Today is a day for action. Let’s face it, you don’t come to Athens to lounge around do you? I had to cut a day from my Nafplio stay so that I could be in Athens for the Grand Changing of the Guard and parade from the barracks. This takes place every Sunday at 11am and is when you can see the Evzones in their ceremonial costume. How I’ve never seen this before I don’t know, but today is the day!
I’ll need some sustenance to set me up for the day and there is no better than the breakfast at the Attalos Hotel. A varied buffet breakfast is nicely laid out in the bright breakfast room. It’s fairly busy, but everything is very well organised. With Stavros (my cantankerous gallbladder), currently on his best behaviour, I’m still cautious about what to eat, so skip the wonderfully creamy Greek yoghurt and the mini bougatsa’s and have a boiled egg, dry toast and an array of salads instead. (such fun!)
Before leaving the hotel I check that I have everything I need mainly my camera and my camera phone and that once fashionable little bit of kit – the selfie stick. You may laugh. Nobody is seen with a selfie stick nowadays but just you wait! It will have its uses!
I head off down Ermou and through Syntagma Square. I’m a little early so take a short detour down into the metro station. I’d read that there was a small exhibition of the Evzones down here. I ask a station master where the exhibition is and directs me down onto the concourse. He tells me that the metro station will be closing shortly because there is a demonstration in Athens this afternoon so I will need to be quick. When I descend down towards the barriers I can see that it isn’t an exhibition as such, but just a couple of banners suspended over the concourse. I had expected it to be a bit more but I’m glad that I wandered down anyway – even if to be pre-warned about a demonstration taking place today.
As an aside, I’d also read about another fantastic exhibition taking place in Athens. Unfortunately, it opens the week after I leave Athens. The Evzones Collection is a photography exhibition featuring the work of Greek Australian photographer Nick Bourdaniotis. It is the first time that this exhibition has left Australia and is in Athens as part of Greece’s ongoing celebrations of the Greek Revolution of 1821. The exhibition opens at the Athens War Museum on March 20, 2023 and will remain on exhibition until March 31. Gutted to miss this.
All is not lost – you can own the whole exhibition in the form of a collector’s premium coffee table book for 100$. (To my Family – if you’re struggling to think of what to get me for Christmas – look no more!)
As I stand at the edge of the busy road ready to cross, I can see that parliament square is absolutely chockablock with people. Have no fear. I have everything planned out. I have no desire to jostle for position and go into battle with the masses. Not yet anyway.
I walk onto Vasilissis Sofia’s Avenue which is the stretch of road that runs alongside the parliament building – you know the one lined with the magnificent embassy buildings. There are a handful of people here who have the same plan in mind. I gauge what I think will be a good vantage point to capture the parade and then stake my position.
The roadblocks are already in place creating an eery silence – not a usual occurrence in a metropolis such as Athens. The atmosphere is electric with anticipation. Out in the distance, I can hear something. I can’t see anything yet because the road dips down hiding the approaching parade from view. Seconds later, appearing over the brough of the hill is the marching band, swinging their arms in time to the rhythmic beat of the drums, instruments at rest in their arms.
Behind them, row by row, the Evzones rise up from the dip in the road. It reminds me of the moment that Omar Sharif appears from out of a mirage in Laurence of Arabia. Maybe I’m romanticising the experience, but I am after all an Evzones groupie so what do you expect! They look absolutely resplendent in their ceremonial uniform. As they get closer, just over the sound of the drums I can hear the “Thrap, Thrap Thrap”, the sound of the Tsarouchia clogs – nails on tarmac as the rising right leg slaps to the ground. Reverberations go bouncing between the embassy buildings and I find the whole experience rather emotional, and I’m not even Greek!
I’m absolutely fascinated by the array of uniforms and the nuances of the ceremonial garb. Many years ago I studied and worked in clothing design and have sewn all my life. I can really appreciate the detail in the uniforms and the skills it takes to produce such magnificent pieces of work. I struggle to fathom how 30 metres of fabric in the Foustonella or kilt is manipulated and sewn into 400 pleats and done so accurately that the Krossia, a slither of blue braid is lined up perfectly along the edge of the fold.
The uniform at the rank of private is spectacular in itself. At the front of each section of Evzones are the officers who are identified by the longer Foustonella falling just below the knee. Other things that distinguish the officers from the privates are what initially look like brown and beige chevron-striped boots. However, upon closer inspection, I can see that they are a type of gaiter worn over Tsarouchia clogs. Although they are wearing the Ypodetes, the wide-sleeved white shirt, this isn’t left billowing in the wind but fastened down with a heavily brocaded arm gaiter. I don’t know what the name of this piece of uniform is called and no amount of Googling will help. It is like an elongated epaulette that extends beyond the elbow where it is fastened. If you know the name of this part of the garment please put me out of my misery and let me know!
The officers, similarly to the privates wear a heavily brocaded waistcoat called the Fermeli. To appreciate this in its full glory it is best viewed from the back. If you look close enough, the stripes in the bottom right-hand corner of the garment denote the rank of the Evzone officer. You need eyes like a hawk to spot this. I, unfortunately, don’t. The officers also sport a curved sabre from the 1821 War of Independence – such significance in every piece. My favourite piece of the uniform with a significant meaning is the tassle that drapes from the Farion cap. It is said to represent the tears shed during Christ’s crucifixion. I’ve also read that it represents the tears shed for the Greeks slaughtered during the War of Independence. I prefer the latter version but what I really love is watching the uniformed soldiers straighten the tassle during the inspection. This is always done with such reverence and care that I find it quite an emotional thing to watch.
Amongst the parade are the Evzones representing the islands wearing the Cretan-inspired uniform of distinctive blue breeches and matching jacket with a gold brocade trim. They wear white leather boots over black stockings and the red, felt farion cap. The tassle on the cap on this uniform is much shorter and worn at the back. Under the blue jacket is a bright red vest and at the waist is a short dagger and a purple fringed sash. It’s just all so fascinating.
Before the band reaches the bend in the road to turn into parliament square, they strike up their instruments to announce to the waiting crowds that the Evzones are here to carry out their duty. For now, I absorb every moment of the parade as it passes within feet of me. Videography, especially when my mind is on the event rather than the video is a skill I’ve yet to acquire. But here it is for posterity.
Now the bit I’ve been dreading – trying to find a place to see the changing of the guard. It’s an impossible task so I plonk myself at the back of the crowd and out comes my trusty selfie stick. Here I’m about 5 rows back – hence capturing the top of people’s heads. I can just about see the action live and to be honest, I have no idea where my selfie stick is actually pointing but I think I get a reasonable view given the circumstances!
After the changing of the guard has completed, the Evzones leave Parliament Square and head off back to the barracks. As people begin to move away I spot a gap and manage to get to the front row where I crouch down to watch the Evzones pass. How in God’s name I’m going to get back up Lord alone knows!
Well it doesn’t stop there. I know video after video is a bit tedious but what else is a Fan Girl going to do! I cross the road alongside the embassy buildings and follow my heroes all the way back to the barracks. There is still a little bit of ceremonial activity taking place on the other side of the locked gate. Just as I’m enjoying the last few minutes of this, two men stand in front of me – can’t they see that this Evzone groupie is trying to capture this for posterity? Anyway, they subsequently get told off by a soldier for standing on the ledge of a sentry box. Several minutes later, as the rest of the crowd begins to peter away, said soldier tells me that there really isn’t much else to see with a smile on his face. I concede that that is all for the day and after all – I don’t people to think that I’m some kind of weird Evzone stalker! Now to go and calm down in the beautifully shaded National Gardens!