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Symi Island

Symi Island


Symi has the most beautiful harbour in Greece. On either side of a steep-sided fjord rise tier upon tier of houses, some white, some pastel yellow, but virtually all with Neo-Classical pediments - a reminder that 100 years ago this was one of Greece's most prosperous islands. There has been virtually no modern concrete construction here and now these fine old houses are being resurrected for visitors. The spirit of the island remains intact.

Symi is located in the Southern Dodecanese, north of Rhodes and close to the coast of south-west Turkey. The island  is just over 13 km north/south and about 8 km east/west with an area of some 68 square km.  Symi is divided into distinctive areas - Yialos is the main harbour. Chorio, literally 'village', is the top town. Pedi Bay is the valley below Chorio, south of Yialos. Nimborios is the bay and settlement to the north of Yialos. There is a small settlement at Marathounda and a major Monastery complex at Panormitis.

There are many old churches and monasteries to be seen. Some of the most accessible are described here: The church of Constantinos and Eleni on the southern slopes of the Vigla along the Panormitis road has gardens, terraces and a well. There is usually someone there in the summer. The monastery of the Archangel Michael at Roukouniotis was built by the knights of St. John in the 14th century on the ruins of an important 5th century monastery, which in turn was built on the remains of a pre-Christian temple. The monastery of Sotiris Megalos, shortly before the road descends to Panormitis, is very picturesque and has spectacular views. There is a sign-posted walk to an old vinery and the ruins of old wine presses.

The Monastery of the Archangel Michael at Panormitis, is the island's most famous monastery. The original church of St. Michael was built around 450 AD on the site of an ancient temple to Apollo. It contains a splendid icon of the Archangel and two interesting museum sections. Overnight accommodation can be arranged.  There are other churches and monasteries of interest which are best visited as part of an organised excursion or by boat as foot access is difficult, or in the case of Nimos, impossible.

The Symi bus does an hourly shuttle from the harbour to the village and down to Pedi Bay up to 11 o'clock at night. Air-conditioned and very reliable. There is also an early morning bus to Panormitis-check timetable as schedules vary according to the time of year. Both buses leave from the bus stop on the right-hand side of the harbour. There are five taxis based again on the right-hand side of the harbour; the furthest trip they do is down to Panormitis in the south of the island. Car and moped hire is readily available in the harbour and in Pedi Bay.


July and August days are long and hot and the nights are warm. June, the beginning of July and all of September offer a better combination, with warm days and cool evenings. The water in September can be especially warm in places. The months of May and October offer excellent sailing conditions.

Symi belongs to the Dodecanese islands and lies across the Asia Minor coast and just a few nautical miles NW of Rhodes. Aristocratic and far off the model of mass tourism, Symi pleasantly surprises its visitors with its plain, aristocratic yet wild beauty.

As you glimpse the perfectly formed harbor of Symi, Gialos, you are confronted with a beautiful picture-postcard Venetian village. Wonderfully well-preserved two and three storey mansions with their facades painted in bright and vivid colors reflect the island's rich past isnce Symi was once one of the richest islands with a tradition in sponge diving, ship building and wookd carving. The island's two main settlements are Gialos and Chorio or otherwise known as Ano Symi. Gialos settlement starts from the portand stretches on the outskirts of the surrounding hills. Its continuation all the way up the hill and around the Old Castle of Symi is known as Ano Symi. Take a stroll on the port's central road to admire the Municipal Clock Tower built in 1881, the statue of the young fisherman "Michalaki" by the famous Symiot sculptor C. Valsamis and the historical "Kampsopoulou" building where the surrender of the Dodecanese islands by the Germans to the Allies was signed. Walking towards the island's central square "Kambos", you will come upon the Monument of the Fallen Soldier, the recently renovated Naval Museum and the church of Ag. Ioannis with its magnificent pebbled yard.

Continue your tour on the other side of the port (behind the Clock Tower) where you will find the island's shipyard and the church "Panaghia tou Evangelismou" that stands above it welcoming boats and visitors. Following the road you will come upon Nos, one of the island's most popular beaches, and right accross it standing midseas, you will see the little islet of Nimos. The stroll ends at Nimborios, a seaside settlement where one can enjoy its crystal clear waters.

