Friday, August 20, 2010

BLACK SEA TRIP: PART 13, Athens, Changing of the Guard

I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the pictures I have from our two days in Greece. I've decided to break it up into small pieces and do several posts, and I'm going to resist the urge to share ALL of our pictures. I hope it will be less boring that way!

I thought I'd start with one of the most unique experiences we had in Athens: the changing of the guard. I've seen several such military exercises, most notably at the Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington, Paris, and Odessa, as well as at Buckingham Palace. They were all spectacular, solemn, even reverent events. Athens, however, tops them all. We actually saw two changing of the guard ceremonies in Athens: one in Syntagma (which means "Constitution") Square in front of the Parliament Building and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the other in front of the National Palace.

First, just to establish the setting, Constitution Square is ringed by neoclassical government buildings erected in the 19th century. Not surprisingly, they fit right into the Athens style:

The next picture is a bit off topic, but I love the contrast of this very traditional Greek Orthodox priest waiting for a bus at the ultra-modern bus stop.

Of course, any large city square would not be complete without pigeons and a little boy to feed them:

Okay, on to the guards themselves. To begin with, there is the uniform:
What's not to love about a very tall man in white tights and a short pleated skirt, with tasseled garters around his calves . . .
. . . huge pom poms on the toes of his shoes . . .
and a red beret with a horsetail-like tassel hanging down on one side?
Pretty cute, huh?

The bas-relief sculpture on the left is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and behind the Tomb is the peach-colored Parliament Building:
The uniform is similar to what Greek soldiers wore in the 1821 Revolution, and King Otto made it the formal court dress in the middle of the 19th century. I wonder what the shoe pom poms were for?

There was a line of tourists waiting to have their picture taken with the two guards (one on each side of the Tomb). The guards, like good palace guards everywhere, did not acknowledge anyone's presence. They never smiled, twitched, or seemed to blink. It makes me wonder how effective they would be if there were an actual attack on the building!

The ceremony began when the replacement guards marched in and the guy in the modern camouflage outfit checked out their outfits. See him running the tassel of the middle guard through his fingers? (What is he looking for? Fleas?)
Then the guards, both old and new, began marching in a very precise formation across the plaza, using the most complicated steps I have ever seen.

We took a lot of pictures, but they just don't do the scene justice. You have to watch the video:

Awesome, isn't it? The whole thing took about 15 minutes. When it was over, we rushed over to the palace, a few blocks away, to see the scene repeated, this time on a regular city sidewalk:

I absolutely loved it all--the uniforms, the ridiculousness, the strength and grace, the pomp and ceremony. No trip to Athens would be complete without seeing the changing of the guard.


  1. Are you sure you didn't download that changing of the guard video from a Saturday Night Live episode? It was hilarious! And the uniforms are unbelievably silly.

  2. Ok, I guess I am culturally insentitive, but that looks really silly, cool but silly. Perhaps if I were a Greek national I would understand, but my obvious tiny American mind is not getting it. BTW, from what war is the unknown soldier from?

  3. Yeah, they look silly, but the soldiers were so handsome and serious that they more than made up for their uniforms. ;D

    John, apparently the tomb honors soldiers from all the wars Greece has fought in. Many of those wars are listed on the wall near the bas-relief of the fallen soldier. That leads me to believe that unlike Arlington, it is not an ACTUAL tomb.

  4. They were pretty silly. I am very glad I don't have to do military service in Greece. Of course, as Judy says, I'm not tall enough and I'm too fat, so I wouldn't have to worry about it. Anyway, I felt silly just looking at them.

  5. It's the pom-poms. Instant clown shoes. And taking giant steps in clown shoes is inherently silly. (I feel confident that rule cuts across cultures.) Thanks for the awesome video!

  6. Wow. You're right. You have to watch the video to get the whole impression. Dave brought home pix from Greece ages and ages ago with these same dudes in their dudette get-up and I just didn't appreciate it at all. Now I do. Sort of. Now I'm off to Wikipedia to read all about it.