The island of Symi, which through the centuries met so many conquerors until it finally, enjoyed its freedom and independence house two museums to keep the memories alive. These are the Naval Museum at Gialos and the Archaeological and Folklore Museum at the Horio (Ano Symi).

Naval Museum

A visit to the Naval Museum of Symi is a pilgrimage to the naval tradition of the island. Through the exhibits the visitor will travel back in time and get to know how the life of the Symiot fisherman, sailor and merchant was then.

The Naval Museum was established in 1983 and in 1990 was housed in one of the most representative houses of Gialos, where the central shipyard used to be. It preserves Symi’s naval history with many exhibits. There is a special section dedicated to sponge diving as well as models of sponge fishing vessels.

Stories of the past will come to life, when necessity and the need to make a living made the Symiot men embrace the sea and become the most competent and inventive traders and craftsmen and outrun every nation.

The visitor will see how the sponges were processed, how the Symian shipyards transformed Symiot pine trees into fast ships renowned throughout the seamen’s world, learn the terminology of “skafes”, “caique”, “kagaves”, “varkalades”, “skounes”, the naked “voutiktades” and the “kabanalopetra”. The visitor will also meet Stathis G. Hatzis (1878-1936) the Symiot naked diver who holds the world record for diving at 84 meters.

Among the museum exhibits the visitor will also see the diving suit that was introduced in 1866 and how it brought a division between the old and the new way of living. In the end the visitor will greatly appreciate the way of sponge diving life practiced by the Symiots since ancient times, which opened sails to the Libyan coastlines to the coastline of Asia Minor, from the beginning of May till the end of October. In the end the visitor will be sorry to found out that 1960 was the last year that sponge fishing was last practiced bringing this archaic legacy to its end.

“Time for sponges is near and the dream will sail…”

Archaeological and Folklore Museum

The Archaeological and Folklore Museum is located near the St. Athanasios in Horio. Founded in 1961, it is housed in a traditional Symi mansion, the “Arhontiko”, owned by Nicolaos K. Farmakidis and donated to Archaeological Service by Ariadne and Sevasti Farmakides. The museum is split into five sections, each one dedicated to different periods of time.

The exhibits cover the history of the island from the Prehistoric period down to Post Byzantine times. The entrance is through a pebble courtyard and includes Ancient and Early Christian sculptures and amphora.

The first room is devoted to Ancient times (5th century BC to the 2nd century AD). The second room provides information about the monuments of the island from the Early Christian, Byzantine and Post Byzantine period. The early Christian exhibits include photographs of the mosaic floor of the basilica at Nimborio. The Byzantine, Hospitaller (Knights of St. John) and Post Byzantine period is also displayed with photographic exhibits of wall paintings of some important monuments such as St. John at Tsangria and St. Prokopios. There are also references to the Kastro of the Horio and the church of Panayia with a separate section on the Panormitis Monastery.

The third room is devoted to the Post Byzantine art wall paintings in the “Katholikon” of the Monastery of Michael Roukouniotis (1738), the churches of Profitis Ilias (1734) and the Metamorphosis of the Sotiros (1727). The fourth room contains aerial photograph of the island depictions of traveler's map (15 – 17th century). A distinct exhibit of interest and Symiot's pride is a wood carved ship prow in the form of a female head. The fifth room is devoted to ethnographic material and includes a photograph of the settlement before it was damaged during the Second World War. In addition, there are ancillary rooms (6 and 7) at the North-East of the courtyard which include wooden cornice and cooking utensils.

Connected by a stone staircase one can visit the Chatziagapitos Hall. It is a three-floor stone build mansion (archontiko) with the external appearance of a fortress, enclosed by a high wall.

It was restored by the Archaeological Service in 1971. The architecture of this building set it apart from the others in the settlement. It was erected at the end of the 18th century on plans brought from Venice and attests to the wealth of the Chatziagapitos family, who were engaged with trade with the West.