THE PRESIDENTIAL GUARD
The Presidential Guard (Evzones) has a history that stretches over more than a century. It was founded on 12 December 1868 both as a combatant and ceremonial force. Over time it acquired a solely ceremonial role, as witnessed by its changing names: the Palace Guard, the Flag Guard, the Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Royal Guard and finally, since 1974 and the restoration of democracy, the Presidential Guard.
The barracks where the Presidential Guard is based remain in the same place since the force was founded. It is situated close to the present Presidential Mansion (formerly the Palace) on Herod Atticus Road and is called after the chieftain and hero of the Revolution of 1821, George Tzavellas.
Today the Presidential Guard has the following duties:
- The deployment of a guard of honour on a round-the-clock basis at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at the Presidential Mansion and at the gate of the barracks.
- The official raising and lowering of the flag on the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis.
- Serving as guard of honour to the President of the Republic and to the leaders of foreign countries.
- Serving as guard of honour to the ambassadors of foreign countries while they present their credentials to the President of the Republic.
Participation of the Evzones in national conflicts
The Evzone uniform, in its present form, was worn by men-at-arms and klephts during the Turkish occupation of Greece (1453-1821), as witnessed in paintings from this period. The Evzone, with the “foustanella” (a kind of kilt) and the “tsarouhi” (rustic shoes with pompoms), became a symbol of the War of Independence. After the Revolution of 1821 the uniform of the Evzone was officially established as the uniform of all chieftains and fighters of the Revolution.
After the Second World War the Evzone Regiments were re-organised and formed into modern infantry units as part of the modernisation of the Armed Forces.
The Evzone Uniform
The uniform of the Evzones has a long history, beginning with the warriors (evzones) at the time of Homer and culminating in the “foustanella” and “tsarouchi” at the time of the Turkish Occupation. From 1821 onwards the Evzone uniform was established as the official Greek national costume.
Making the Evzone uniform is not simple. It requires knowledge and experience on the maker’s part, as well as a great deal of time and expense. The uniforms are fully hand-made. There are two types of uniform: that of the officer and that of the private, each having a summer and a winter version.
The main parts of the Evzone uniform are:
- The hat made of red baize with a silk tassel.
- The shirt, white with very wide sleeves.
- The waistcoat, hand-embroidered with great skill. Various designs of great traditional and folklore importance are embroidered on the waistcoat in white or gilt thread.
- The kilt (foustanella), made from 30 metres of white material, with 400 pleats, representing the 400 years of the Turkish occupation.
- The breeches, the long red trousers of the officers and the white woollen stockings of the Evzones.
- The cartridge belt.
- The garters, black for the Evzones and blue for the officers.
Apart from the above, which are common to both Evzones and officers, there are also:
- The gaiters, the red boots and the 1821 sabre of the officers.
- The inside garter, which holds the stockings in position, the fringe (blue and white coloured braids, the colours of the Greek flag) and the “tsarouchia”, the traditional shoes of the Evzones. The shoes are fully hand-made from hard red leather, each sole having 60 nails. Each pair weighs about three kilos. The toe of the shoe turns up in a point that is covered by a black pompom.
Apart from the Evzone uniform, the Presidential Guard also wears the Cretan uniform with its characteristic breeches and knife worn in the belt. The Cretan uniform is worn on certain official ceremonial occasions. In this way the Presidential Guard represents not only those who live on the mainland but also the islanders. Thus the Evzone uniform represents the warrior of the mainland, while the Cretan uniform represents the warrior of the Greek islands. Recently the traditional uniform of Pontos has also been added.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
In 1925 Greece decided to build a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an idea which had first been proposed and implemented by the French after the end of the First World War.
In 1926 a panhellenic competition was announced for the design of a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was to be built in front of the main entrance of the Parliament building, facing Constitution Square.
On 9 October 1926 the Ministry for the Military by ordinance n. 219188 awarded the prize to the architect Emmanuel Lazaridis. However the decision to erect the tomb in the afore-mentioned place was delayed, as it met with many objections and differing opinions. A new committee was formed in June 1928 and the Cabinet accepted its proposals. In April 1929 work began and the monument was completed on March 1932. Its inauguration took place at the time of the National Holiday of the same year.