Evzones – Guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Evzones – Guards of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
UPDATE! We are headed back to Greece this summer, 2019, and will have a lot more to report!
The evzones are an elite group of soldiers that guard the tomb of the unknown soldier in Athens, Greece. The site of the stoic solidiers is iconic and a must see during your visit to Athens. It was high on my list of things I was dying to see on my much longed for trip to Greece.
Evzones – Who are the evzones?
All males Greek citizens are required to serve in the military for 9 months. Out of the group of new soldiers each year some are chosen for special training for the evzones unit. In order to be chosen for this training a soldier must be must be 6’5″. This is REALLY tall considering the average 18 year old male in Greece is 5’8″.
The training for this elite evzones unit is grueling and only a small fraction of those who are chosen actually become evzones soldiers. It is a very prestigious position and they receive special benefits when they leave.
Evzones – What do the evzones do?
The elite group of soldiers in the Greek army are the presidential guard and have mostly ceremonial duties.
The evzones stand in pairs, silently guarding:
*the tomb of the unknown soldier
*Gate of the Military Camp
The job of an evzone soldier is a tough one. These soldiers remain motionless for 100 hours a month – completely motionless. To get a feel for how hard this is, set your timer for 1 minute and ask the kids to stand perfectly still. It is harder than it sounds!
Thankfully, there is a soldier in a regular camouflage uniform that watches over the evzones. He helps them straighten their uniform if need be and keeps the tourists from disturbing them. It is true they are an iconic site in Athens, but in practice they are real soldiers and they are guarding a sacred memorial.
If an evzone needs assistance, he hits the butt of the gun on the ground. When the soldier on duty comes to check and ask questions, the evzones responses are made by blinking in order to maintain the perfectly motionless requirement.
Not only do they need to stand perfectly still no matter the weather or conditions, but even the march is physically demanding. The soldiers must raise their straight leg shoulder high and then slam their foot on the ground as a part of the marching routine. If that doesn’t sound hard enough think about doing it with the evzones shoes which weigh an average of 3.5 pounds each.
Evzones – Evzones, the iconic uniform
I had hopes of seeing the stoic soldiers dressed in white so I was very surprised to find them wearing khaki uniforms. It turns out that the white uniforms are ceremonial uniforms. The khaki uniforms are for summer.
Cool facts about the evzones white ceremonial uniform:
*Skirt – The skirt is called the foustanella and has 400 pleats. Each pleat represents one year of occupation by the Turks. These handmade skirts can take up to 80 days to make.
*Shoes – Each Tsarouchia shoe has at least 60 nails in the sole. This makes an impressively loud sound when they are stomped against the ground during the unusual marching. These nails also make the shoes quite heavy. The average shoe weighs 3 1/2 pounds! On the tip of the shoe is a navy pompon (not a typo – the word really is pompoN and not pompoM) which hides a sharp blade.
*Farion cap – The cap has a very long tassel which can get tangled when marching. The evzones try to march with perfect posture to avoid getting the tassel tangled but if it does the officer on duty helps straighten it.
Evzones – Evzones in legend
The soldiers in the evzones unit are one of the most iconic sights in Greece. The brave elite soldiers are the stuff of which legend is made.
Even when there are crowds demonstrating around in Syntagma square, the evzones remain motionless at their post. Once, in 2001, someone from the crowd threw a firebomb at the guardhouse which caught on fire. The evzone remained at his post until given the order to move.
In 2010, a bomb was placed 20 meters from where the evzones soldiers stand to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Even though the evzones were told of the threat by police they refused to leave their post – even when the bomb exploded. Thankfully there were no injuries and the bravery of the soldiers and Athenians was summed up by the Prime Minister George Papandreou when he said,
“Democracy can not be terrorized. Some people want panic and fear but we are not afraid and nor will we panic.”
During WWII in 1941, Konstantinos Koukidis was an evzone on duty guarding the flag on the acropolis. German soldiers, who were now occupying the city, ordered Koukidis to take down the Greek flag and put up the Nazi flag. Koukidis refused, instead wrapping himself in the flag and jumped off the acropolis to his death. While a plaque marks the spot, there is no official historic evidence the story is true.
Evzones – Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The war memorial in Syntagma Square is home to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. The relief, showing a deceased soldier with shield and helmet, was sculpted between 1930-1932 by Fokion Rok. The tomb honors soldiers from every war who gave their lives to protect the nation of Greece.
Evzones – See them in action.
Syntagma Square –
Each day you can see the soldiers change guards on the hour. We saw them at 10:00 am in the middle of the week and had the place almost entirely to ourselves.
See the Grand Change Sunday mornings at 11:00! During the Grand Change the entire guard marches from their barracks with a band. There are lots of visitors to see this event so be prepared for crowds.
You can see the Evzones on Sundays raising and lowering the flag – 8 am and 8 pm.
Greece is a fantastic destination for families. Read these related posts to prepare for the trip of a lifetime to Greece!
Natalie, The Educational Tourist