The Changing of the Guard in Athens happens outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here's what you need to know about the Changing of the Guard.
Sightseeing in Athens Greece
When I first arrived in Athens in 2014, I stumbled on the Changing of the Guards almost by accident. I just happened to be walking past the Parliament Building a few hours after landing, and saw a crowd of people gathering around.
My curiosity piqued, I joined them, and witnessed my first ceremonial guard changing ceremony. It immediately struck me as a somewhat strange and eccentric affair, what with the slow motion movements and distinctive foot raising.
In fact, it reminded me a lot of Monty Python! However this flamboyant piece of pageantry is actually hugely significant, filled with special meaning on a number of levels.
Where is the Changing of the Guard in Athens?
Many people describe the ceremony as taking place on Syntagma Square. Others, that it takes place outside the Hellenic National Parliament. These descriptions are only partly correct.The Guards changing ceremony actually takes place outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This happens to be underneath the Hellenic Parliament and opposite Syntagma Square.
The Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Athens
This cenotaph was sculpted between 1930 – 1932, and is dedicated to all the Greek soldiers killed during war. You can find out more about the cenotaph, its creation and the wars where Greek solider fell here: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The tomb is guarded day and night by an elite presidential guard known as the Evzones. When they are in position, the members of this Presidential Guard stand perfectly still until it is time to change.
Who are the Evzones?
The men of the Evzones are chosen from those performing their mandatory military service in Greece. They have to meet a height requirement (be over 1.88 metres tall which is 6ft 2 inches), and be of a certain temperament.
Once chosen, the men undergo an intense period of training for a month. Those that pass the training become Evzones. Serving as a guard in the Evzones is considered to be an extremely high honour.
Part of the training involves learning how to stand perfectly still, synchronisation for the ceremonies and more. There's also a lot of strength needed to be a guard, especially when you consider the shoes weigh 3 kgs each!
These guards wear a traditional uniform which changes according to season and sometimes occasion. There is a green / khaki summer uniform, and blue winter uniforms. On Sundays and special ceremonial occasions, there is a black and white outfit.
The traditional dress that the guards are wearing, includes a kilt, shoes, stockings, and beret. The kilt is said to have 400 plaits which symbolize the 400 years of Ottoman occupation.
How often do they do the Changing of the Guard in Athens?
The change of the guard takes place every hour on the hour. It's advisable to be in a good place to take photos 15 minutes or so in advance.
The ceremony is characterized by the slow motion leg movements which are synchronised. I've heard various interpretations of why the presidential guard changes position in this manner.
The one that makes most sense is that it is to do with getting the circulation moving and shaking off the stiffness from standing still for so long.
Whilst the hourly change is certainly an interesting sight, if you happen to be in the city on a Sunday, make sure to attend the 11.00 am ceremony.
This is a full scale affair, where the street in front of the centotaph is blocked from traffic. A large company of guards then march down the straight accompanied by a band.
I filmed this on a New Year's day, and put a video up on Youtube. You can check it out here.
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Other things to see and do in Athens
If you're planning to visit Athens and Greece soon, you may find these other travel blog posts useful.