching band, every Sunday at 11am, the Grand Change of the Evzones takes place. All the Evzones march from the barracks to the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, representing the memory of all unknown soldiers killed at war. The police block off Leof. Vasilissis Sofias and Leof Vasilissis Amalias for the procession, and crowds gather in front of Parliament at Syntagma Square to witness the official change, before the Evzones march back to the barracks.
In the eyes of Greeks worldwide the Evzones are a strong national symbol, representing Democracy, Freedom, and Bravery.
*Images by Nick Bourdaniotis Photography (Copyright)