Symi (Simi or Σύμη in Greek), a rocky but still very inviting small island in Dodecanese, has the most beautiful harbor in Greece, as traditional mansions are constructed amphitheatrically on the slopes of a hill offering astonishing view to the sea from any spot. In Symi there are no modern concrete constructions, the neo-classical architectures have similar wall paintings and shapes so the spirit of the island remains intact through the ages.
It is just 9 km away from Turkish coast, north of Rhodes island, so it is a popular destination for day trippers as there are regular daily excursions from Mandraki port of Rhodes. In the old ages the inhabitant’s main occupations were sponge-fishing, boat-building, wine-making, wood-carving and icon-painting. After finishing whatever they had to work on, they were all gathering at the local taverns enjoying their cold drinks as the temperature at summer days is up to 40°C. Even the Greeks say that Symi is a hot island so if you plan to go there be prepared otherwise your skin will become darker in just a couple of minutes.
Today, Symi relies almost entirely on tourism; mostly day trippers from Rhodes. Popular destinations inside the island are the beaches of Agia Marina, Agios Giorgios, Agios Nikolaos, Agios Vasilios, Agios Emilianos, Nimbrios and Nos beach. Agios in Greek language means Saint, so its clear that the island has many monasteries to visit too. Last but not least point of interest is the Panormitis Monastery which has its own harbor, as in the old times there were not a road connecting it with the other island.
Symi island is a nice tourist destination because it combines the beauty and ambiance of the Greek islands with the developing “village life“. Firstly when the boat approaches the island it is good time to start shooting few panoramic photos of the harbor buildings which are placed like an amphitheater. Reaching the island travelers can rent a scooter in just few minutes as the rental services are situated on the harbor of Gialos. Here is a list of all the things to do in Symi
- Spend time in Gialos by sitting in the harbor cafeterias for snacks or drinks.
- Visit the Agios Ioannis church with the stone pebbled mosaic floors on the outside ground.
- Take a walk to the local museums such as the Symi Folk Museum and the nearby Nautical Museum.
- Buy souvenirs from local shops such the sea sponges.
- Relax at the nearby beaches which are developed for tourism and offer umbrella seats and delivery on the spot.
- Hike up to the Old Capital which is in the Chorio area.
- Stop at Megali Panagia Church for a panoramic view.
- See what remains of the historic Castle Walls.
- Visit the famous landmark on Symi, the Monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis (which can be also reached by boat directly from other islands).
Two settlements form the town of Symi : Chorio (Village) and Gialos ( Harbour). Pedi, found in the bay of the same name and Nimporios in the bay of the same name, have a few inhabitants. There is also a big monastery complex, Panormitis, where around 30 people live and take care of the monastery.
At Gialos you may find a medical center, a post office, the police station, the port police, the town hall, telephone service (OTE), two banks : Alpha Bank and National Bank of Greece, hotels, rooms to let, restaurants, taverns, fast food, goldsmiths, bakeries, tourist shops, supermarkets, confectioners, bars, tourist agencies, fruit shops, corner shops, a fitness center, a flower shop, bus and taxi terminals.
At Chorio, you may find a medical center, hotels, rooms to let, restaurants, taverns, bakeries, tourist shops, supermarkets, bars, fruit shops, corner shops, a flower shop, bus and taxi stations.
In the interior of Symi there is road that leads from Gialos to Panormitis and you can go through it either by car, or by bike or by foot through a pined, cypressed, holm – oaked forest. This is a walk you can do alone or with the help of guides, who are appointed by tourist offices.
There are a number of islets around Symi, such as Nimos, which is the largest one, as well as Sesklia, Artikonisi, Koulountro, Troubeto, Chondros, Plati, Oxia, Diabates, Marmaras. All these small islands can be visited with caiques, or small boats.
The island’s history begins in ancient times and some of it’s ancient names were Kariki, Aigli, and Metapontis. The island got it’s current name from the Nymph Symi, who according to mythology married the god of the seas Poseidon and brought to life Hthonios who became the leader of the island’s inhabitants.
It is postulated that the island’s first inhabitants were the Carians and the Leleges. Homer mentions Symi in the Heliade, for it’s participation in the Trojan war with three ships, headed by the Symiot King Nireas.`
Having gone through it’s own history during the ancient and Byzantine period (this is when the islands fortress was built), Symi was conquered in 1309 by the Knights of John. This is when a period of prosperity begins for the island with the development of shipping, sponge commerce, boat and other big crafts.
The neoclassical mansions, which remain intact to this day and the most of the island’s churches were build in that period. The houses begun to spread outside the castle area and at the same time many traditional settlements were abandoned.
Simi was conquered from the Turks in 1522. In an attempt to preserve as many rights as they could, the Symiots offered gifts to the Sultan and gained in return the grant of many special privileges such as the freedom of religious expression and speech. Great progress was achieved in letters, grafts and schools such as the Agia Marina Academy were founded 1756-1821.
Prosperity in shipping and commerce gave the Symiots the opportunity to support the national war of independence from the Turkish dominion both by financially supporting in the war and also by financially supporting this national cause.
Unfortunately in 1832 Symi was found once again under the Turkish dominion which in 1912 was succeeded by the Italian dominion which was particularly harsh on the locals. Once very prosperous , Symi confronted poverty – at time the replacement of sailing with motor ships also occurred, sponge diving decreased and world war 2 begun resulting in the great migration wave of Symiots abroad.
From 1943 when the Italian dominion ceased and onward, Symi shook hands several times between English and Germans, with the English taking over the island for the 3rd time on 25th of September 1944 date when the island’s Castle and its surroundings were blown up.
On 8th of May 1945 the Germans signed the Treaty of Dodecanese Surrender, and on 1st of April 1947 the British Military Command handed over its rights to the Greeks. At last, it was on Symi that on 8th of March 1948 the protocol of Integration of all Dodecanese islands to the Greek state was signed.
Symi itself can only be reached by boat. Fly to Rhodes and get the ferry. The timetable changes regularly but usually at summer months there are everyday trips.