Changing of Guards
The Changing of the Guards in Athens Greece: Every Sunday morning at 11 am, people gather in Syntagma Square to watch the official changing of the guards, the military unit whose members stand proudly in perfect stillness in front of the Hellenic Parliament. There are of course changing every hour in the day, but on Sundays, it is the official ceremony with the official customs.
The Evzones is a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades, who guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. Through the historical movement of Greece, the Evzones have become symbols of bravery and courage for the Greek people. The Presidential Guard, as the unit is now called, was constituted in 1868 and has taken many names through centuries (Guard of the Flag, Royal Guard, etc).
The duties of the soldiers are part of a ceremonial nature. Every soldier guards for about an hour, 3 times in total every 48 hours. Throughout these 60 minutes, they have to stand perfectly still until it is time to switch with another guard. During the changing, they work in pairs so they can perfectly coordinate their moves. The steps that the official ceremony requires at the time of changing are carried out in really slow motion to protect their blood circulation after 60 min of immobility.
The soldiers of the Presidential Guard are selected according to their height, excellent physical condition, and psychological state as well as character and morality, as they follow a hard training before they become part of this honorary unit. The training lasts for one month and includes exercises to keep the body and mind still. Apart from staying still, the soldiers must also not make any face or eye move and must not show any expression.
Their uniform of the Presidential Guard has a historical meaning. It refers to the uniform of the Kleftes and Armatoloi, two groups of Greek warriors during the War of Independence in (1821) against the Ottomans. In fact, the white skirt of the uniform has 400 folds to represent the 400 years of Ottoman occupation over the Greeks.
The uniform consists of:
- the phareon which is the Evzone's hat, made from red baize with a black tuft
- the white shirt with loose leaves
- the phermeli, which is the waistcoat and it is the most difficult part to construct, handmade with many shapes wrought on it
- the Greek kilt (or else foustanella), its structure requires 30 meters of white cloth
- the tsarouchia, the traditional shoes of Evzones which are red, made of leather, with a small tuft in front. Each shoe weighs three kilos
- the fringes, blue and white standing for the Greek flag
- the garters which are made of silk
- the leather belt
- the inside garnet
-and the gun which is the most difficult piece to carry, not only for its gravity but also for the physical pressure that exerts to the soldier's body.
This is the official version of the uniform that the Evzones wear only on Sundays and National holidays. The other days, the white shirt, the phermeli and the Greek kilt are replaced by the doulamas, a special uniform that the soldiers of the Macedonian Struggle (1904-1908) used to wear. This uniform is blue in winter and brown in summer. In official ceremonies, the Evzones also wear the traditional uniforms of Crete and Pontus, as recognition of the contribution of these regions in the national fights.