The majority of the island's population lives in the two districts, Yialos and Chorio, which make up the 'capital' of Symi. Yialos (or bay, in Greek) is the site of the harbour, and is one of the most beautiful small ports in Greece, with a great variety of tavernas, bars and cafes scattered about the quayside. The Chorio (village) lies higher up, and is less developed, retaining more of a sense of the old Greece, with its narrow passages, traditional 'kafeneia' and numerous ruins. The two districts are connected by the famous Kali Strata; a spectacular set of 375 or so (the number varies!) stone steps.
Whereas Yialos can become crowded and noisy when the daily ferry boats arrive especially, Chorio remains peaceful, probably due to the fact that most of the day trippers are put off from invading it by the long steep climb up the Kali Strata.
Changing times have altered the destiny of Symi. Once a prosperous island of shipbuilders, it is now attracting the attention of those who appreciate the appeal of an island that has managed to retain its old Greek character. It has that austere beauty we associate with the Aegean islands - intense colours, the all-revealing quality of the light. Small as it is, there are several beautiful beaches, almost all of them with a beach taverna and other useful amenities. It is not one of those islands where time stands completely still, but it does pass with a soothing slowness. Symi retains its traditional beauty in spite of its many summer visitors, both Greek and foreign.
The island of Symi is one of a group of Greek islands in the south-eastern Aegean, known as the Dodecanese. It is the eighth largest in size in this group, just 13kms in length, with an area of 67 square kilometres, and has a population of around 3000 people, just one-tenth of what it was in Symi's heyday of the sponge trade and shiobuilding.
Symi is 24 nautical miles from Rhodes and only 5 nautical miles from the coast of Asia Minor. It has 86 kilometres of beautiful coastline, deeply indented to form bays and beaches, some of which provided locations for the classic film, 'The Guns of Navarone'.
Way of life
The inhabitants of Symi were once occupied with shipping and shipbuilding and were engaged in the sponge trade. These activities resulted in prosperity, and the subsequent building of the handsome and impressive houses that distinguish the island. With the change from sail to steam, shipbuilding died out and today Symi only carries out small boat construction and repairs to fishing boats. The sponge trade declined, too, and with the threat of war (WWII) many of the local people emigrated in search of employment. The main industries of Symi today, apart from tourism, are building, commerce and some woodwork in the form of furniture and decorative wooden pieces for buildings.
Some locals are still involved in agriculture, farming and fishing.
The island is very popular with daily visitors from neighbouring Rhodes, with tourists spending a few days, and with Symiots returning from abroad for a holiday on their home island.
The first thing the visitor notices on arrival at the harbour is the stunning architecture of the buildings, each one a piece in a colourful mosaic. The impression it gives is unforgettable. Tier upon tier of pastel and ochre-coloured houses rise up the steep sides of the spectacular harbour of Symi, like rows of boxes in a theatre. Most of them are embellished with neo-classical pediments and graceful balconies, evidence of the prosperity this island once enjoyed, and most of them have wonderful red tiled roofs and other superb decorative features. Many of these old houses are being restored, but the Greek authorities have ensured that the distinctive appearance of Symi is preserved for the future by applying strict building regulations.
There are many viewpoints around the island of Symi from which to enjoy the most breathtaking views of the island, the coast of Asia Minor, and the surrounding islands, set in the deep, dark blue of the Aegean. Pure magic!
In Symi you will find genuine friendliness, small hotels, renovated mansions, calm clear waters and - once you get away from the busy harbour - such peace and quiet that most of the time all you can hear is the sound of goat bells in the hills.
There are a number of islets around Symi, such as Nimos, which is the largest one, as well as Sesklia, Artikonisi, Koulountro, Troubeto, Chondros, Plati, Oxia, Diabates, Marmaras. All these small islands can be visited with caiques, or small boats.