I’m a big fan of free cultural things on my travels, and the hourly changing of the guard outside the Parliament building on Syntagma Square is well worth turning up for. Given that it happens hourly, it’s not hard to find time for it! Apparently it’s a huge event on Sundays at 11am, when the entire elite corps, all dressed up in full regalia including skirts and pom-pom adorned slippers [no disrespect intended...that's the easiest way to describe their costumes!] participates. For the other 24 x 7 – 1 ceremonial changes, only a few are involved, but it’s nonetheless very entertaining.
Mum and I arrived at the square about fifteen minutes before it all started. The two guards – apparently called evzones or tsoliades – were doing their thing, which is basically standing dead straight and dead still, showing no reaction to anything including all the tourists taking their photos and standing beside them to have photos taken with them. A Presidential Guard in normal army attire was on hand to blow his whistle at anyone who got too close, tried to distract the evzones or went up there in groups. A number of stray dogs were roaming around, and Mother surprised me by musing aloud whether the dogs ever peed on the guards.
‘You’d have to, if you were a dog, wouldn’t you?’ she said. ‘Go and wee on them just for fun!’
I, of course, was suitably horrified that my dear sweet mother would even think of such a thing! Still, I do wonder what the guards would do. When people got too close to them they’d slam the butt of their rifle into the ground, so maybe they do the same with the dogs. It’s a conundrum…one that admittedly has not kept me awake at night!
Spot on the hour, the replacement guards began their slow march towards Parliament down the centre of the square. Their exaggerated movements made me think of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch, and I discovered afterwards, when looking through my photos, that I have inadvertently got some upskirting shots…hard to avoid though when they are kicking their legs up above waist height.
I was curious about the meaning behind the costumes, and found a heap of useful information at http://www.athensinfoguide.com/wtsevzones.htm back at the hotel that night. It explains a lot. I figured that they were chosen partly because of their height, but apparently they have to be giants – over 187cm tall, as well as good looking. It’s not often that men are picked based on a pretty face! However, that’s not all there is to it – they are fully trained soldiers after all. I wasn’t going to test that though.
Both Mum and I were quite impressed, although I must admit that it did seem a little silly. I’m not sure why the ridiculous style of marching is necessary – it’s certainly more entertaining than frightening. Still, maybe en masse it’s a little more intimidating.