Climbing steeply up from the edge of Chorio, the road passes the town’s cemetery at Aghia Marina. In 1765 an important library and school of religious studies, theology and painting was founded here which flourished for nearly 60 years. At 7km, after reaching a panoramic altitude, a junction is signed (right) to the monastery of the Taxiarchis Michail Roukouniotis (4km) whose en trance is marked by a walled enclosure around a spreading cypress tree of majestic dimensions. Although the monastery is no longer functioning, it is cared for and kept open by a local guardian. The foundation is probably 11th century, although the gate-way and much of the monastic building which surrounds the catholicon date from an 18th century rebuilding. Like many other Symiot monasteries, it is built four-square, like a fortress. The space inside tightly encloses the catholicon which has two levels: the lower level, almost like a subterranean grotto, has paintings (now very blackened) and a pebble floor; in its tiny domed narthex are original traces of the Four Evangelists in the squinches; the upper level, rebuilt after a fire in the 14th century, is decorated with murals by the island’s best known painter, Gregory of Symi, in a popular, narrative style (1738). There appears to have been an Early Christian building on this site (witness the upturned capital just inside the entrance gate). The monastery, which was latterly under Russian protection, possessed from early times an important library; a 12th century Gospel was rescued from the fire here and is now in Rhodes . Passing on the track below the monastery, you soon come to the monastery of the Anargyri (visible just across the valley), decorated similarly with 18th century wall-paintings. From here, a meandering track (1 hr) leads west to the secluded -bay of Aghios Aimilianos, where a tiny church and monastery sits on an islet joined to the shore by a causeway. This may also be reached by boat (45 min.) from Gialos. Constructed in the mid 19th century by the Hadjimichalis family, the monastery is typical of many that were built by rich families and donated to the Church, whose right it was to choose the dedication; the family would often endow the building for its future maintenance and would be able to use it for retreat at their discretion. The monastery is symmetrical, with two residential blocks to either side (able to accommodate 12 monks) and an arcade on the lower level, surrounding a low undecorated chapel. Between the entrance and the causeway is the inconspicuous grave of a 16 year-old girl from Kalymnos who was killed here in 1942. The attractive setting between the sea and the mountains is unforgettable.

Symi Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

Symi Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

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