The changing of the guard ceremony takes place every hour at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” near parliament in Athens, Greece. This is an event that I would classify as a “Must See” activity when visiting Athens and I would say that it was one of the highlights of my trip to Greece. The tomb is guarded by two soldiers that stand motionless on each side of the tomb next to a sentry box.
The first thing that immediately stands out is the unusual uniforms that the guards are wearing. Initially, these uniforms don’t seem to fit with a military ceremony when they have pompoms on the toes of their boots, leg stockings and skirts but don’t be fooled by the uniform. These guys are serious soldiers. They are part of an elite light infantry unit known as the Evzones that are part of the Greek Army.
The basics of the ceremony is no different than other changing of the guard ceremonies. The on duty guards stand on duty until the replacement guards arrive and then they exchange places and the new guards take their position next to the sentry box and the original guards march off to rest.
While the components of the ceremony is similar to other changing of the guard ceremonies, this ceremony is highly entertaining. The guards move in slow motion raising their guns, making high leg kicks and swinging their legs back in a way that the metal knobs on the bottom of their boots scrape across the marble sidewalk making swishing noise. All of these movements are made with extreme precision and coordination between the two guards.
The changing of the guards takes place in four parts after the replacement guards arrive. First the existing guards march from their position at the sentry box to each side of the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”.
Next the replacement guards march to each side of the tomb standing beside the existing guard.
Once the replacement guards have reached their position, the existing guards march to the front of the tomb and then march back to their barracks.
Finally, when the existing guards have left, the replacement guards march to their position next to the sentry box where they will stand motionless until they are replace after 1 hour.
The final act of the ceremony is an inspection of the uniform once the replacement guards reach the sentry box.
The entire ceremony seems extremely strange with the unusual uniforms, high leg swings, boot swishing on the marble, raised guns and odd hand positions but the ceremony is a very solemn event. There is no narration, the soldiers don’t make any noise and everyone in the crowed is silent from the beginning of the ceremony until it is completely finished.
I am sure that many people know about the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” in Arlington, Virginia USA but there are similar memorials in several other countries. The other memorials that I know of are:
• Tomb of the Unknown Warier in London
• Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in France
• Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Belgium
• Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Canada
• Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Italy
If you are in one of these locations then I would suggest that you make time in your schedule to attend the changing of the guard ceremony. I think it will be an event that you will be glad that you witnessed.