Symi. Symi is a small island in the Dodecanese chain in the southeast Aegean, eight miles long by six miles wide. It has no airport, and is reached by ferry from Rhodes, 23 miles to the south, while the turkish coast is 4 miles to the east.Symi's unspoilt nature has been preserved by its remoteness,together with a preservation order from the Archeological Department prohibiting any out of character tourist development. There is only one town on the island, Symi town itself, with a population of about 3000; other settlement is in the form of small hamlets scattered around the island's coast, most reached only by donkey tracks or boat. Symi has an abundance of natural harbours and bays, some of which are delightful coves for swimming, others dramatic cliffs; inland, the island is hilly, with some fertile plains, as well as juniper woods Transport around the island is by bus, taxi, or water taxi.
History. Symi has had a long and varied history, mainly under foreign rule. It is first mentioned in Homer's Iliad, in which King Nireus of Symi brings three ships to Troy. The original settlers probably came from Crete, but following a massacre by Dorians in the seventh century BC, they were slowly replaced by settlers from Rhodes. In 42 BC Symi came under Roman control, followed by Byzantine rule, and in 1309 was taken over by the Knights of St John in Rhodes, by which time it had become prosperous through trade, shipbuilding and sponge-diving, for which it was famous. In 1522, it requested friendship with the powerful Ottoman empire, and as a reward was granted a degree of autonomy, and given exclusive sponge rights throughout the empire.It flourished both economically and culturally, despite being punished by Turkey for supporting the 1821 Greek uprising, which led to the creation of the modern Greek state. Symi, though, remained under Turkish rule until 1912, when it was seized by the Italians, prompting two thirds of the population of 23,000 to emigrate. Following much destructive activity during World War Two, it finally became a part of Greece in 1947.
Symi Town . The only town on the island has an immediate impact on the visitor, spread around a dramatic horseshoe-shaped bay that rises steeply. Accordingly, the town is divided into two: Yialos, the area around the waterfront, and Chorio, the upper town, connected to each other by a giant 'staircase', the Kali Strata. All ferries to Symi stop at Yialos, and most of the island's shops,tavernas and amenities are scattered around the harbour area. Many of the striking buildings in the lower town are neo-classical mansions built in the nineteenth century, and a stroll among these grand houses through the maze of tiny alleyways reveals much of the town's charm. Also worth seeing in Yialos is the imposing clock-tower, built in 1890, and the nautical museum. Further up in Chorio, with its smaller buildings, there are other places of interest: the nineteenth century mansion-fortress Hatzagapitos; Symi museum, displaying items from the Hellenistic period to the present day; a nineteenth century pharmacy; and at the highest point, the castle, originally built over 2500 years ago, restored in the fifteenth century, and sadly damaged by retreating Germans in World War Two.
Around the Island. Outside the focal hub of Symi Town, the island is sparser, with only two main roads from the capital: one goes to Pedi bay, immediately to the south, while the other, which is less easy to negotiate, winds down to Panormitis at the southern tip. There are various sites of interest, not least at Panormitis itself, with its eighteenth century monastery dedicated to the Archangel Michael, protector of sailors: appropriately, the adjacent folk museum includes various messages-in-bottles washed up in the bay. To the east of the island at Kokkimides, there are two churches next to a superb vantage point, with amazing views around the whole island. At Roukouniotes, west of Symi town, is a monastery whose foundations are pre-Christian, and upon which the remainder was built in a Byzantine style with a dome; again , it is looked over by the benevolent Michael. Finally at Nimborios, the bay north of Symi town, there is part of a large pre-Christian mosaic, and several caves, used by icon-painters in earlier times.