The Turkish Occupation

In 1522, Symi also came into the hands of the Turks. It secured important privileges from Suleiman the Magnificent. With a firman, or edict, which he brought out in 1523, the island was paying every year an amount of money known as a 'mak-tou', and was free from paying any other tax, which the inhabitants of all other regions of the empire had to pay. Symi also enjoyed autonomy and self- government. "All the administrative, judicial and economic powers," notes Alexandras Karanikolas, "were performed by the regional elders -the oldest man (also known as theproestos, or chief) and twelve counsellors- these were elected every year from the people of the island in a public gathering and were selected from, in particular, the mayor, registrars, justices of the peace, notaries, market inspectors, tax collectors and cashiers. Once elected, they were also responsible for the organization and administration of the educational and public health systems and for building and maintaining the ports and all other public works and buildings".

In 1755, with the firman of Osman III, the annual tax of Symi (and also that of Nisyros) was set at 60,000 aspra. On top of this, the regional elders of Symi paid 30 piastres every month to the Ottoman overseer who, himself, had no particular responsibility but was merely a sign of the Turkish occupation on the island. The privileges which Symi and the other Dodecanese (or south Spora-des) enjoyed, were renewed with various firmans brought out by a number of different rulers: Mehmed IV in 1652, Ahmed III in 1721, Osman III in 1755, Abdulhamid I (two) in 1774 and 1775, Selim III in 1806, and, in 1813, Mahmud II. In 1691 a penalty was also issued. It is said that the Symiots obtained their privileges by offering Suleiman the Magnificent bread, sponges and other goods, for which the island was famous. During these years, the people of Symi were known for the construction of fast ships (simbequirs); a fact which led the Ottoman empire to call them 'Simbekild'. They were distinguished in the maritime profession and in sea fishing and sponge diving, and were able to obtain the sponges, without problem, from every sea within the empire. In addition, the port of Symi was declared free for the services which the Symiots offered of transporting the Ottoman post in a very short space of time. Stochove, a Flemish traveller who visited Symi in 1630, informs us that the Symiot ships were unbeatable as far as speed was concerned, had 9 benches and fast oarsmen, very good construction and skillful sailors at the sails. He also tells us that they confronted, courageously, the corsairs because they were fearless. When they were still children they learned to dive to a depth of 20 fathoms and to stay for a long time on the bottom of the sea from where they took the valuable fruits, the sponges, for which they gained much wealth. Six years later, the English traveller, Henry Blount, came to the island. Known as 'Socrates of the 17th century', he mentions something about a very strict diet for the men which they endured from a very young age in order to stay fit and supple and allow themselves to more easily fish for sponges and stay for a long time under the sea. Some of the men reached a depth of 100 fathoms and were the most coveted grooms.

The Symiots prospered and brought to their homes goods and expensive items from different ports of Europe, mainly from Italy. They took great care of their houses and there still exist on Symi excellent examples of the local architecture which have very well-preserved decoration, painted walls and ceilings, and pebbled courtyards with beautiful designs of plants and geometric patterns, As well as their houses, however, they also looked after their chapels and monasteries. In the 18th century a school of hagiography was flourishing on the island and Symiot artists, like Gregorius the Symiot, the hiero-monk Neophytus the Symiot and others, were highly sought after and met the needs of the surrounding islands from Nisyros and Tilos to Rhodes and Karpathos. During the same period {1765 -1821), a school was flourishing on Symi in the location of Agia Marina where today the graveyard of Chorio can be found. The school was known as the 'Museum of the Symiot Land' and it employed many eminent teachers and had students such as Konstantinos Vardalachos. The oldest reading room of the Aegean, named 'Aigli', also functioned on Symi and was founded in 1872. In 1874 it brought out a year-book covering the intervening years 1872 and 1873. An indication of the prosperity of the island can be found in the elaborate icon of the Second Coming created by the famous Cretan painter Georgios Klontzas, in the second half of the 16th century, which is preserved in the Megali Panagia of Kastro.

Except for the 'maktou' tax which the Symiots paid to Renio of the Venetian occupation of Crete with its headquaters in Chandakas, a tax was also levied for the protection against pirate attacks towards Symi which it suffered along with the other islands of the Aegean. It is known that in 1659 the admiral of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, Francesco Morosini, attacked Patmos which was under the protection of the Pope and other western powers due to the presence of the Agios loannis of Theologos monastery.  




The Years of Myth >> The Turkish Occupation 
The Historical Years >> The Revolution of 1821 >>
The Byzantine Period >> The Italian Occupation >>
The Occupation by the Knights >> The Liberation >>