Symi's mythological origins are variously and conflictingly told by different writers— Diodorus Siculus, Pliny, Eustathius of Thessalonica. It appears that the island cherished a connection with Glaucus whose particular skills associated him with the island's trades—he was a fisherman, sailor and boatwright, and is said to have helped build Jason's ship, the Argo. Born mortal, he later became a deity; he abducted Syme, the daughter of king Ialysos of Rhodes, and brought her to the island, endowing it with her name. Ancient Syme contributed three ships to the Greek fleet at Troy according to Homer, who says the delegation was captained by the island's young prince, Nireus, who was—after Achilles—the most beautiful warrior amongst the Greeks. Homer relates that he was killed at Troy. Three ships constituted a substantial contingent for a small community which is hardly heard of otherwise in Antiquity and appears never to have minted its own coins. In the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BC) archaeological finds set Symi within the cultural sphere of the southeast Aegean; strong Minoan influences appear at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (16th cent. BC). Symi's mention in the Iliad connects her to Mycenaean Greece, although finds dating from this period have so far been scant. According to ancient sources Symi was colonized (perhaps in the 10th-9th cent. BC) by Dorians, from Argos and Laconia in the Peloponnese, and subsequently from Rhodes and Cnidos. Although the island appears in Athenian tribute lists of 434/3, most of its ancient history from 400 BC onwards is as a dominion of Rhodes.
In Roman and Byzantine times the fate of the island is closely bound with that of Rhodes. Symi appears early on to have begun providing Byzantium with fast ships and good sailors, a service they continued for the Knights of St John after they took the island in 1309. Two Ottoman attacks were successfully repelled in 1457 and 1485; but in 1522, perceiving the futility of further resistance, the island negotiated an agreement with the Turks which guaranteed important concessions of self-governance and free trading. These arrangements ushered in a period of stability and prosperity for the island, in which its sponge-fishing, boatbuilding and trading all flourished. Theological and Religious painting schools of wide repute were established on the island in the 18th century: their best known respresentative is the painter Gregory of Symi who worked here, as well as on Tilos and Rhodes. In 1821 Symi revolted and joined with the temporary administration of Independent Greece; but, when in 1830 it was taken under Turkish administration again, its ancient freedoms were severely curtailed. In 1912 the Italians took possession of the Dodecanese from the Turks: Symi's reliance on the fertile lands she held in Asia Minor was cut, her trade collapsed and population declined. In the Second World War the island changed hands several times. In May 1945 the German surrender of all the Dodecanese Islands was signed on the waterfront at Symi, and, after a brief period of British military rule, in March 1948 Symi joined the Greek State.
the Castle of the Knights of St John incorporates a bastion in (massive, but irregular) 5th century BC masonry from the ancient acropolis of Syme, on which once stood a Temple to Athena; abutting it to the left is a semicircular redoubt built by the Knights and bearing the arms of Pierre d'Aubusson as well as the date 1507 which was, in fact, four years after d'Aubusson's death. There are two further redoubts which face east and northeast. These are all later fortifications to the earlier castle of 1407 which remarkably withstood a siege by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1457. On the summit stands the church of the Panaghia tou Kastrou (the ‘Greater'—so as to distinguish it from the ‘Lesser' below): this church was originally dedicated to Aghios Georghios, but it took the name of the original Panaghia church to the south after that was destroyed by German forces in 1944. To right and left of the entrance door are Hospitaller escutcheons in stone, taken from the walls of the castle. Inside the church is the renowned and beautiful icon of the Second Coming by the late 16th century Cretan artist, Georghios Klontzas. To one side of the church's belfry hangs an anomalous bell made from the nose of an enemy bomb.
Info: McGilchrist's Greek Islands
(From McGilchrist’s Greek Islands, © Nigel McGilchrist 2010, excerpted with his gracious permission. Click for the books)