Whilst you are in Athens, why not enjoy the pomp and splendor of the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, performed by the Greek Presidential Guard? The Evzones are the elite unit of the Greek army which was formed in 1868. The Evzones are hand-picked soldiers who are known for their courage and bravery. The ceremony is unique to the capital city and very special – get there early as you will not be the only one with this idea!
The ceremony of the Changing of the Guards in Athens
The ceremony takes place in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with the elegant building of the Parliament building (which was once a royal palace) as a fitting backdrop. There is a ceremony to mark the change of sentries, every hour on the hour when two Evzones Guards go off duty and two new guards go on duty.
The Evzones guard both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which remembers the thousands of Greek soldiers who were killed in the war and the Parliament building. The ceremony displays the precision of the drill of these soldiers. It takes place whatever the weather and you cannot help but feel sorry for the guards when it is either boiling hot or pouring with rain. For their hour of duty, the Evzones will be on guard and will stand motionless, expressionless, and must not utter a word.
Every Sunday morning at 11.00 there is a much larger, grander ceremony with more Evzones taking part and a military band– get there early as it is really popular. On a Sunday, the guards also raise and lower the national flag at the Acropolis.
The Evzones guards are specially chosen from soldiers doing their compulsory military service. One main requirement is that the soldier must be tall- between 1.88 (6 foot 2 inches) and 2.05m (6 foot eight inches) in height. The soldier must complete an intensive one month course prior to joining the guards. Needless to say, several drop out of the training. Once they have been selected, the guards undergo further training in all ceremonial duties.
The ceremony of the Changing of the Guard takes place in front of the beautiful Presidential Mansion that now houses the Greek Parliament. The palace was built in a neoclassical style in 1838 and was for many years was used as the royal palace. It became the parliament building in 1931
The Evzones Uniform
The uniforms worn by the Evzones are very special as each one is made entirely by hand. The design is based on the traditional uniforms worn during the War of Independence. The formal ceremonial uniform worn by the guards is white. This uniform is worn on Sundays, Bank Holidays, and when there are visiting dignitaries. The ceremonial uniform includes the famous finely pleated kilt called a Foustanella.
On other days, the guards wear a doulama (tunic) which is either a khaki-colored fine cotton tunic during the summer months or a thicker navy blue woolen tunic in the winter months. On 19 May each year, the Evzones wear a black Pontic uniform to commemorate the Pontian genocide.
Another uniform the Evzones wear on special occasions is known as the ‘Uniform of the Islands’ and it reminds everyone that the struggles did not only take place only on the mainland but also in the Greek Islands. The uniform is Cretan in character and includes a coat with tabard underneath, bright blue breeches, and sturdy white leather boots.
Evzones Uniform – Foustanella
The Foustanella is made from 30 meters of fabric and has 400 fine pleats which represent the 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman Empire before Greece was liberated. The Foustanella is decorated with numerous krossia and these fringes are in both pale blue and white – the colors of the Greek flag.
The Foustanella has a long history as ancient pieces of pottery depict men wearing a similar garment in Attica as early as the 5th century BC. By the 12th century AD, it had become a popular item of clothing as it is very practical.
Evzones Uniform -Ferneli (Waistcoat)
The guards also wear a beautifully embroidered ferneli – waistcoat. These are hand-sewn in wool and take many months to complete. On the back of the waistcoat on the tail on the right- hand side, the guard’s rank is depicted – no stripes for the rank of ‘private’, one stripe for ‘corporal’ and two stripes for ‘sergeant’. The waistcoat is worn over the ypodetes which is a crisp white shirt with widely flared sleeves. Underneath the flared sleeves there are undersleeves that buttons at the cuff for comfort.
Evzones Uniform – Farion (Cap)
The Evzones wear a distinctive cap – farion- which is made is soft scarlet-colored fabric and has a really long black silk tassel. On the front of the cap, there is the Greek coat of arms and the guard’s stripes of rank are shown underneath. When making a salute, the Evzonas extends two of his fingers towards the coat of arms.
Evzones Uniform – Tsarouchia (Shoes)
Tsarouchia are the special clog style shoes worn by the Evzones are very distinctive and famous! The shoes wearing three kilos each. The sole of the shoes are made from hand-stitched cowhide and 60 nails have been banged into each clog. When the guards walk, the sound of their clogs it is said is reminiscent of the noise of battle.
The toe on the upper of each clog points upwards but is almost hidden by a huge black silk pompom that has also been made by hand. The guards wear two pairs of periskelides – woolen stockings – on each leg and these are held in place by an epiknemides, which is a silk garter fastened just under each knee and decorated with a tassel.
Evzones uniform – Riffle
Each Evzonas carries a rifle – a MI Garand – when on duty. They must stand motionless whilst on guard. They hold the rifle in front of them, with its butt on the ground. Should they need anything, they signal to a soldier dressed in army combats, who is close to them, by banging the rifle butt on the ground. The guard is not allowed to speak so the soldier must ask him a series of questions and the guard will answer them by blinking – one blink for ‘yes’ and two blinks for ‘no’.
There are so many things to see whilst you are exploring central Athens and watching the Changing of the Guard ceremony should definitely be high on your list!
Key information for seeing the changing of the Evzones guard.
- The ceremony takes place in front of the Greek Parliament building which lies in front of Syntagma Square in the center of Athens.
- The nearest Metro stations is Syntagma
- Changing of the Guard takes place on the hour every hour and on Sundays, there is a larger ceremony at 11.00
- It is possible to take a picture of the guards, but please treat them with respect. They are not allowed to move or speak and there is a soldier keeping an eye on the general public who may well ask you to move further away. Selfies are not allowed.