Syntagma Square – Athens
The original plans for the construction of the Parliament Building in Athens were to have it built atop the Acropolis. However, quite thankfully, this did not come to happen, and the Parliament Building was instead erected at the head of Syntagma Square. Built in the neo-classical style, a style that originated in Greece and typifies many of the hallmark Athens buildings, construction of the Parliament Building began in 1836 and was finished in the early 1840″s. It was built under the rule of King Otto of Bavaria with finances produced by his father, Ludwig I.
With the Greek Revolution of 1821, the Greek mainland managed to liberate itself from the Ottoman Empire. After hundreds of years living under Turkish rule, it was decided by the ruling faction that Otto of Bavaria would become the new King of Greece. When this was decided, Otto was not of age to rule yet, and so he came with forces and three designated ruling dictators that soon took advantage of their new empire monetarily. Eventually, when Otto reached his ruling age, the Greeks had grown tired of his dignitaries and demanded they be removed and that a new constitution be written. The name Syntagma means “Constitution”, and it is from this historical perspective that Syntagma Square was named.
Syntagma Square Athens is the heart of the city and it is for all intents and purposes the most important square in all of Greece. Syntagma Square is a prime beginning point from which to access many of the main attractions in Athens, and many of the city’s most notable streets begin at the square. Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, also known as Museum Mile, is one of the prolific city arteries which runs out of Syntagma Square. Among the museums found along this strip are the Benaki Museum, the Byzantine Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art. Many of the most expensive Athens hotels are found at Syntagma Square, including the Grande Bretagne Hotel, as well as Ermou Street, the city’s most expensive shopping strip. Ermou Street connects Syntagma Square Athens to Monastiraki, where tourists and Athenians alike shop for bargains at the Monastiraki Plaka flea market. Other notable neighborhoods near Syntagma Square are the chic Kolonaki, and the neighborhood of Psirri. Within walking distance of Syntagma Square Athens are the Acropolis, the Tower of Winds, Lykavittos Hill and a series of other attractions, including many historic churches.
One of the great things to do in Athens is visit Syntagma Square for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Greece, which is located at the Parliament Building. Every hour, guards called Evzones perform the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Greece changing of the guard. The Evzones wear curious uniforms with pom-poms on the toes of their shoes and skirts with stockings. The uniforms differ in the summer from the winter garb, and on Sundays and special celebrations the uniform is the most formal. The 11 o’clock a.m. Sunday changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Greece is a more ornate ceremony, where scores of people gather to watch.
Today the Evzones form the Presidential Guard, a battalion composed of 2 Evzone companies and 1 command company. They operate out of the Georgios Tzavelas barracks on Herodou Attikou St., just behind the Parliament building.
The Guard always takes precedence in all military parades. Their march style consists in normal march time, and at intervals, for several paces, striking the ground forcefully with their right foot. Their standard marching music is the “Evzonaki” (“little Evzone”) march, played at 48 beats/min. They guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier round the clock. Guards on duty perform their movements in a very slow and highly stylized manner. They switch positions with each other every fifteen minutes and remain completely motionless and at attention in the meantime. Since the Guards are required to be totally still at all times, there is one Evzone in normal fatigues uniform and police surveillance to ensure that no one approaches or harasses the Guards while on duty. The “little changes” take place every hour on the hour, and involve the two incoming and two outgoing Evzone guards, and a supervising “Corporal of the Change”. The Grand Change takes place at 11 am on Sunday mornings, and involves the whole Guard with its officers and a military band, all marching from the Guard Barracks to the Tomb for the Change, and back. The Grand Change is a popular Sunday morning spectacle for Athenians and tourists alike.
During a demonstration in front of the Parliament in 2001, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at one of the guardhouses. In no time, the wooden construction was engulfed in flames. The Evzone standing next to it didn’t even blink his eyes, let alone move, until the guard in standard uniform came and gave him the order to move. With a scorched and partly smoking uniform on one side, the Evzone did.
In January 2010, a makeshift bomb was placed 20 meters from where the Evzones guard the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, at Syntagma Square. Although the police informed the Evzones of the imminent threat, the Guards refused to leave their posts and remained on guard while the bomb exploded.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Greece is also the monument of choice during major holidays, where top officials of Greece lay wreaths in honor of the nameless fallen Greek soldiers from battles gone by. Found at the site are an inscription bearing the famous Funeral Speech by Pericles, and other inscriptions that commemorate past Greek army victories like the 1821 Greek Revolution.