In the Byzantine years, economic activities involved shipping, ship building, commerce, sponge fishing, and viniculture. To develop the latter, the Symians had built 120 wine presses all over the island, 11 of which have been reconstructed with the use of their own rock parts; a visit to them is worthwhile as it requires a walk through the refreshing cypress forest of the area of Kourkouniotis. Part of the Dodecannese island chain, Symi is located 41km north-northwest of Rhodes. Its main town, commonly referred to by the same name as the island itself, is divided in two parts: the harbourside one, called Gialos, and the adjacent one on the slopes of the hills, called Horio (=village).
Symi Island is a remote and isolated alternative to the busier islands of the Dodecanese. Its colourful and elegant allure will charm you!
A galore of two and three-storey traditional stone houses, painted in all colours but mostly in indigo, ochre and terracotta, with red tiled roofs and cute little balconies with railings set up the peculiarity of Symi. The entrance of the horseshoe-shaped port is dominated by Roloi, a clock tower. Right in front of it there is the statue of the fisher boy, Michalaki (= little Michael) which seems to be welcoming the visitors to the island. It is on this same side of the port that the “Dove of Peace”, a beautiful sculpture, has landed to represent a war memorial.
The two sides of the port are joined together by a gorgeous stony little bridge which the locals call kaldirími. The Town Hall
, the cathedral, the square and the Naval Museum
of Symi are the main attractions on this side. The latter lends an insight to the naval tradition of the island and boasts, amongst else, exhibits representing the evolution of sponge fishing through the years.
There is a stony stairway of 500 steps leading to the upper part of the town. The locals call it Kali Strata
, which means “good way”
; what else could be called such a wonderful walkway under the trees with the satisfying view over Gialos?
Some awesome churches fill the streets of Horio with beauty. Icon screens, post-byzantine icons and gravel yards are worth seeing here.
In the central square some enjoy their meal while others chat with friends over coffee. Children laugh in the playground while their parents shop around. At the same time, those in need of a doctor can see them in the municipal clinic, housed in Spetsaría, the old municipal pharmacy with the old glass tubes and recipients; those in no need of a doctor just go there to pay a visit to the historic and attractive building.
Overlooking Horio there is Kastro (= castle). Actually, it is the remnants of a castle built by the knights of St John in the 14th century as an expansion to an old byzantine castle on the same site.
Although mountainous, the island is dotted with small valleys. One of those beautifully reaches the sea to form an enticing cove. It’s on that coast that you’ll find the scenic village of Pedi. On the way to it and if it is August 15, don’t miss the genuinely traditional folk festival of the monastery of Panagia Altheini. Another big feast is held at Panagia Myrtariotissa, right on the same day. Meanwhile, for meditating and marveling at frescoes of the 15th century, visit the fortified monastery of Michail Roukouniotis.