Symi is not just another touristic island. Although main industry of the island today is based on tourism, Symi differs from typical Greek holiday resorts in many ways. The fact that it is located so close to Rhodes and Turkey, makes it an ideal destination for day trips. It is difficult to soak up the atmosphere and experience the local culture in few hours, but the little island and it’s people are so generous that, no doubt, Symi will leave a mark on your traveler’s experience.
Symi belongs to the Dodecanese and is located only 23 sea miles (41km) northwest to Rhodes. It’s total area is 65.754 km2 (25 sq mi) with 2,580 inhabitants, mostly engaged in tourism, fishing and trade. In the summer season tourists and day-trippers increase the number of people on the island to as much as 6000. In contrast to the typical whitewashed buildings of other Greek islands, Symi will surprise your with bright colors, unique architecture, traditional houses and charming buildings, constructed amphitheatrically on slopes of the hill. Symi has been given the accolade of today’s best-preserved neoclassical settlement in Greece and not undeservingly, thanks to the homogeneity of its houses on such a scale and to an extent not visible anywhere else.
As you enter into the port you will be impressed by the elegant mansions with neo-classical balconies and two-colored facades, that according to the tradition are intended to protect houses from bad spirits. It comes from foreign influences but also continues the ancient Greek traditions and aesthetics and is, for certain, due to the development of the island’s economy during the last century. Symi is divided into 2 parts – the Yialos and the Chorio.
Yialos is the capital and the main harbor of Symi. You will find many cafeterias and hospitable taverns, folk and art shops, stalls with sponges, sea shells, rare herbs, leather goods and wooden carvings.
Upper Symi—Chorio, is where the peaceful life of the village takes over. You will find inhabited and beautifully restored as well as abandoned neo-classical houses with cobbled courtyards, ruins of temples, and beautiful churches.
Probably it is futile to try to describe the view from the Chorio, therefore it is best to “get lost” in it’s alleyways on your own and enjoy every detail that this magnificent place has to offer.
Archangel Michael Panormitis is not only the island’s patron saint but also the guardian of sailors for the entire Dodecanese area. The Holy Monastery of Archangel Michael of Panormitis, situated at the southern tip of the island, exists from the 15th century and is one of the largest shrines of Orthodoxy in the Dodecanese. The contemporary church was built in 1783 and hosts the miraculous all silver plated icon of Archangel Michael. The icon is of great importance among Greeks and it is the reason for thousands of pilgrimages, every year. The monastery also houses two museums with a large collection of ecclesiastical art, icons, ship model offerings and important objects of the island’s folk culture. The Monastery’s dorm-house can accommodate up to 500 people and allows entire families to stay. One of the many traditions is to leave a “tama” or an offering. If someone asks a favor of the Archangel they must vow to give something in return. If the tama is not made the Archangel will find a way to take it.
Symi along with the Kalymnos island is one of the two Greek islands well known for their sponge-fishing tradition. Once diving was “the science” of the island and Sponge industry was flourishing. The history of sponge diving in Greece dates back to antiquity. The sponge and its usage is mentioned in the Homeric epics of Iliad and Odyssey, as well as in the writings of the philosopher Aristotle. The philosopher Plato also refers to sponge as an article that was commonly used in bathing, mostly by the rich people.
Sponge diving has been called “the oldest profession” on the island. The waters of the southeastern Mediterranean provide the best conditions for the growth of fine-quality sponge. Hence, the Greek islands, with the high temperature of their sea waters, became the springboard for a thriving sponge industry. The first divers gathered their sponges from the bottom of the sea using the skin diving technique – diving into the sea naked, carrying a skandalopetra (flat stone weighing about 15 kilograms) in order to sink to the sea floor quickly. The skilled divers would dive up to 30 meters down and stay there three to five minutes gathering the sponges with a special net. The already booming business in sponges got a further boost after 1865 with the introduction of the standard diving suit, the “skafandro”, as the Greeks called it. The skafandro enabled the previously naked divers to gather larger quantities of sponges at greater depths (up to 70 meters), staying down for longer periods than was previously possible.
Today there remain the memories and the islanders sell sponges to visitors in Gialos. The Symiot, however, remains bound to the water, he has his dighy or motor boat and enjoys the charms of the sea!
A fascinating experience of local tastes can not exclude the miniature shrimps of Symi island, well-known all over Greece. This is the most famous and traditional dish in Symi. Small and flavorful, you’ll eat them fried in the tavernas of Gialo and Horio. Since they are so small and delicate, one should eat the whole shrimp – shells, tails and even the heads! It tastes like crispy french fries, but from the sea! Other typical Symiot fish snacks are: spinalos, octopus and lobster on the barbecue, salted common mackerel, sun-dried saddled beam, and sea bass…all that with raki or ouzo!!!
Challenge: Try to ask for the dish with it’s Greek name “Garidaki Simiako”, locals will be impressed!
Or try to make them at home:
An easy recipe (serves 4 as an appetizer):
1lb/ 500g of small cold water shrimp
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3 tbsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. all purpose flour
approx. 4 cups sunflower oil for frying
Season with salt and pepper and gently toss. Place shrimp in the fridge for 30 minutes. When ready to fry, take the shrimp out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Pre-heat your oil in a deep fryer or deep pot (fill to about 2 in/ 5cm deep). Add the corn starch and flour to the shrimp and gently toss with your hands until evenly coated. When your oil reaches 360F/ 180C, add your shrimp in batches and fry for a minute or until the crisp. Transfer to a paper-lined plate and sprinkle a pinch a salt. Transfer to a platter, serve as a meze with some Ouzo on ice.
Developed by: Penny & Gunta – Manosgoing Tour Advisors