Greek Guide

 

Symi Tourist Attractions Day Trips Greece Greek Travel Guide

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Pack some strong walking shoes and a sun hat because Symi is a hikers' paradise and the best way to uncover the island's many treasures is on foot. If you're planning on doing some serious walking consider visiting in the spring or autumn because midsummer temperatures on the island are amongst the highest in Greece. You'll also avoid the high season hordes that flock here daily from neighbouring Rhodes in July and August.

Start by exploring the spectacular port town of Gialos which must surely rank as one of the most beautiful harbours in the whole of Greece. The town is on the western side of the deep u shaped harbour its wonderful array of pastel coloured neoclassical mansions arranged on the hillside are a poignant reminder of a bygone age when Symi was one of the most prosperous of the Greek islands. Many of the mansions are derelict behind their imposing facades but others are being renovated to provide delightful holiday accommodation with an old world elegance sadly lacking in some of the bigger, brasher resort areas of Greece.

The town's architecture is protected by law and modern construction is strictly limited so Gialos has mercifully managed to escape the ravages of mass tourism. You don't have to look far to find evidence of the two major trades which once brought the island great wealth and prestige ship building and sponge diving. The Maritime Museum, in a neoclassical building at the back of the Town Square, charts the rise and fall of the island's sponge trade and its shipbuilding industry which in its heyday saw 500 ships a year produced by Symi craftsmen.

Symi has been an important boat building centre since the days of the Peloponnesian Wars in the 5th century BC. Its glory days ended with the decline of the shipbuilding industry but you can still see boats being built and repaired at Nos at the north western end of the harbour. You can buy sponges as souvenirs at plenty of shops in Gialos but chances are they've been shipped in from Florida or Asia Minor. Diving for sponges was once such an important occupation on the island that local men were refused permission to marry unless they were accomplished sponge collectors (for how else was a man expected to support a wife unless he was skilled at this most hazardous of professions which resulted in countless divers being crippled or killed?).

At Restaurant Les Catherinettes on the waterfront you can see a plaque which marks the spot where the Germans surrendered the Dodecanese Islands to the Allies on May 8th, 1945. Until that point Symi has been occupied by the Italians since 1912.

If you're interested in the island's history make your way up to ancient capital of Horio on the hillside above Gialos via the 500 steps known as Kali Strata. Here you'll find the Archaeological Museum which houses some Hellenisitic and Roman sculptures along with more recent religious icons, traditional costumes and various folkloric items giving a flavour of island life through the ages.

When it comes to exploring the rest of the island its forested interior plateau and beautiful bays accessible only on foot or by boat you'd be well advised to invest in a copy of Lance Chilton's excellent "Walks on Symi" guide, available at the Symi Visitor office which produces the island's English language newspaper.

Symi's star attraction is the Taxiarhis Mihail Panormitis monastery at the southern end of the island, famous for its icon of the Archangel Michael. The icon, like so many in Greece, is supposed to have miraculous powers which explains the 18th century monastery's impressive display of votive offerings from pilgrims who have sought the help of the island's patron saint. To the west of the monastery you can see a memorial to a former abbot, two monks and two teachers who were executed by the Nazis in 1944 for running a spy radio for the British.