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The Presidential Guard: How Evzones Became a Potent Symbol of Greece

Greek Presidential Guard
The Greek Presidential Guard also known as Evzones. Photo credit:

The long and honorable history of the Greek Presidential Guard (also known as Evzones) goes back to more than 150 years ago to December 12, 1868, the day it was established in the modern Greek state.

This distinguished, battalion-sized military unit, dubbed Agema at the time, was established by royal decree.

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 against the nation’s enemies.

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.

Changes in the Greek Presidential Guard over time

In the course of time and following the changes in the country’s regime, the unit underwent several successive name changes. Among these were: “Royal Guard Company” (1940), “Guard of Honor of the Unknown Soldier” (1941), “Flag Guard” (1942), and “Royal Guard” (1946). Despite name changes, the unit’s honorable mission of guarding the Palace and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has remained consistent.

Since 1974, when democracy was restored in Greece, the unit has been called the “Presidential Guard,” retaining a purely ceremonial character. The Presidential Guard is supervised by the Military Office of the Presidency of the Republic.

The Presidential Guard of Greece is also honored as the only military unit allowed to raise and lower the Greek flag on 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 while on guard.

There are two types of Changes of the Guard. The ”Little Change” takes place every hour, and the ”Grand Change” takes place every Sunday at eleven o’clock before noon. 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 into downtown Athens.

The uniform of the Greek Presidential Guard

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.

The defining characteristic of the uniform includes the Belt, which denotes the “well-girdled” fighter (from Greek eû:“well and zṓnē, “belt”).

The Fustanella (a form of kilt) is made of thirty meters of white fabric and consists of four hundred pleats, representing the number of years of Turkish occupation. Its color is white like the Ypoditis (shirt), and they both symbolize the purity of the struggles for national independence.

The Fermeli (vest) is undeniably the most difficult part of the uniform to prepare, as it is hand-embroidered with artistic designs of cultural and folkloric value in white or gilt thread.

The red Pharion (cap), which carries the national emblem, symbolizes the sacrifices and blood spilled by the warriors during the nation’s liberation struggles, while its black silk tassel is a symbol of tears and mourning. The blue and white silk fringes across the Evzones’ uniform symbolize the Greek flag.

Greek Presidential Guard
The Tsarouchi is the emblematic shoe worn by members of the Presidential Guard. Credit: Presidency of the Hellenic Republic

Lastly, one of the most iconic elements and symbols of the Evzone’s uniform is the tsarouchi (shoe) which is entirely handmade of hard, red leather. Each pair weighs about three kilograms with 120 nails and a number of petals attached to the sole.

According to tradition, the large black tassel of the tsarouchi was used to conceal blades that could prove useful for close-range combat.

More than 150 years after its official establishment, the Presidential Guard is still there, reminding the entire world of Greece’s glorious military history.

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