Every year thousands of tourists in Athens flock to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier to watch the Changing of the Guard. Some of the less informed visitors may actually find it a disappointing experience. Especially if they previously witnessed the spectacle on TV or via YouTube Videos.
If you are planning to visit Athens and want to see the changing of the Guard, there is something important you need to know. Although the ceremony happens every hour, on the hour, 365 days of the year, most of the time it’s pretty low-key.
However, once a week, on Sunday mornings at 11 AM, things are different. That’s the one time each week when the Changing of the Guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier becomes a really interesting ceremony. That’s the ceremony most people are familiar with from YouTube and TV. It’s the ceremony visitors hope to see.
So the best time to see the changing of the guard ceremony is 11 am, every Sunday morning.
Things to Know Before Going to See the Changing of the Guard Ceremony
Although their clothes may seem a little unusual, the soldiers standing watch in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens are an elite fighting force called the Everzones. Don’t let the the kilt-like garments they wear or the pom-poms on their shoes mislead you. The Everzones are highly-trained, incredibly disciplined men—the best of the best. It’s a great honour for a Greek soldier when he is selected to join this prestigious fighting force.
There’s actually more to the Everzones’ uniforms than meets the eye. For instance, the kilt-like vestments they wear are called foustanellas and each one has exactly 400 pleats, called langiolia. These represent the 400 years Greece was under Ottoman rule.
As for the slow, choreographed movements of the soldiers and the march that incorporates outstretched legs, it’s harder than it looks. Although it’s not unusual to hear a few members of the crowd sniggering, those perfectly-timed motions take a great deal of self-control and discipline. Anyone who has studied karate or similar martial arts will probably appreciate this more than most. Holding a leg in the air without wavering is not an easy thing to do.
Normal Changing of the Guard Vs. The Sunday Show (11 am)
The Best Way to Get There
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is situated just across the road from Syntagma Square [MAP]. Unless you are staying in the immediate area, the best way to get there is to use the Metro. If you exit the Metro via the wrong exit, all you will need to do is climb the steps to the side of the station and cross the road. If you use the other exit you will exit the Metro at the correct side of the road the find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier just a few meters away. Seriously, it’s not a hard place to find and the Athens Metro is the cheapest and most efficient way to get around the city.
How the Normal Ceremony Differs from the Weekend Spectacle
The normal changing of the guard happens more quickly than the once-weekly ceremonial spectacle. The two fresh guards arrive accompanied by a third Everzone soldier and some normal soldier who are wearing standard green khaki-type uniforms.
The soldiers in khaki then escort the fresh Everzones to their respective positions and then walk away with the guards who are coming off duty. Forming a line, they march away with exaggerated swinging of the arms. This all happens quite fast and, failing any problems, should be over in less than three minutes.
The main ceremonial affair takes a lot longer. From what I can remember it was around 20 minutes to half-an-hour. This is the one visitors want to see so the crowd of spectators is much bigger. The road in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has to be closed to make room for the procession.
When the fresh Everzone Soldiers arrive they are accompanied by the rest of their unit, along with a marching band. In this case, the Everzones use slow purposeful movements and put on the display that you typically see on YouTube ad TV.
If this is the Changing of the Guard Ceremony you want to see during your visit to Athens, you will need to time your visit correctly and be in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before 11 AM on a Sunday morning. The first time I went, I made the mistake of arriving at 12 pm. Then, after a little research, I realized my mistake and had to return to the following week.
Many visitors won’t be the city long enough to have more than one bite at the cherry and will need to get it right first time.
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