500 wide, stone steps make up the "Kali Strata" (Good Path) that joins the port with Chorio. A path lined with two-storeyed, old, neoclassical mansions painted in warm colours and covered with tiled roofs. This used to be the island's old commercial road where the captains and merchants had their houses. In Chorio which is split into districts, you will visit the remains of the Castle of the Knights of St. John inside which lies the church of the Virgin of the Castle ("Panaghia tou Kastrou"). Take long wlaks through the cobbled streets of Chorio and spend some time visiting the beautiful churches that present great interest for their frescoes and icon screens. Visit "Pontikokastro" (at the windmills) which are a circular construcion which could be a prehistoric tumulus. Admire the windmills which are what is left of the 20 windmills from when Symi numbered around 30,000 inhabitants. From up there you will have a wonderful view to the verdant plains of the seaside settlement of Pedi. On the piazzas of Aleminas (with its historic cafe) and Ai-Thanassis, enjoy the colors of Symi, there...


The history of Symi goes back to ancient times. Aigli, Metapontis and Kariki are some of Symi's ancient names where according to mythology the Graces were born. Symi got its current name from the nymph Symi, who according to the myth mated with Poseidon, God of the Seas, and brought to life Hthonios who became the leader of the island's first inhabitants.

Symi, small and barren,associated its name to the nautical tradition from the very ancient years. Glafkos who is considered the first inhabitant of the island was a very good swimmer and sailor, who taught his abilities to the island's inhabitants who as first, are considered to be the Kares and the Leleges. Homer mentions Symi in the "Iliad" where he refers to the Symi's first King, Nireus, who participated in the Trojan War with 3 of his ships.

In 1309 the island is conquered by the Knights of St. John while at the same time begins a time of prosperity for the island wher shipping, sponge commerce, boat building and other crafts flourish. The Symiots became known as sailors, fishermen and sponge divers and brought wealth and fame to their island. Symi was conquered by the Turks in 1522 but the Symiots gained the grant of many special privileges such as the freedom of religious expression and speech which allowed them to mark great progress in letters and crafts and build shcools such as the Aghia Marina Academy (1756-1821), etc.


Symi's recorded history goes back as far as the Trojan Wars (1120 BC) and its past is chequered, with a series of invaders, beginning with the Dorians from the Pelponnese (6th-7th century), the Romans, some two or three hundred years afterwards, the Turks (1522-1912) and the Italians (from 1912 until World War 2). Symi then became a strategically important island and was subsequently invaded - and bombed - by both the Axis and the Allies during each others' occupations.

Finally, in 1947, Symi along with the rest of the Dodecanese islands became part of the Greek nation. At its height - before the Italian occupation - Symi was a thriving island with a population of more than 22,000.  It was renowned for its boat-building, sponge-fishing, wine-making, its wood-carvers and icon-painters and the outstanding educational quality of its schools.

Sightseeing in Yialos, Symi harbour: Katarinettes on the harbour front is where the Germans signed the surrender of the Dodecanese at the end of World War II. A little further along towards the bridge there is a replica of the Lindos ship with a war memorial. The Nautical Museum is at the back of the Town Square and is easily identifiable by the canons outside. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 14.00.

The Town Square is one of the venues for the Symi Festival. St. John's Church has a interesting burial ground as well as a fine, recently restored pebble courtyard which is also a Festival venue, as is the nearby Petrides School. The Kataratkis, a steep footpath at the back of the harbour towards the Castle and Chorio, was the ancient road connecting the village with the harbour before the Kali Strata was built in the 19th century. The Kali Strata starts at the back of the square in the south-western corner of the harbour and is about 350 steps up to Chorio, with interesting 19th century mansions lining the way.

Sightseeing in Chorio, the 'village' area: The Kali Strata opens into Syllogos Square (also a Festival venue), from the back of which a road leads round behind the Castle and to Lemonitsa Church. There are spectacular views over the harbour and this route eventually connects up with the top of the Kataraktis, the original staircase connecting Yialos to Chorio.

The Castle was rebuilt by the Knights of St. John in the early 15th century on the site of a much older fortification. It survived in reasonable condition until World War II when it was used as an Axis munitions store. This was blown up, destroying the Castle and the Church of the Assumption which was within its walls. Parts of the walls remain and there is a plaque visible, commemorating Filibert de Niallac, the Knight's French Grand Master.

Continuing further along the Kali Strata, the Old Pharmacy has been restored and houses an interesting collection of French medicine jars and other paraphanelia. The Museum is further up, in Old Chorio. Follow the signposts. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 14.00 and contains many interesting artefacts. Chatziagapitos House, a restored 18th century mansion is nearby and is open during museum hours.

There are many churches in Chorio, some with interesting pebblework. Churches are usually locked unless there is a name day or other festivity in progress. Chorio is the oldest inhabited area with many narrow lanes and picturesque houses predating the Neo-Classical which predominates on the Kali Strata and in Yialos.  On the crest above Yialos there is a row of windmills. From here it is possible to walk to Pontikokastro (aka Mouse Castle). This is a partially excavated stone circle, probably dating back to Neolithic times.

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