The tsarouchi, the flat, hard-soled shoe with the famous large pompon at its end, is an iconic part of the Greek traditional costume, especially for the Greek soldiers known as evzones.
The shoe also plays a large part in the history of Greece, as it is the shoe that the great warriors of the Greek War of Independence wore. Due to its connection with heroes from the war, the tsarouchi has become world-famous as an integral part of Greece’s national costume.
Greeks in rural and mountainous areas wore tsarouchia for centuries and even donned the traditional shoe until as late as the 1960s.
They were worn by farmers and men who worked outdoors in Greece because they were durable and of high quality. As for the tsarouchi’s iconic pompons, they would protect the toes from the snow and cold, and helped make the shoe waterproof. The pompons also served as a handy place to stash a small knife.
Evzones and the iconic Greek tsarouchi shoe
When one thinks of Greece’s War of Independence in 1821 and its great heroes, such as Theodoros Kolokotronis and Georgios Karaiskakis, one’s thoughts inevitably turn to the foustanella (the skirt-like garment) and the tsarouchi, the iconic Greek shoe of old.
The pompon on the tip of the tsarouchi is also said to symbolize the tree of liberty. When worn by soldiers, inside the pompon, there is traditionally a small blade that symbolizes the kick that the brave man who wears it will give to every enemy who dares to threaten or hurt the tree of liberty.
The hidden blade also serves as an effective weapon for close combat, which would have been incredibly useful for soldiers, particularly during the Greek War of Independence.
Today, the rustic shoes are part of the uniform of the Evzones, which also includes the foustanella.
The Evzones are an elite infantry and mountain unit of the Greek Army with roots stretching back long into Greek history. Their members form the Presidential Guard, a ceremonial unit which guards Greece’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion in Athens.
The tsarouchi worn as part of the Ezvone uniform contain approximately fifty nails in each sole. This makes an impressive noise when the soldier slams his foot down on the ground. It is believed that the sound, especially amplified many times over, is quite threatening to potential enemies on the battlefield.
Some say the Evzones wear studded shoes so that when they stomp loudly on the ground, it will make a noise loud enough that our ancestors can hear that we are alive, and we are free.
A pair of tsarouchia an Evzone wears weighs an incredible two and half kilograms (5.5 pounds). The red color on the shoe symbolizes the blood of our ancestors and the black-colored pompon is to remind us of the four hundred years of life under Ottoman rule.