Symi consists of a group of three islands: Nimos, Sesklia and Symi. A version for the island's name comes from Diodoros Sikeliotis: Symi was called the Nymph who gave birth to Poseidon's son Hthonios, the "man of the earth", who is identified as the leader of the first inhabitants on the island that came from Thessalia. In Iliad, the "list of the boats" mentions that the most handsome king of the Achaians was Nireus the King of Symi who participated in the Trojan war with three boats.
The first inhabitants of Symi were Pelasgoi and left traces of walls at the acropolisand Dorians followed. Symi was a member of Dorian Exapolis. In the 5th century the Persians demanded Symi's naval support. Simi took advantage of the Persians' defeat and joined the Athenian Alliance. Roman ruins at Emporeio indicate the natural historic succession of rulers for Symi. In the Byzantine years the naval proficiency of the people was utilized by the Byzantines for the construction and manning of very fast dromons. After 1204 AD Leon Gavalas included Symi in his independent state, while in 1309 the island falls in the hands of St. John Knights, and then it is fortified. Despite the continuous repulses of the Ottoman raids, in 1522 started the long enslavement to the Ottomans. With the other islands of Southeastern Aegean, Symi managed to ensure remarkable privileges, the most important of which was the autonomy and exemption from all taxes apart from the annual special tax called "maktou". The island developed commercially to an important Mediterranean harbor. Sponge diving gradually brought additional wealth and fishing strengthens even more the local economy. The Revolution of 1821 moved the people of Symi, and the island was included (May 1823) in the 13th Province of the Aegean but at the end the whole Dodecanese stayed out of the newly established Greek state. Despite retaliations the island kept growing. In 1912 Symi was conquered by the Italians with devastating consequences for the economy. The local people took part in every resistance movement and finally joined Greece in 1948.
HISTORICAL LANDMARKS & MONUMENTS
Knights' Castle: Stands at the highest point of the village, on the remains of two earlier strongholds, one ancient, one Byzantine. Within its walls there is a Church of the Virgin (Panayia).
Pontikokastro: An ancient tomb with surviving perimeter walls. Surrounded by 20 well-preserved windmills.
Pelasgian walls (Niborios): Still standing to one metre in height, with adjacent vaults.
Byzantine church (Niborios): Superb early-Byzantine mosaic, which lay within the precincts of a Byzantine church, which was destroyed. Three chapels were built on its ruins.
Underground vaults (Niborios): Twelve submerged vaults, known as the ¡twelve caves'. It is probably a tomb complex
Archaeological finds (Niborios): Finds include coins, votive inscriptions, like the ¡stele of Symi', now in the Constantinople Museum.
¡Aigli' reading room: Founded in 1872, the oldest in the Aegean, although it is now closed.
"Spetsaria": Old community pharmacy, an indication of the importance attached on the island to community care.
Gialou Memorial, Heroon: Created to commemorate the signing of the protocol surrendering the Dodecanese to the allies on 8 May 1945.
There are 13 large churches on Symi and many small chapels.
Megalos Sotiris Monastery: One of the most important religious buildings on the island, a dependency of the Panormitis Monastery. Built like a fort with the cells constructed around the catholicon.
Mihail Roukouniotis Monastery: Comprises church 15th century. Was a Patriarchal Stavropegion. On the island there are another seven small churches consecrated to the archangels.
Monastery of Taxiarchis Mihail Panormitis: Indisputably one of the most important monasteries in Greece. It takes its name from the Panormos Bay. It dates back at least to the fifteenth century, while the current single-space basilica with cross-chaped domes was built in 1783. The wall paintings from the main church date from 1792. Also notable are the impressive bell tower, the carved screen, the icons (most of them in the Cretan Byzantine style), the votive offerings and the Panormitis icon. The full-figure representation was covered entirely in gold and silver in 1724 at the expense of the captains, clergy and community of Symi. It has a hostel for visiting worshippers.
Church of Aghios Aimilianos: Situated on a small island opposite Symi, connected to the island by a narrow strip of land. There are two classical victory monuments in the harbour.
Church of Agios Ioannis at Gialos: Cathedral church built in 1838 and renovated in 1869 with an exquisite bell tower.
Church of Megali Panayia tou Kastrou: Renamed after the liberation, following bombing by the Germans.
