The long and remarkable history of the Greek Presidential Guard (or Proedrikí Frourá in Greek) started on a day much like this, 150 years ago.
This distinguished, battalion-sized military unit, dubbed Agema at the time, was established by a royal decree on December 12, 1868.
The Greek Presidential Guard prides itself as being the last unit of Evzones in the Greek Army, the historical elite light infantry and mountain units known for their hard-won victories.
Because of the prestigious status of this elite, independent battalion, all men who were members of the Agema ranked one rank higher than they had ranked in their former positions. In other words, every ordinary soldier who was a member of the Agema was equivalent to a lance corporal, instead of a private.
It wasn’t until 1914 when the King of Greece, Constantine I, reorganized it as the “Palace Guard” with its main duty the protection of the Royal Palace in Athens.
When Greece abolished the monarchy in 1926, the Palace Guard was renamed to the ”Guard Company of the President of the Republic”, only to regain its former title nine years later, when in 1936, the monarchy was re-established in the country.
In 1937, during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas and only three years before Greece entered World War II, the ceremonial infantry unit took the title of The Royal Guard, predecessor of today’s Presidential Guard.
Today, the Presidential Guard is a purely ceremonial military unit, being in charge of the permanent ceremonial guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens’ Syntagma Square, and of the entrance to the Presidential Mansion on Herodes Atticus Street.
The Presidential Guard is also honored as the only military unit which is allowed to raise and lower the Greek flag on the holy mountain of the Acropolis in Athens.
Today, the Guards have become one of the major tourist attractions in Athens, and, much like in London, the famous ”changing of the guards” is a must-see spectacle for visitors to the Greek capital.
Their movements are conducted in a very slow and highly stylized manner. They change positions with each other every fifteen minutes and stand at attention, completely motionless, in the meantime.
There are two types of Changes of the Guard. The ”Little Change” takes place every hour, and the ”Grand Change” which takes place every Sunday at 11 o’clock in the morning. On Sundays, the entire Guard, with its officers and military band, marches from the Guard Barracks to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and back.
Among the most distinctive features of the Guard soldiers is the well-known Evzone uniform they wear, which evolved from the traditional clothing worn by the klephts in the Greek War of Independence.
150 years after its official establishment, the Presidential Guard is still there, reminding the entire world of Greece’s glorious military history.