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.
The interior,a forested plateau with many spectacular views, can be visited by car or bike on the recently refurbished road from Symi town to Panormitis. There are also many interesting walks and guided walks can be arranged through tour operators in Yialos or walking guides can be purchased from the Symi visitor office.
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.
Around the island: 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
Getting around: 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. Regular water-taxis leave the harbour in the morning to ferry tourists to the beaches around the island-some beaches can be reached on foot; The boats display details and prices in the harbour next to the water-taxis. Small boats are also available to hire.