Hello traveller! In this article I am going to tell you about a centuries-old tradition of Greek culture, I am referring to the changing of the guard at the Greek Parliament. Nowadays it has become one of the main tourist attractions in the city of Athens, as it is very colourful and curious to see, however I think it is much more interesting once we clear certain questions:
What is the meaning and origin of the changing of the guard, why does it take place in front of the Greek parliament, when (their schedule and timetable), where and how does it take place, who are the soldiers who perform it (called Evzones) and what do they represent?
I’ll answer all these questions in a moment, and I’ll also take the opportunity to share with you a few curiosities and debunk some myths about it. Let’s get to it! 😉
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History of the changing of the guard
Arriving at Syntagma, the most famous square in Athens, you will see the main façade of the Greek Parliament (also called the Council of the Hellenes). Here you will see 2 of our beloved Evzones (these peculiar soldiers I will tell you about later), who are safeguarding and honouring a third element: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It is NO coincidence that there is a tomb in the middle, but what does it represent?
The tomb of the unknown soldier represents ALL the fallen soldiers during the Greek war of independence who, moreover, were never identified. – Imagine, you die for a cause that you consider just and without (in principle) receiving any recognition for your person, in total anonymity… – Anyway, this tomb is a monument to honour NOT just one soldier, but all those who died; in a generic way and without housing anyone’s remains.
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Quickly and to put you in context:
After almost 400 years of Ottoman occupation in Greece, also known as the Ottoman-Turkish empire, the Greeks start a revolution to “drive out” the invader (in the year 1821). It took about 9 years of war to finally obtain their long awaited “independence”, I put independence in inverted commas for several reasons; one of them is that later a monarchy was imposed on them with a foreign king (who of course had NOT been elected by the Greeks).
In the last section I will tell you something interesting about this curious king, but now let’s continue with some practical information regarding the changing of the guard: what is the timetable and what day of the week is the best to see it.
Schedule and timetable
Contrary to what many people think, the changing of the guard in the Greek parliament takes place EVERYDAY (although I’ll tell you about something special that happens on Sundays). Moreover, it takes place every hour of the day, that is, 24 times every day to be exact. The only reasons for which the changing of the guard can be cancelled are: either because it is raining or has been raining beforehand (which makes the marble floor very slippery for the soldiers), or because a demonstration is taking place in Syntagma Square that could turn violent. In any other case, dear traveller, you will NOT have any inconvenience to enjoy this tourist attraction of Athens.
The changing of the guard takes place at every full hour, but the process involving the Evzones (I’ll tell you about them in a moment) can start a few minutes earlier, as there is a little preparation beforehand in front of the Greek parliament.
SPAM: On our great Athens free walking tours we coincide our walk with the changing of the guard, plus we explain EVERYTHING you need to know about the Evzones, as part of our stop at the Greek parliament. End of spam hehe 😉
Sunday, a special changing of the guard
Although the changing of the guard at the parliament takes place every day, it is also true that on Sundays something MUCH more special happens:
This is the only day when you can see the famous white uniform that always appears in the pictures, which is much nicer and more elegant than the one the Evzones wear on a daily basis. It is said that the skirt they wear, called fustanela in Greek, has no less than 400 pleats. – And it is true! – However, this feature only applies to the Sunday uniform.
Another feature of the changing of the guard on Sunday is that you will not only see 5 Evzones (as usual), but on this day the ENTIRE elite corps takes part: Approximately 100 Evzones approach the Greek parliament, patrolling to the music of a live orchestra and carrying Greek flags. – A sight to behold – Afterwards these soldiers stand motionless in front of the Hellenic Parliament, while 3 of their comrades approach the tomb of the unknown soldier and perform the changing of the guard (replacing the two Evzones who will have finished their one hour shift). I’ll tell you about the tomb of the unknown soldier in a moment, my work is piling up hehe.
The white uniform is worn all day Sunday, however the special changing of the guard ONLY takes place at 11:00 in the morning (once all day). I recommend you show up at the Greek parliament at least 20 minutes before, as there are a lot of people coming to see it and good positions are very limited.
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Evzones, the presidential guard
The soldiers who perform the changing of the guard are called Evzones, who are also in charge of “protecting” the presidential palace. I put the word “protect” in inverted commas because they have long had a purely symbolic function (which I explained in the first section of the article).
However, I would like to take this space to tell you about a VERY interesting myth surrounding the figure of the Evzon, a theory that has spread like wildfire and that many people take as truth. First I tell it to you, for the fun of it, but then I feel I have a responsibility to debunk it:
The funny story of the horses
Once upon a time there was the king of Greece (Otto I), who had been imposed by the great powers after the war of independence, who had an idea:
“I am going to transform my royal guard into horses” “I am a whimsical 17-year-old boy who has asked his father (King of Bavaria) to build him a big stable, but he has refused. 🙁 So, since I can’t have horses, I’m going to force my guards to dress and walk like this animal”.
Note: What is now the Greek parliament used to be the royal palace, where the first kings of modern Greece lived. That is why the Evzones, who were the king’s guard, are standing there.
This is a very interesting story (I have told you the short version), but we have to take it as such; sadly many people come back from their holidays in Athens believing this to be true, and I don’t blame them, as there are many “gurus” out there spreading this tale. We are among those gurus who prefer to rely on more solid historical sources:
Personally I find the Evzones/horses story appealing, and I must even confess that I came to believe it in the first instance (I trusted the person who told it to me…), however we have a major CONTRADICTION:
The uniform of the Evzones refers to the one used by the Kleftos, I mean the soldiers who started the revolution in 1821 and later fought against the Ottomans in the war of independence.
So: This uniform PREVENTS King Otto I of Greece, so it cannot be the work of this person. Simply, the dates (which are easily verifiable) disprove the theory of the horses… I would also like to emphasize that this man was NOT at all welcome in the Hellenic country; so I find it hard to believe that, almost 200 years later and when Greece is a republic, the Greeks still maintain the whim of this monarch that the Evzones have to act like horses. 🙁
What do you (reader) think, have you heard about this theory, or do you have any other curious fact or experience that you would like to share with us?
I invite you to leave us a comment 😉
Location of the changing of the guards
Where does the changing of the guard take place in Athens?
It takes place in front of the hellenic or greek parliament, located next to Syntagma square.
When is the changing of the guard?
It happens every day of the week. However, just on Sundays and at 11:00 AM, a more spectacular changing of the guard takes place, as we have explained earlier in the article.
At what time does the changing of the guard take place?
The changing of the guard takes place every hour, sharp, therefore it happens 24 times per day.
Thank you very much for reading this far, I sincerely hope I have solved your doubts and provided you with valuable content. 🙂 If so, please let me know in the comments box, I would really love to read you. Also take the opportunity to ask any question, as I promise to answer it hehe
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