The changing of the guard ceremony in Greece is one of the most memorable official ceremonies of its kind. Greece’s elite presidential guard, known as the Evzones, protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with unique costumes and a memorable ceremony that is steeped in Greek tradition.
History of the Evzones
The evzones as we know them today (known in Greek as Tsoliades) have existed since the Greek War of Independence. However, the term evzone can be traced back to ancient Greece in Homer’s writings who referred to the elite soldiers of his time as Evzones.
Exploring the center of Athens, you’ll find these guards dressed in impressive and rather grand costumes. They are based in front of the parliament building in Syntagma Square and near the presidential mansion.
These men hold an elite position in the Greek military. In Greece, it is a great honor to be chosen to perform such an honorable ceremonial duty, mainly to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and raise and lower the flag at the Acropolis every Sunday. An Evzone must be at least 1.86 meters tall (6 feet tall), as well.
With still expressionless faces while on duty, these elite soldiers are forbidden to speak unless ordered by their superiors. They are dedicated, required to stand at their posts outdoors both day and night, no matter what the weather conditions.
The Evzone Ritual
A pair of Evzones can always be found, at all hours of the day, guarding the tomb in front of parliament. They change positions every 15 minutes and remain motionless. The changing of the guard takes place on the hour.
Observing the Evzones in action is unlike any other guard ceremony in the world. The Evzone marches in an uneven cadence, resembling a slow high-kick dance.
The Evzones Uniform
Today’s Evzone uniform is purely ceremonial and is an intricate piece of handmade art. Each part of the uniform also represents the significant battles fought throughout Greece’s modern history. The formal version is worn on Sundays and at official events. Each uniform takes several months to complete by trained uniform makers.
Here’s a closer look at what the Evzones wear:
Foustanella: This is a kilt like skirt is made from 30 meters (98 feet) of white cotton. There are 400 pleats to represent 400 years of Turkish occupations. The braided fringes on the skirt are blue and white to represent the colors of the Greek Flag. The Evzones wear it with white wool hose, knee garters with black tassels. The style of this piece of clothing has its roots in the traditional costumes of mainland Greece.
Farion: This is a red cap with a long black tassel. It represents Christ’s tear while he was on the cross.
Ypodetes: The white shirt with wide billowy sleeves represent the just reasons for the various national wars Greece has participated in.
Doulamas: This long tunic is navy blue in winter and khaki in the summer.
Fermeli: This embroidered waistcoat is fitted over the white shirt. Each one has handmade with various folk designs.
Tsarouchia: The leather shoes worn by the Evzones are red with big black pom poms. These pom poms were used to hide weapons, usually a blade, offering another means of protection for the soldier. Underneath the shoe there are up to 120 nails. One shoe weighs about 1.5 kilos (3 pounds) each.
Experience the Ceremony
Experiencing the changing of the guard ceremony in Greece is one of the top things to do while in Athens. It is a unique and historic ceremony to watch. The uniforms themselves are highly symbolic and meaningful, representing the country’s struggle for freedom and the sacrifices made to gain it.
When to Go
Every hour the changing of the guard takes place in front of parliament building in Syntagma Square. Also, every Sunday mornings at 11:00 there is a Grand Change during which the entire guard marches from their barracks with a marching band.
Have you ever seen the changing of the guard ceremony in Greece or any other country?