Undiscovered Greece: The unique traditions of Symi Island

Undiscovered Greece: The unique traditions of Symi Island

Part of the epic Greek archipelago, the island of Symi is one of the lesser known destinations for travellers. Within the Dodecanese islands, Symi is situated off the northern coast of Rhodes, close to the Turkish mainland. Symi is unique in both its customs and architecture; the obvious neo-classical influences are in contrast to the typical whitewashed buildings of the other Greek islands, and its history has led to a mix of nationalities and cultures.

 

History & Modern Influences

Symi has a long history dating back over 2000 years. The island is mentioned in Greek mythology, and was also part of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. In the early 20th century it was claimed by the Italians, and then occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. After a brief occupation by the British, it was formally re-joined with Greece in 1948. This turbulent past has meant that Symi is now home to various nationalities, and Greek, Italian and Turkish influences are evident. Traditionally the island’s main industries are shipbuilding and sponge making, but now much of the economy is centred on tourism.

 

 

What to Expect

The island itself is mountainous, with a coastline made up of rocky cliffs and beaches. The main town (also named Symi) is based around a port, with visitors arriving by boat from neighbouring islands. The trip from Rhodes takes approximately two hours and can be organised through tour operators; this transpires to be a very long day with a lot of travelling, so be prepared. From the sea, the town doesn’t look real; instead it looks like a location for a children’s television show or a film set. The architecture has been heavily influenced by the neo-classical movement, with the buildings painted in pastel shades of blues, pinks and yellows, with stronger reds and oranges dotted around. Regulations mean that all new buildings and renovations have to be created in the same style in order to preserve the unique quality of the town. The town itself is beautiful. The harbour side is lined with stalls selling soaps and sponges, as well as traditional Greek souvenirs. While this is designed for tourists, there are several local shops and stalls situated in the less visited back streets.

 

 

Exploring the Island on a Tour

I would recommend seeing the island on an organised tour, it is likely that you will be given a guided tour followed by time to explore at your own pace. The guides are extremely knowledgeable on the island’s history, however be aware that they work on commission from local businesses and will probably encourage you to visit certain shops and restaurants. The town has many striking churches; one in particular has an amazing black and white tiled floor outside, along with bright stained glass windows. There is the option to walk up a number of stone steps to the old town set into the hillside, however even with directions I couldn’t find these steps anywhere! This was a shame as I’d have liked to have seen the older buildings which overlook the harbour, but on the positive side we did discover great Greek salads at a waterfront café run by a friendly Australian.

The next stop is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Panormitis. The journey around the coast takes approximately 45 minutes by boat, and the impressive Venetian-style building is situated at the water’s edge. Still home to practising monks, the monastery is also open to tourists for both over-night stays and day trips, with several rooms converted into accommodation. The inner courtyard houses the sacred chapel, where visitors are invited to give offerings to the Archangel Michael. The monastery boasts the highest baroque bell tower in the world, as well as two museums housing ecclesiastical artefacts and folk art.

 

 

What to Expect

Symi is a great island to visit if you are looking for something slightly different from the Greek holiday resorts and want to experience a town that hasn’t been purpose built for tourism. Even though tourism keeps the island going, this isn’t evident in the architecture, and it is clear that there is a whole community living and working in what is essentially a traditional Greek seaside town.

 

By Hayley Bateman

 

 

Related Pages

Related Opportunities

Turkey & Greek Island Odyssey

Travel to the edge of Europe with this Turkish & Greecian adventure. 

European Explorer plus Greek island Cruising

The European Explorer is the ultimate holiday for those wanting to travel to all the major destinations and do it with a little luxury! Make your way through 17 countries in a little over a month.

Best of Greece

Discover Greek history and culture, marvel at classic architecture both ancient and modern, explore old cities and quaint villages, witness a Mediterranean sunset while eating fresh seafood, soak in Cretan culture

Sailing holiday in the Greek Islands

Join us for a 7 day sailing holiday around the spectacular Greek Islands!

Sailing Greece - Athens to Mykonos

Relax on white-sand beaches and swim in brilliant turquoise water, try your hand at sailing (or just relax on the deck), wander through whitewashed villages, taste traditional Greek food and wine

Sailing Greece - Santorini to Santorini

Sail through the pristine waters of the Greek Islands aboard a yacht, capture the ultimate Greek snapshot on Santorini, wander through whitewashed villages on Paros, enjoy the party on Mykonos, discover Venetian architecture on Naxos

Sailing Greece - Mykonos to Athens

Explore the Aegean Sea, enjoy the nightlife of Mykonos, marvel at the Cyclades Islands, discover historic ruins in Athens

YOLO Cruise - Mykonos - Santorini

YOLO cruise #1 Greece's party cruises. Our 8 days YOLO cruises are ideal for young travelers from 18-35s! 

Sailing Greece - Santorini to Athens

Relax on white-sand beaches and swim in brilliant turquoise water, test your hand at sailing or just relax on the deck, wander through whitewashed villages, taste traditional Greek food and wine, hike to spectacular viewpoints

Greek Island Adventurer

Want to catch island fever, soak up the sun & experience a few of Greece's hottest destinations? Now's your chance! Starting in the Greek capital we'll then set sail to some of the country's best island spots. 

Eastern Mediterranean Cruising

The Eastern Mediterranean Cruising, operated by Celestyal Cruises, offers relaxation, sightseeing and fabulous Greek food not only for the young, and young at heart. 

Greek Islands Sailing Trip (Mykonos to Santorini)

Join a small group 3 day sailing and cruising trip of the spectacular Greek Islands.

Sicily Cooking Holiday, Italy

Sicily is an island of contrasts, mixed cultures and changing landscapes, and is bathed in sunshine most of the time. It has an amazingly diverse, ancient heritage. 

YOLO Cruise - Santorini to Mykonos

YOLO cruises #1 Greece's party cruises. Our 8 days YOLO cruises are ideal for young travelers from 18-35s!

Greece Turtle Conservation Project

Greece provides a blend of a hot Mediterranean climate, fascinating ancient culture, and seas teeming with marine life. 

London to Athens

Tailor made for those wishing to travel the Contiki way but at a slightly more relaxed pace. 

Windsurfing Lessons in Lefkas, Greece

Learn to windsurf in the spectacular Greek Islands, there are 2 week beginner course packages available during June, July and August.

Greece Dolphin Conservation

Explore stunning Greek islands whilst making a valuable and significant contribution to the conservation of endangered dolphin species

International Volunteer Projects in Greece

We have a variety of different projects in Greece! 

 

 

      

 

About  |  Disclaimer  |  Privacy Policy  |  Company A-Z  |  Advertise  |  Press  |  Contact

One World 365 © 2007 - 2017