All Greek students have at some point during their school lives read in history books about the Evzones soldiers, who played a critical role in Greece’s history from 1867 up until the Greek Civil War that ended in 1949.
For two centuries now, the unique, traditional attire of Evzones – who are commonly known as ‘tsoliades’ – has been associated with the independence of Greece, and is considered sacred by the Greek people.
The word ‘Evzonas’ (εύζωνος < ευ + ζώνη), which is the singular form of Evzones, derives from the words ‘well’ and ‘belt’ and describes a person who is ‘well-tied’ or ‘well-equipped’.
Although the uniforms worn by soldiers of the Greek army today are much different to that worn by the Evzones, the traditional Evzones attire is still worn by the guard of the Greek Parliament in Athens.
Just like the Evzones, who were considered the elite battle units of the mountains, the presidential guard at Syntagma in Athens, keep the Evzones tradition alive by honouring all those soldiers who fought for Greece’s freedom.
In honour of Evzones, the Athens City Museum is dedicating its new exhibition to these elite soldiers, with portraits, sculptures, embroideries and works of contemporary Greek art, as well as souvenirs, rare photographs, archival material, unreleased historical relics and collectibles from public and private collections that aim to tell the story of Evzones throughout the years of the Greek revolution.
Over 64 Greek artists have taken part in the Evzones exhibition that is to be hosted in the halls of the Athens City Museum up until December 21st.
Throughout the exhibition, visitors will have the chance to wander around valuable art pieces and items of the Evzones, feeling the intense conversations of the past and the present of Greece, and seeing the history of the nation unfold in front of their very eyes in the most narrative way.
The non-profit organization AMKE FERMELI – named after the traditional vest of the Evzones costume – has been organizing a series of such events over the past few years all around Greece, aiming to promote and disseminate the Greek cultural, artistic and national heritage.
“Our aim is to educate people of all ages about the history of Evzones, which began in 1867 with the original name Agima, and in 1974 was renamed Presidential Guard. With this exhibition we want to highlight the achievements of Evzones, to whom we owe our freedom, and to explain the symbolism of their uniform,” FERMELI said in an official announcement.
Along with FERMELI, historian and art curator Iris Kritikou, as well as journalist and author Nikos Vatopoulos, also took part in the organisation of the exhibition, by carefully selecting a unique catalogue of items and exhibits.
“All the collectibles and official Evzones items from the previous centuries, as well as the works of art of contemporary Greek artists, contribute to a wonderful composition, with materials that are deeply familiar and emotionally readable to the Greek public,” Mr. Vatopoulos said.
“Most of the works of the exhibition carry significant personal weight and lots of memories. They are the stories of courageous men, parents, uncles and grandparents, that we have all heard at some point through books and music, school holidays, parades and indelible childhood memories, that invisibly characterize our heritage,” said Ms. Kritikou as she described the exhibition.
“This is a great opportunity for all Greeks in Greece and Greeks of diaspora to learn about the story of Evzones, not just through wars and revolutions, but to discover the stories of each Evzonas today and what it takes to become one,” the Athens City Museum announced.
Although Evzones today play mainly a ceremonial role, their training is very demanding and therefore it is not surprising that only 50% of the Greek soldiers selected to serve as Evzones manage to complete their training.
Wearing an extremely heavy and stiff outfit, an Evzonas is required to stand in guard completely motionless and communicates with officers and his ‘partner’ Evzonas through the eyes, based on a secret code of subtle signalling.
The Athens City Museum, the full name of which is Museum of the City of Athens – Vouros Eftaxia Foundation, is named after the politician Lambros Eutaxias (1905-1996) and his uncle, Alexandros Vouros (1871-1959), a senior member of Greek diplomacy.
Since its opening in 1973, the museum has been dedicated to the preserving the history of the capital of Greece in modern times, by arranging events and exhibitions that showcase invaluable treasure of Greek history and creations of young Greek artists that also have an educational appeal.
The museum’s collections include items from the Ottoman period, paintings by great artists, such as the magnificent Carnival in Greece in 1892 painted by Nikolaos Gyzis, Pirates by Antoine Montfort, as well as famous portraits, engravings, sculptures, costumes, furniture, medals, porcelain, rare books, memoirs, photographs, musical instruments as well as exhibits of special historical importance, such as the large lithographed map of the then Kingdom of Greece from 1838.
Today, Greek children, adults, and tourists from around the world visiting the Syntagma Square in Athens, have the chance to get a glimpse of the Evzones guards that are standing in front of the outposts of the Greek Parliament.
The straightforward and purposely expressionless look of the Evzones, their uniform and history are an integral part of modern Athens.
The Evzones guards are a true living attraction of the city and an eternal symbol of Greece, synonymous to valour and heroism.
Some interesting facts about Evzones:
- An Evzonas needs to be at least 1.87 metres tall
- The service of an Evzonas lasts for 9 months
- Each Evzonas is partnered up with another Evzonas and their partnership continues until the end of their service. The Evzones pairs are decided upon specific criteria, such as height, similar facial characteristics, skin complexion, etc.
- The duration of their halt is 1 hour, and each Evzonas has 4 halts per day
- Evzones exercise for an hour in the early AM’s at the Panathenaic Stadium
- It takes one hour for an Evzonas to get dressed
- It takes about 80 days to make the traditional uniform of an Evzonas and 1 month to sew the Fermeli vest
- The knee-length skirt of the uniform, which is called ‘foustanella’, is adorned by 400 pleats, which represents the years that Greece was under the Ottoman Rule
- The shoes Evzones wear are called ‘tsarouchia’ and weigh 3.5 kilograms each. They are particularly heavy because the strong stamp and loud noise of the feet during the pace of Evzones is made purposely “to let the dead know that the Greek nation is still alive and free.”
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