You’ve no doubt heard of the the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. But have you heard of the Changing of the Guard in Athens? I hadn’t, until Tim, after being dropped by taxi near the presidential palace, stumbled upon their hourly change. When we told our Greek friend about this sight, she let us know we should check out the full ceremonial change. It just so happens that it takes place every Sunday morning (the next day for us) at 11 am just outside the Hellenic Parliament building. Before the Parliament building the Evzones stand an unmovable watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Each duty lasts one hour.
We arrived twenty minutes before eleven and were surprised to see a mob of people already surrounding the square both next to the parade deck and on the traffic island across the street. We made our way to the concrete island finding a spot at the front of the crowd. (They stop traffic for the ceremony as it involves a short parade of soldiers in the street. But, this doesn’t mean you can gather on the street in front of the island like some late-comers tried to do. Make sure you’re there on time and don’t shove in front of others who were there on time. Generally, just be a polite human being.)
A few minutes before eleven we heard the first chords of traditional military marches played proudly by the military band. From the barracks located behind the hall, the band emerged followed by rows and rows of Evzones. Marching slowly, the soldiers arrived on the parade deck for the official guard change.
At first glance the Greek soldier’s uniforms look quite different from anything we see in the western world. But their uniforms are created in accordance to the historical uniforms of the soldiers from two groups of soldiers, the Kleftes and Armatoloi, who fought in the war for independence from the Ottomans in 1821. Each piece of the uniform has importance. For example, the kilts of the uniform are created from meters and meters of fabric and include 400 pleats to represent the ending the 400 years of Ottoman control. (You can read more about their complex uniform here.) Their shoes are also completely different from what you’d see in many other Western cultures, but the clacking noise they make when stomped throughout the street is intimidating to say the least. It’s said that they are supposed to symbolize the echoes of war.
Once arrived on the parade deck, one row of three soldiers proceed slowly from the ranks of their fellow Evzones. Moving at an excruciatingly slow pace in order to save their blood pressure after a significant amount of time standing completely immobile, the soldiers on duty change places with their new replacements. Rested soldiers in place, ready for their hour-long duty, the rest of the soldiers prepare to return to the barracks, lead by the military ensemble once again playing “Μακεδονία ξακουστή.”
The whole ceremony lasted less than half an hour but will stay with me in memory for years to come. It is absolutely worth it to make time to see this beautiful ceremony if you’re in Athens on a Sunday morning.
For those of you who can’t wait, I’ll post a small snippet of the ceremony on my instagram soon!
Must know facts:
Where: The Parade deck in front of the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. Located in front of the Hellenic Parliament building.
When: Sunday mornings at 11 am, but be there around 1030 as it gets quite busy.