To Be an Evzone
Trained in silence to attain fitness levels worthy of Hercules and the ability to stand like a statue for over an hour at a time, evzones are the living embodiment of Greek grit. We bring to life the daily existence of these granite-faced guardians of democracy.
Who Are They?
The Evzones (Greek: Εύζωνας) are a ceremonial unit that guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion in Athens. They are the national symbol of valor, bravery, and heroism. It is not the guarding the parliament they are protecting per se, but of democracy itself. They also raise and lower the flag every Sunday at the Acropolis (at 9 am and 6 pm), accompany the president of the Hellenic Republic on official foreign visits, and welcome foreign dignitaries.
In one of the most popular live attractions of Athens, tourists gather every hour to watch the perfectly choreographed changing of the guard – one of the most iconic photographs of the city, after the Parthenon.
Every move that an Evzone makes is the symbolic forming of the Greek word, ‘No’ (Greek: ‘Όχι) with their arms, legs and rifles raise in the air. It symbolizes what Greeks have declared to all their enemies throughout history – that they will overcome all threats united.
Every two months, officers of the Presidential Guard unit come and select men who are undertaking their 9-month national service for Evzone training based on their height (around 1.87m) and strength. The training is rigorous and only for the psychologically robust. It’s the toughest training in the special forces in Greece with only a 50% pass rate.
Once they arrive as junior recruits at the camp, they are commanded not to make eye contact or speak to other Evzones. In fact, all their training is in silence.
Apart from reaching Heraclean fitness levels, they’re expected to stand still like statues for two hours by the end of the month.
They are also partnered with someone with similar features and practise mirrored moves for up to six hours a day.
They are trained not to react to external stimuli unless it threatens the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, even under penalty of a chemical attack.
They are not paid for this service. The Evzone’s role is to honour all the people who gave up their lives for the freedom of Greece.
What They Look Like
Inspired by the Greek Independence heroes, the klephts who helped win Greek independence in 1821, the Evzone uniform comprises of the ‘fustanella’, a woollen type of kilt with 400 pleats representing the years of Ottoman occupation, heavy read ‘tsarouchi’ clogs (estimated to weight 3.5 kgs each), and the ‘fermeli’ a symbolic waistcoat embroidered with the symbols of Alpha, Omega, Christ, and Infinity. It takes up to half an hour for an Evzone to be dressed in his attire.
Standing on average 100 hours a week and weighted down by the heavy and bulky uniform in sometimes scalding or freezing temperatures, to braving tear-gas to disperse demonstrators on duty, Evzones are not allowed to move in any way or even to blink. If an Evzone is in difficulty, there is an accompanying soldier, ‘the observer’ around to assist. He comes to wipe sweat from their brow, give them water, place a coat over them or even wipe away tears. The Evzone can blink once for ‘yes’, twice for ‘no’ and three times for ‘I don’t know’. Often the assisting soldier discourages tourists who try to distract the Evzone from breaking their regal façade when they try to get the best Insta shot.