There are ceremonial guards all over the world, patiently standing watch at this very moment. Of this large cadre, the Evzone Guards of Greece must certainly be some of the most unique.
This elite infantry unit of the Greek Army stands guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Parliament Building in Athens.
The first thing that may come to your attention is their uniforms. I’m not sure about you, but these outfits aren’t the kind of gear I envision when I think of crack troops. The uniforms were made famous by a band of mountain guerrilla fighters in the early 19th Century war when Greece was fighting to send the Ottoman Turks packing. Historically, the members of this unit are seen as heroes for their courage and outrageous guerrilla tactics. Doing battle in a mini-skirt can’t have been a pretty sight, but maybe that and the cold mountain air is what made them such fierce fighters.
Today’s guards are volunteers, hand-picked from the rank-and-file, and in order to be considered each candidate must be at least 6 feet 1 inch tall. I’m not sure of the significance of this odd number, as opposed to … say an even 6 feet, but those are the rules (maybe it’s a magic metric number like 186 centimeters). Just so you know, I’m tall enough to qualify, but I draw the line at pom-pom shoes.
Tourists flock to the square hourly to see the changing of the guard. Their military performance is truly unorthodox, and the still photos don’t come close to doing it justice. You Monty Python fans may see an amazing similarity to John Cleese’s “Ministry of Silly Walks.”
Watch this short video of the Evzone Guards in action, and tip your hat to the joys of experiencing other cultures.
James is the entire crowd gathered around laughing themselves senseless. It looks like an impression of a giant duck walking in slow motion. Of course the pom poms on the shoes provide exclamation marks on the movement. Where do you find all of this? 🙂
Actually Sue, it was a solemn affair. Everyone stood quietly, snapping photos or shooting video. Amazingly, I didn’t hear one snigger. I’d love to know the real history behind the uniforms. If copious amounts of ouzo weren’t involved I’d be very surprised. ~James
Perhaps it would be different watching it in person. I’m afraid I was laughing uncontrollably. As far as the uniforms I agree lots of ouzo and a double dog dare I think. 🙂
How tiny is people’s knowledge of the history of clothing. In AD 393 by edict of Theodosius I, men in pants were exiled from Rome and their property seized. They were considered political subversives, because at the Battle of Adrianople in AD 378, Rome was defeated by trousered horsemen. And there we see the causation of pants. They were an adaptation for riding horses—not because “male chromosomes determine that men wear pants.” The NYT, October 31, 1881, page 4 stated—“The open and unexpected wearing of trousers by women of hitherto unimpeached sanity would be an INTOLERABLE SHOCK TO THE PUBLIC NERVES.” Social forces alone caused the trouser/skirt division of the sexes, and also the plain clothes/fancy clothes division. These divisions have no basis in gender differences, but have entirely different causations. An Associated Press release, 2/10/1993 reported a woman at a JC Penney store in New Jersey got this message—SHOW UP IN PANTS ONCE MORE, THE BOSSES TOLD HER LAST NIGHT, AND YOU’RE FIRED.” This is so childish for either sex to imply any monopoly on an entire spectrum of apparel. Fancy clothes trace to royalty—not to women alone.
Thanks for the great info Charlie. Like most people, I have very little knowledge about clothing history, and am always grateful to hear the historical side. I’m a practical guy and think first and foremost, that clothing should be functional. So the situation should dictate the clothing, not the other way around. And with cold winter temps at my house, I’m thankful for my warm pants. ~James
The skirt has 400 pleats, one for every year of Ottoman Turk occupation. I wouldn’t want to iron that!
A good bit of trivia and historical reminder Andrew. I had no idea the Turks occupied Greece for 400 years. With the way things have been in Greece for the past few years, I’m sure the Turks are glad to be rid of it. ~James
The blue number shown here definitely does not have 400 pleats, more like fewer than 45. The white version might sometimes have 400 but usually fewer. And Greece was under Turk rule for 376 years dating from 1453.
Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Charlie, as well as providing that additional information. ~James
Always good to be corrected. As an accountant I have a habit of rounding things up!
I’m not sure it is the pom pom shoes I would have to draw the line at, after watching the video, I think it might be the way they walk in those shoes!
Is this the strangest march you’ve ever seen Laura? I’d love to know who choreographed it, and would love to see the rookies in training. ~James
Thanks for this lovely post! The Evzone guards deserve their close up!
We’ve always been a fan of the uniforms —they seem so wonderfully at odds with military attire in general (ba da boom!) even counting the Black Watch. Must be the pom poms…
I didn’t expect a military pun … well done! I thought about the Black Watch, but my memory is that their kilts were a more respectable length. I still wonder about skirt length and fighting in the mountains. ~James
I actually like the Pom Pom shoes! And the billowing sleeves and the tassels on the socks! 😀
Given the high step and short skirt length Madhu, the tassels and pom poms may be a diversion to draw you eye away from ummm… other things. Unique uniforms for sure. ~James
Quite possible!! 😀
Love these photos. The colors are perfect with the blueish white stone and white leggings agains the bright jackets/hats.
Thanks Jeannee. These are flamboyant outfits to be sure. And your point about color coordination with the stone is a good one. Not the sort of thing normally expected for army types. I’m sure there’s an interesting tale behind their design. ~James
I wonder if they wear underwear!!!, hahaha
I hope so Fabiola, but I didn’t look too closely. ~James
Brilliant post! I saw a BBC report a couple of years ago on the presidential guard of Greece, where the soldier on duty was telling the journalist that the only permitted way to communicate with the evzones is with the eyes: one blink is “yes”, two blinks is “no” and three blinks is “I don’t know”!
Poor guys, those shoes are really slippery. I have seen one falling to the ground, while on his way to Vouli from the National Gardens. It was not a nice sight. 🙂
Thanks for the additional information Vasilis. I would think that this has to be a terribly boring job, and not being able to communicate only makes it more so. Luckily, we didn’t see any slips when the guards were changing, but I did notice that their shoes had small metal buttons on the bottom to help with traction. What a strange job this must be. ~James
I’m pretty sure John Cleese had a holiday in Greece at some time in the late sixties or early seventies. Then again, maybe he was a guard, he’s certainly tall enough,
That’s so funny that you said that Marie, because we had the same thought. The similarities are just to close to be a coincidence. BTW, did you hear that the Monty Python crew is doing a series reunion shows? John Cleese said that he won’t be doing the silly walks because of his “old man knees”. ~James
I didn’t know but I look forward to that. Always was a Monty Python fan 🙂
Loved the title of this post and I’m so glad you included the video. Everything about the guards is so different…from the uniforms to their march. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog Karen. If these guys weren’t so serious, this performance would be hilarious. I swear that John Cleese stole the idea. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when they were working out the routine. ~James
Love the skirts. Wish I had one.
I’m not so sure of that Peggy. As Andrew let me know in another comment, these skirts have 400 pleats! I’m sure they would look great on you, but they’d be hell to care for. ~James
It’s a shame. You would look great in pom pom shoes.
These pom poms make the shoes self-shining, which I reckon is a great idea. ~James
Is that true? It sounds like something that could actually be true. They’re very big pom poms.
I just made that one up Bronwyn, but you must admit that it has a certain Wallace & Gromit efficiency to it. ~James
Ha – it’s exactly like Wallace and Gromit! I maintain that the pom poms must take at least some of the work away. I mean look at them! 🙂
Thanks very much for the link to our blog Jonelle. We’re flattered to be included. ~James