Evzones: the Presidential Guard and potent symbol of Athens, Attica and Greece!

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma, on Vassilissis Sofias street, at the Presidential Mansion and on the Acropolis, the Evzones astound passers-by, both Greeks and foreign visitors of Attica, with their imposing stature, their perfectly tuned movements, their lofty pace, but above all with the look in their eyes, a sign of determination and strength. For 150 years, the emblematic Greek Presidential Guard has been the country’s highest guard of honor, a symbol of sturdiness, bravery and pride, representing Greece’s struggles for independence.

The official Changing of Guards ceremony

The official Changing of Guards ceremony takes place every Sunday at 11.00 am in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Syntagma Square. At around 10.20 am, the Evzones units start marching down Vassilissis Sofias street, in perfect pace, heading to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanied by a military band. While in Attica, this is an extraordinary thing to see. You will be utterly impressed and awe-inspired!

History

The “Evzones” (the word means “well-girt”) are elite soldiers of the Hellenic army. They were first formed as a regiment in 1867, and distinguished themselves for their fighting spirit during the Balkan Wars and all major battles and armed conflicts of the 20th century. As a result, the Evzones were conceived as heroes by all Greeks. In 1914, the then-called “Palace Guard” – predecessor of today’s Presidential Guard – was formed as a special unit.

The role of the Evzones

Today, the Evzones have a ceremonial role and their mission is to honorarily protect Democracy, pay tribute to all Greek heroes who were lost in battle, and maintain the Evzones tradition. Every minute, they try the limits of their stamina and patience, under any weather conditions and as long as the ritual requires. Their daily life is run by strict and precise rules, just like their training. No wonder only 50% of the soldiers selected to serve as Evzones eventually manage to complete the training and put on the Evzone uniform.

The Evzones stand as a national symbol of worldwide recognition and this realization is always in their mind when they are trained, when they pace, when they perform the official hoisting and lowering of the flag at the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, when they stand still, silent and serious at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – a monument that is guarded 24/7, 365 days a year, and is dedicated to those who gave their lives and fought for the country.

In front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, the Evzone stands completely motionless and, on top of that, he wears an extremely heavy and stiff outfit the whole time. He is not supposed to react, even in case of attack or threat. This is why the role of the officer is so important. It’s the soldier in standard uniform, who watches the guards all the time and is responsible for their safety. In emergencies, and in cases when the officer’s intervention is needed, the Evzone taps his riffle on the ground. The officer approaches and then the two of them communicate with the eyes, based on a secret code of subtle signalling.

The pace

Apart from the complete stillness, a great challenge for the Evzones is their characteristic pace, which is specific for each ritual and demands perfect coordination and synchronisation. The moves during the Changing of Guards are full of symbolisms. Raising and stretching the leg is “re-enactment” of kicking the enemy, when fighting in hand-to-hand combats. After the foot salutes the dead, it drops down forcefully and pushes backwards, pushing away 400 years of slavery that are now behind. The two legs being one next to the other symbolise the unification of Greece.

Uniforms and symbolisms

The Evzones’ uniforms differ, depending on the occasion, however they all have some things in common: they are made at the training camp by specialised craftsmen and tailors, they are handmade, always impeccable and immaculate, and full of historical, folklore and religious symbolisms. The types of Evzone uniforms are:

  • Sundays formal uniform is the typical white costume with the “foustanella” (kilt) and the “fermeli” (vest), which has reference to the years of the Greek Revolution.
  • Winterdoulamas” is a kind of dark blue tunic that was worn during the Macedonian Struggle.
  • Summer khaki doulamas is a cotton costume that has reference to the Balkan Wars, the Asia Minor Campaign and World Wars I & II, and it is worn during daily service.
  • Cretan uniform relates to the struggles of Greek islands, Crete in particular, for freedom and unification with the rest of Greece. It is worn in official ceremonies at the Presidential Mansion and at parades.
  • Uniform of Pontos is associated with the Pontiac Greek Genocide and is worn in special occasions, e.g. the anniversary of the genocide (19 May), when two Evzones in Pontiac uniform accompany the Presidential Guard.

The main parts of the uniform

  • The foustanella: It was established as a garment of the Greek national costume after the 1821 Revolution. A turning point in its establishment was King Otto’s decision in 1836 to be photographed in a foustanella.
  • The fario (fez): It is the Evzone’s cap, made of felt. It is red and on the forehead it bears the Greek national emblem. Its characteristic long black tassel is made of silk. The shape of the tassel symbolizes the tear of Christ on the Cross.
  • The shirt: It is white and has extremely wide sleeves. The white colour is dominant on the whole Evzones’ uniform.
  • The fermeli: It is the Evzone’s vest. It is the hardest piece of the uniform to make, since it is all embroidered by hand. It bears white and golden threads, as well as patterns depicting folklore and religious symbols.
  • The periskelides: These are the white and woolen stockings. Each Evzone wears two stockings on each leg. They are held by a leather belt called “anaspastos”, on the Evzone’s waist, under the foustanella.
  • The epiknemides: They are black garters made of silk.
  • The tsarouchia: These are the Evzone’s characteristic shoes. They are red and made of leather. Sixty nails are hammered on the sole of each tsarouchi, which are responsible for the loud stride of the Evzones. A characteristic element of the tsarouchi is the black silk pom pom on the pointy nose of the shoe. It is believed that their initial use was to hide in them sharp objects that could hurt the enemy at a hand-to-hand combat. A different theory says that the pom poms protected the toes from the cold and frostbites.
  • The leather belt: It holds the cartridges and the bayonet.

The colours of the Evzones’ uniform are there for a reason. White symbolises the purity of the Greeks’ struggles and red represents the blood that has been shed in battle. The black colour of the pom pom is a reminder of the 400 years of slavery, the black of the silk tassel is the tear of Christ on the Cross, while the black epiknemides represent the tears of the mothers who lost their children at war. The blue of the fringes symbolises the Greek flag.

Did you know that

  • The service of Evzones lasts for nine months.
  • At the beginning of his service, each Evzone is partnered up with one of his fellow Evzones and their partnership continues until the end. The pairs are decided upon certain criteria, such as their height, any similar facial characteristics and complexion.
  • It takes each Evzone one hour to get dressed.
  • At30 am the Evzones exercise for an hour at the Panathenaic Stadium.
  • 400 pleats adorn the foustanella, representing the number of years under the Ottoman Rule.
  • 3.5 kilos is the weight of each pair of tsarouchia.
  • 30 metres of white fabric are used to make the foustanella.
  • 80 days are needed to make each uniform.
  • 1 month is needed to make the “fermeli”, the vest of the uniform.
  • 1 hour is the duration of each halt of the Evzone. Their daily service consists of four halts.
  • 1.87 metres is the minimum height of the Evzone.
  • The strong stamp of the feet during their pace is done for a purpose: to let the dead know that the Greek nation is still alive and free.