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Dodecanese Islands | Symi

Symi History

And Nireus brought three ships from Syme- Nireus, who was the handsomest man that came up under Ilius of all the Danaans after the son of Peleus- but he was a man of no substance, and had but a small following (Homer's Iliad; Written 800 B.C.E. Translated by Samuel Butler)

Symi, also spelled Simi or Syme, was first inhabited in prehistoric times, when the island’s topography was forested and quite green. Throughout the centuries, the island was inhabited by Carians, Dorians, Romans, the Knights of St. John, the Turks, and lastly by the Italians. During each occupation, the Symiots seemed to somehow benefit and prosper over the many centuries, until the Italian occupation in 1912. They prospered for several reasons. Firstly, they built fantastic ships, small and fast, and much in demand; this is how the island became denuded of its forests! Secondly, since antiquity, Symi was a leader in sponge fishing, the largest center in the Dodecanese, and was even allowed by the Turks to fish off their coast, as long as a healthy tribute was paid … in sponges, of course! Thirdly, its geographical position vis-?-vis the other Dodecanese Islands and Asia Minor, made it a prosperous trading center.
These centuries of prosperity are evident throughout the capital (called Ano Symi or Chora), with magnificent neoclassical mansions, some dating to the 18th century. While many of the buildings are no longer occupied, you still get a wonderful impression of the capital built up along two hills overlooking the harbor.
The Italian occupation was truly disastrous for the island, as trade was cut off with Asia Minor. At the same time, the invention of the steamship made the sailing ship obsolete, and sponge fishing was dying out due to lack of sponges. It was truly a triple calamity occurring at basically the same time. During World War II, the island was occupied by the Germans, who destroyed a great deal of the capital when they retreated, in accordance with the policy of the high command to leave nothing intact behind them.