From Yialos to the Heights of Chorio

Yialos, Symi's famous natural amphitheatre harbour is lined with tiers of beautiful 19th century neo-classical houses.  Most have now been restored by private owners.  These houses were built during the island's most prosperous period, in the late 19th century, when sponge diving and ship building brought wealth to the island and there were estimated to be around 20 000 inhabitants.  

Symi's old town is Chorio, the upper town.  Although the first settlement on the island, back in Homeric times, was believed to be at Nimborio, a bay where the flat-bottomed boats of the time could be dragged up the beaches to safety in the winter, the inhabitants of Symi soon sought out the defensibility of the high ground and the main settlement was formed around the Kastro where the castle was subsequently built.  The white building with the green doors at the end of the lane in this photograph is the museum which has been undergoing renovation and restoration courtesy of an EU grant for a number of years.  Now all we need is funding to pay staff to keep it open so that visitors can enjoy the  many artifacts housed there.  By the way, the museum building was donated to the town by the Farmakides family and was apparently the Austro-Hungarian embassy on Symi in the nineteenth century.  That gives you an idea of just how important Symi was then.  There is a story that the popular Austrian Empress, Sissi, was entertained there on her travels in the Aegean. The terracotta building on the right is a privately owned village house that was restored with great care a few years ago.

Much of the old town was damaged when the castle blew up in the Second World War, leaving behind some intriguing ruins. There are many such tunnels as on such steep terrain level ground for building was in short supply and houses often straddled the narrow lanes.

Bathrooms are a recent innovation and as Symi houses are small they are built wherever space can be found, which may not necessarily be indoors. In the case of this house, they have gone one further and built it in their garden across the lane.  It is not very clear in this photograph but this bathroom was built with a shallow brick cistern on the roof.  Water could be pumped up to this, providing gravity feed for a shower below so no electricity was needed to shower.  If you stand in a basin when you shower the water can then be used to flush the lavatory.  Symi doesn't have a proper sewage treatment plant and most houses still have vothras - basic stone soak pits, not unlike septic tanks but built out of unplastered stone so that the liquid can seep away and feed nearby trees. This is one of the reasons why one never ever puts paper - or anything else - down a Symi loo - the paper blocks up the spaces between the stones and prevents the drainage essential for the vothra to function, causing problems you don't even want to think about here!

Scaffolding around the bell tower of Agios Thanassis, one of the many parish churches in upper Chorio.

This old shop in the top of Chorio has always intrigued me with its carved lintel and enigmatic carved faces.  Whatever it was, it must have been quite posh for so much expense to have gone into the  dressed stone facade.

The approach to Stavros church, another one of the upper Chorio churches. This was once one of the busiest neighbourhoods of the old town and there are the remnants of many old shops and cafes up there.  There was even a tannery and a dairy.

Looking across from Stavros church towards the Kastro.  If you look carefully you can see the bulges of remnants of the old castle walls. This neighbourhood is about 10 minutes walk in any direction to the nearest vehicle access so very quiet - if you exclude all the bells!

Luna  – (Tuesday, July 19, 2016)  

Thank you for this, Adriana. Bits of information I did not know. I go by many of these scenes often when I am on Symi.

Luna  – (Tuesday, July 19, 2016)  

Thank you for this, Adriana. I pass some of these places (the museum, for example) often every day when I am on Symi and I did not know about the building's history. Also, interesting other bits of information in your post.

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About this Blog

I sailed into Panormitis Bay, Symi, by chance one windy July day in 1993 and have been here ever since. The locals tell me that this is one of the miracles of St Michael of Panormitis. A BA graduate with majors in English, Philosophy and Classical Civilisation, the idea of living in what is to all intents and purposes an archaeological site appeals to me. Not as small as Kastellorizo, not as touristy as Rhodes, Symi is just the right size. I live on a small holding which my husband and I have reclaimed from a ruin of over-grazing and neglect and turned into a small oasis over the course of the past 22 years. I also work part-time for Symi Visitor Accommodation, helping independent travellers discover and enjoy Symi's simple pleasures for themselves.

This page is kindly sponsored by Wendy Wilcox, Symi Visitor Accommodation.

Adriana Shum

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