It was not all sunshine and cocktails for our first couple of days anchored at Panormitis on the southwest coast of Symi. We battened down the hatches to wait for thunderstorms and heavy rain to pass over us. Thankfully the anchorage was very well protected from the strong winds and swell.
The bay is dominated by the Monastery of Panormitis which is the main religious center on the island. It is dedicated to Archangel Michael, the protector of all Greek sailors.
Eventually the bad weather passed and the sun came out so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs. The small village was very quiet but it is a popular spot for ferries and day trip boats, which arrive several times throughout the day. As they enter, they sound their horn and then the bell tower rings out a welcome tune to them. Once moored on the quay, 100’s of passengers visit the monastery and fill up the cafe for an hour before they move onto their next stop.
We managed to time our visit to the monastery while it was quiet, inside there is a small courtyard where they were setting up for a wedding. The exact construction date of the monastery is unknown, it is believed that it was built on the ruins of an ancient temple in the 15th century.
The Church was later rebuilt in 1783 featuring elaborate hand painted frescoes. There are paintings of icons and St Michael along with wooden carvings, many of which were gifts from the pilgrims.
On the opposite side of the bay there is an old windmill which we walked up to, it was a little scruffy but had great views of Panormitis and out to sea. There was an interesting camouflaged hut next to it, the doors were locked but we were able to climb over the rocks to see inside where there is a large WWII gun. It would have been a perfect lookout point to defend the harbour.
Once back on board ZigZag we were watching a turtle swimming close to the boat just as the wedding party started to arrive with cars coming around the hills, all constantly sounding their horns. Later there was a firework display over the monastery to celebrate the marriage.
Our time in Greece was coming to an end for now, but there was just one more island that we wanted to visit. We lifted our anchor as the sun rose over the hills, there wasn’t any breeze so the engine was on as we left the bay in flat calm water.
Our course was set to travel approximately 25 nm to Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands. The options for anchoring around Rhodes Town are quite limited and with a heavy swell still present from the stormy weather we treated ourselves to a mooring in the new marina. Our plan was to visit the old town, provision and check out of Greece, so the following morning, with a busy day ahead, we set off early for the short walk to town
Rhodes is known for its beach resorts and ancient ruins. It has a long history which is evident in the different architectural styles influenced by the Classical, Ottoman and Italian eras.
The fortified medieval old town is enclosed within strong city walls with many watchtowers and is one of the biggest and best preserved medieval settlements of Europe. In 1988 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As we walked through one of the huge gateways in the walls, it was a pleasant surprise to find a maze of cobbled alleyways and arches, fountains, Byzantine and Gothic churches and medieval buildings.
Many of the streets and squares were busy with shops and cafes. Today it is occupied by 6000 people, who live and work in the same buildings in which the Knights of St. John dwelt seven centuries ago.
Mandraki harbour was the main port to the ancient city. The Knights of Rhodes moored their fleet in this harbour. As ships enter they are greeted by two columns which stand either side of the entrance. One with a stag, and the other, a doe, the two bronze statues stand in reminiscence of the beloved animals once in abundance on this island and are emblems of Rhodes. The columns and statues stand where the feet of the legendary Colossus of Rhodes previously stood, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
On the harbours long jetty there are three medieval windmills. These ancient windmills used to grind grain brought from vessels that moored in the harbour. Recent excavations have found that there may have been up to 18 mills but now only three remain which have been extensively renovated. Today these iconic windmills have become a harbour landmark and can be seen on many pictures of Rhodes.
At the end of a long jetty, the lighthouse tower of St. Nicholas stands protecting the harbour.
Checking out of Greece was a lot easier than checking in. The customs office and immigration police were situated close by in the commercial cruise terminal. It was a fairly straightforward process except when the police tried to suggest that we had overstayed our 90 days in Schengen by 2 days! We had calculated 89 and after much head scratching he agreed with us and stamped our passports with a conspiratorial smile on his face. There was just the port authority left to visit which was back at the marina.
On our way back we walked around the castle like Palace of the Grand Masters. Originally constructed on the foundations of the Temple of Sun God by the Knights of St John in the 14th century. This huge palace was the residence of the governor and the administrative center in Medieval times.
Unfortunately, the building was largely destroyed in 1856 by explosives, hidden in the basement of the church of Saint John. After almost a century of abandonment, the palace was restored by the Italians who occupied the Dodecanese islands that time. In the following years, it was used as a holiday residence for the King of Italy and Benito Mussolini. Today, it belongs to the Greek State.
After grocery shopping on the way, we arrived back at the marina where the very friendly port authority officer finalised all of our documents and we were free to leave Greece. With just a few preparations to do onboard ready for entrance to our next destination, we were ready to leave the following morning when we will be able to take down the remains of our Greek flag!
Our stay in Rhodes had been all too brief and it would be lovely to come back again in the future to explore further.