Also of interest are the Church of Aghios Georgios (Pedi), the Church of Aghia Triada (Pedi), the church of the Ascension of Christ (Analipsi) and the church of the Annunciation (Evangelismos) (Harani). Some churches have particularly interesting screens, post-Byzantine wall paintings, icons, cobbled courtyards and elegant bell towers: Panayia Haritomeni, Aghia Triada, Peiraiotissa, Ai-Thanasis, Ai-Lefteris, Stavros, Ai-Dimitrios, Ai-Nikolas, Ai-Panteleimonas and Ai-Giorgis.
MUSEUMS, EXHIBITIONS, LIBRARIES
Archaeological - Folklore Museum (Lieni district): It is a traditional mansion. It consists of anogaion (upper floor), katogaion (ground floor), mageireion (kitchen), cistern and yard. At the yard ancient scriptures, early Christian sculptures and amphorae are exhibited. The exhibits include headstones, jars, oil lamps, maps of the island with monuments from various periods, copper coins from Roman period till Knights' rule, early Christian sculptures, ceramic plates from 13th century etc. Photographs are presented with representative samples of religious paintings from the Byzantine period, the period of the Knights' rule and the post-Byzantine period as well as samples of post-Byzantine architecture. Remarkable are the photographs of the mosaic floor from the Basilica at Nimporeio. Icons from the post-Byzantine period are also exhibited, while the folklore material of the Museum is rich (women's costumes, painted chests, mirrors etc.).
Hatziagapitos Hall: A mansion with excellent frescos, in direct connection with the Museum.
Marine Museum (Gialos): Boat miniatures, wood carved ships, maps, compasses, naval instruments and tools and sponge diving tools.
Religious Art Museum (Panormitis monastery): It includes pastoral costumes, icons, epitaphs, church objects, etc.
Folklore Museum (Panormitis monastery): popular culture objects but also objects from the monastery relevant to fishing, rural and pastoral life.
Library (Panormitis monastery): post-Byzantine manuscripts and religious, historical and literature publications and a gallery showing the landscape of the monastery.
Finally, there are various art objects in various public buildings, such as "Mihalaki" a painting showing a small fisherman, the "dove of Peace" and the war memorial.
The whole island has been characterized as a monument to be preserved, and the traditional neoclassic village is finely preserved. Symi, the capital of the island consists of Horio and Gialos. The neoclassic buildings are usually two-floor, painted in many bright colors, and their main architectural characteristics are the roof pediments, the verandas, the neoclassic balconies, the fireplace and the yards, while almost all of them have a view to the sea. Among the public buildings the most important are the tower with the clock built in 1880 the staircase Lirenos, the Police Station building, the Harbor Authority building and the Post Office.
The celebration of Panormitis (8/11), the patron saint of the island, is the most important religious event. On the eve in evening mass participate high rank clergymen, and on the next day there is mass and litany of the Icon accompanied by a band and at the end lunch is offered to everybody.
Among the other main religious festivals of Symi are: Aghia Triada and Aghios Ioannis (24/6), Aghia Marina (17/7), Profitis Ilias (20/7), Sotiras (6/8) and Panayia (15 and 24/8). There are big island festivals on 15/8 at the many Panayia chapels on the island, and Metamorphosi.
Koukoumas (2/5): Unmarried young men and women dance and sing while drinking "amilito nero" from a jar, where they had put their rings from the previous day. The housewife that organizes the event offers a piece of salty pie to each girl. Any girls that dreamt which man offered them water, this man would be the person she would marry.
Burning of Judas in the evening of Easter Sunday.
Goat cheese, thyme honey, saffron and wild herbs, "akoumia", cheese pies "tourtes", sugar rolls and drinks wine, and liqueur made from prickly pear.
Symi's carved furniture is well known as well as the handmade textiles.
There are also workshops making traditional costumes, wooden boats, traditional wood carved furniture and icon screens, traditional lanterns, handmade shoes, stone processing and building houses with stone, handmade embroidery, manufacturing of fishing items from natural materials, miniature shipbuilding, manufacturing of objects used by cattle-breeders (saddles, pouches, bells, petals etc.), mills, and a foundry for the construction of bells.
Panormitis monastery operates a traditional olive press, a distillery that produces tsikoudia made of figs and candle making.
Since 1995 Symi organizes one of the most important Festivals in Greece, that expands outside the country. The events include all kinds of arts and cultural creation: Concerts, cinema, theater and symposiums. The participating artists are not paid and the events are organized by the Municipality of Symi.
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