Dont Miss the Syntagma Sq. Ceremonials
Changing of the Guard
Syntagma Square is home to the Greek Parliment building which incorporates within its breast the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Outside of whch and in plain view, a guard of Evzone attired Presidential troops preforms their ceremonial duties every hour on the hour. You want to see this uniquely Greek display of respect for the battle dead.
And since you will be in Syntagma Square anyway and its free, why the heck not?.
The ceremony is 24 times daily but the best one to see is on Sunday at 11 am. If you are in Athens center that day take the half hour off whatever else it was you were doing and bring your camera! Get there early as there are always crowds of several hundred and police presence. Two companies of Presidential Guard come around the corner every Sunday at 10:50 am. Did I say get there early?
No matter what day it is, Syntagma Sq is a big place but head for the high ground and the big Parliment building. There you will soon distinguish the two small guard-post-sun-shacks in front and to the sides of the monument once you get near. There may be some Evzone high steping upon arrival or you may have to wait or come back after doing a lot of the other stuff on offer in Syntagma.
To recap: The Changing of the Gaurd happens every hour daily and with full contingent on on Sundays 11 am rain or shine.
Athens' Center Syntagma Square Ceremonial
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Queen Amalias Avenue, at the top of Syntagma Square (its on a slight slope), fronts the Building of Parliament or in Greek the "Vouli", and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The facade of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or Warrior is a bas-relief sculpture copied from one on the island of Aegina and has inscribed quotations of Periclies famous funeral oration.
No one ever mentions any remains interred behind the facade so we can assume its a symbolic tomb.
The Evzones or Presidential Guard
Greek soldiers called "Evzons" or 'Tsoliades' in their traditional pleated skirt uniform and shoes with toes tipped by a red or black ball called a 'foonda' are who guard the tomb.
These are the hand picked troops of the presidential guard and the tabloid subject of numerous romantic entanglements with male politicians. Requirements for the Presidential Guard include: being under the age of 25, being taller than 1.80 meters and having an outstanding and unimpeachable character. They are good looking lads.
Each soldier mounts guard for one hour at a stretch 3 times every 48 hours. They work in pairs in order to perfect the coordination of their movements. Originally founded as a royal guard in 1914, this elite corps has about 200 members and enjoy much better accommodations and conditions than your typical Greek army conscript.
A friend of mine was in the guard and says that the uniform is a traditional representation of Greece's historic mountain guerillas 'The Klephts' (thieves) and "armatoles" (bandits) which resisted the Turkish occupation and fought hard in the War of Independence. The skirt/kilt is called a 'fustanella' in Greek, There are almost 400 pleats in it; one for each year of the Turkish occupation and the lads have professional steam irons in the barracks and have to iron them themselves. The uniforms are made by special craftsman in special workshops within the barracks and take 80 days to make. Officers wear an older more elaborate form of the uniform and since the 2nd WW Evzones from Crete wear blue breeches and caps with white boots.
The Greeks profess to be the inventors of the kilt of Scottish Highlands fame and probably of the bagpipe as well. It is true that versions of bag pipes were known in ancient times, usually a sheep's bladder provided the air bag.
The Museum of Greek Folk Instruments, 1-3 Diogenous St., Aerides Sq. in the nearby Plaka has some on display and the entrance is free. Hours: 10-2pm, except Wed:12-6pm, closed Mondays.
Not to put the Greek fighting man down, who can be tough as nails, but the short ceremony, complete with slow accentuated marching steps and unnecessary arm movements seeking to impress is free and worth a view if you are in the neighborhood. I've done my share of marching but never like that. This is for the tourists but its interesting pomp and circumstance.
On another interesting note but more solemn: The Nazis, after three and a half years of occupying Athens, on October 12, 1944 and immediately after pulling down their own banner from the Acropolis, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and departed the city. British troops arrived 2 days later and shortly thereafter, commenced the Greek Civil war. There is a German Memorial Cemetery to their WW 2 war dead on the road to Marathon, paid for by the German Government. There are several British military cemeteries in Greece.