“The rose has thorns only for those who would gather it.” - Chinese Proverb
We had bought tickets yesterday for a trip out to Symi, another Dodecanese island close to Rhodes. There are many ferries and ships that regularly sail out to neighbouring islands such as Telos, Castellorizo, Kos, Nisyros, Carpathos, Halki, etc. We chose to take the rapid Flying Dolphin service which takes about 50 minutes to get to Symi.
The history of Symi begins in ancient times when it was known by a variety of names, including Kirki, Aigli and Metapontis. The island got its current name from the nymph Symi, who according to Greek mythology became the lover of the god of the seas Poseidon and brought to life Chthonios, who became the leader of the islands inhabitants. Homer mentions Symi in the Iliad, as a participant in the Trojan war, its troops led by the Symiote King Nireas.
Thucydides writes that during the Peloponnesian War, there was a Battle of Syme near the island in January 411 BC in which an unspecified number of Spartan ships defeated a squadron of Athenian vessels. Little is known of the island until the 14th century but archaeological evidence indicates it was continuously inhabited, and ruins of citadels suggest it was an important location. It was first part of the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire until its conquest by the Knights of St John in 1373.
A period of prosperity began for the island with the development of shipping, sponge commerce, boat building and other industries. In 1832 Symi came under the Turkish dominion which was followed in 1912 by Italian rule. Symi confronted poverty at that time: the replacement of sailing with motor ships occurred, sponge diving decreased and a little later World War II began resulting in a great migration wave of Symiotes abroad.
From 1943 when the Italian domination ended, Symi changed hands several times between the English and the Germans, with the English taking over the island for the third time in 1944. On May 8th 1945, the Germans signed the treaty of the Dodecanese surrender, while on April 1st 1947, the British military command handed the island over to Greece. At last, it was on March 8th 1948 that the Protocol of integration of all Dodecanese islands to the Greek state was signed.
Symi belongs to the Dodecanese islands complex and lies 24 nautical miles NW of Rhodes and 255 nautical miles from the port of Piraeus. The highest point is Mountain Vigla at 616 metres. The island is very close to the coast of Asia Minor, just 5 miles from Alopos in Turkey. It is not a very big island, only 67 square kilometres. The majority of the land is covered in rocks. Two settlements form the town of Symi: Chorio (Village) and Yalos ( 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 Yalos one may find a medical centre, a post office, the police station, the port police, the town hall, telephone service (OTE), banks, hotels, rooms to let, restaurants, tavernas, fast food outlets, goldsmiths, bakeries, tourist shops, supermarkets, confectioners, bars, tourist agencies, fruit shops, corner shops, a fitness center, a flower shop, bus and taxi terminals.
At Horio, one may find a medical centre, hotels, rooms to let, restaurants, tavernas, 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 Yalos to Panormitis and one may go there by car, by bike or even on foot. The road goes through areas forested with pine, cypress and holm-oak. When walking, you can go 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.
Half of the current active population is engaged in the building industry, as well as in commerce and tourism. At present, tourism in Symi is dependent on daily visitors who come from Rhodes and visitors who stay in Symi for a couple of days. Symiotes who live abroad visit Symi for their vacations during the summer months as well. The duration of the tourist season lasts 7 months (April - October). High season lasts three months July - September. A few of the locals are engaged in agriculture, farming and fishing. Boat building and wood carving (furniture, decorative motifs of interior architecture) flourished in the past. Nowadays two small boat-yards are operating, mainly for the construction and repair of the fishing boats.
Symi Festival is organised every summer, first starting out thirteen years ago. The idea is based in the voluntary participation of artists and organizers. There is neither ticket for attending the cultural events nor is there payment for the participants. The Town Hall covers the travel and accommodation expenses of the participants. The Symi Festival has to do with several cultural activities like classical and modern music concerts, dance, theatre, cinema, literature evenings, conferences. All these take place in buildings with traditional architecture of 17th, 18th, 19th century like the famous manor house of Chatziagapitos, the courtyard of Saint John and the monastery of Panormitis.
Near Horio, there are two fortification enclosures from the Historical age and these as signposted as “Castro” (= castle). The castle proper was built by the Knights of St. John as an expansion of a Byzantine castle on the same site, many parts of which are still visible. The remnants of the ancient citadel on which the two later castles were built are also visible here. At Yalos, Pedi and Panormitis, there are relics or traces of paleochristian basilicas. At Nimporio can be found some traces, including burnt remains of a paleochristian basilica. In addition, there are architectural parts made of marble (reclaimed from ancient monuments) in the little churches of the surrounding area.
On the right side of Yalos, a clock tower, named Roloi, was built in 1881 and still counts the time for Symiotes. In front of Roloi , Michalaki, a statue of a little fisherman (sculpted by Kostas Valsamis) welcomes ships, yachts and the caiques as they enter the harbour. The bell-tower of the Evangelistria church looks like a true sentinel over the harbour. The Police building is a relic of the architecture of the years of the Italian Occupation. In Tzi, there is a copy of the triemolia originally carved into a rock of the Acropolis of Lindos and one may read there an inscription written by the Dodecanesian Fotis Varelis for the 8th of May. The Dove of Freedom, a war memorial, is another sculpture by Kostas Valsamis and can be found nearby.
The Nautical Museum of Symi is full of old maps, ship models and other exhibits from the rich maritime tradition of Symi. The Cathedral of Timios Prodromos, which was built in 1830 and refurbished in 1869, has a marvellous pebbled yard.