Having been identified as the Third Man and knowing he was pursued by Joseph Cotton, Orson Wells took to the labyrinthine sewers with a multiplicity of escape options and made the most memorable Sewer Speech ever. Unfortunately most Hollywood villains when being chased are far less intelligent and feel an irresistible compulsion to go up something. Church towers, grain silos, petrochemical rigs, multi-storey office blocks …. anything vertical is fair game. Doomed and crass. Reach the top and no way out. Only three plot-line options: get cornered and captured; be thrown off following a less than convincing fight ending with a fading “aaaaaaaagh!”; or jump, looking smug.
A real-life exception is the tower-house vernacular architecture in the Mani peninsula, the southernmost tip of mainland Greece. Built in pursuance of medieval blood feuds between neighbouring families rather than defence against invasion, when the conflict was formally declared according to set ritual procedures, the combatants would retreat to their respective towers, often only a few metres away. They would spend the next decade or more trying to shoot the males of the Other Side through narrow slit windows, force a ritualistic surrender, or smash the marble roof of the opponents tower. To achieve the latter, opposing families would smuggle in cannons to augment rifle-power and dynamite while at the same time building the tower higher from the inside to try to put the precious marble out of range and gain height advantage. The tower becomes higher and higher and the feud drags on even longer. So they never actually reach the top unlike Hollywood movies, but it does take a lot of time to put into practice.
I have a similar inner urge to climb things, go to the top of mountains or high viewpoints, not because I’m being chased but maybe to get away from the clutter and crap, to clear my head. The more windswept the mountain the better, especially in the heat of Greek islands in summer. Once up there, it’s generally a real wrench to go back down.
I have been doing that on Symi all the time I have been coming. And there are plenty of mountains and high places to head for, many of them rugged limestone crags, some more dramatic than others.
Oros Vigla, ‘The Lookout’ is the highest mountain on the island but, with a road up the back, the sense of achievement is in getting there the hard way. Sitting on the top between a defunct wind turbine on one side and an array of telecom masts on the other is not very impressive. But it has to be climbed …. because it’s there. Especially at the Summer Solstice: highest mountain, longest day, shortest me …….. view).
However, there are more impressive high spots on Symi. Here are a few, most of them unfamiliar names based on information from the not very reliable maps.
Set in the top of the limestone crags above Kokkinochoma Bay northeast of Nimborio is an ancient fortification. Reachable only by a Grade 3 rock scramble /’Moderate’ climb to the top, the location is very dramatic with a near vertical drop of more than 100 metres to the sea below.
At the southwest end of the same ridge is a very distinctive peak with a trig point built on top of a large overhanging rock. To the west it looks across Toli Bay to the island monastery of Agios Emilianos and east across the ‘Hidden Valley’ to the high ridges of Turkey beyond. It can be reached either from the dirt track to Toli or from a small col part way along the ridge above Nimborio but both involve going seriously off-piste, very rocky routes.
It’s not marked on any map but I’ve called it that because on one map the area is marked as ‘Katana’ and the construction is similar to castle construction elsewhere on Symi and other Islands in the Dodecanese. Located on the rim of the Hidden Valley it looks down to Toli and the ‘Classical Period Ruins’ which I explored last year (view) and which also has walls built out of massive dressed stones. There are the vestiges of an ancient path reached by climbing up the earth bank from the track bulldozed down to Toli but it is very steep and rough. I suspect it is now an alternative but less used route taken by migrating goats.
Above the deserted village of Gria, itself hidden behind limestone crags above Pedi and the Agios Nikolaos beach, is a long ridge terminating in Vigla at its western end. At its eastern end, a steep walk from Gria over intermittently rocky and loose shaley ground with no hint of a path, are the remains of two substantial stone buildings and the remains of an obelisk built out of loose stones on the narrow ridge-top at 430 metres ASL. They can be seen from Horio prominent on the skyline. From the top the most dramatic views are north over Pedi Bay and towards Turkey, the height emphasised on the way down by a small stone structure on a shoulder of the mountain and the derelict buildings of Gria.
Hames threshing circle
An old kalderimi zig-zags up the northern face of the Pyrgalia ridge from the top end of Horio to old and now derelict buildings before becoming a footpath climbing up rock outcrops to reach the top. It reaches the ridge-top mid-way along its length at a stone threshing circle behind the monastery of Panagia Hamon. From here the view north is straight down into the harbour 430 metres below and south to the mountain top monastery of the Archangel Mihail Kokkimidis.
More accessible, with a marked though in places difficult path, is the ridge-top Lappationou Castle. The castle itself is not very impressive but the location is. Skoumisa Bay and Agios Emilianos lie to the north, a precipitous 400 metre drop to Agios Vasilios Bay to the south. The slabs of rock at the west end of the castle are a great place for a break.
On a small knoll at the side of the track to the mountain top Archangel Mihail Kokkimidis monastery are the remains of a small castle. Both the main building and the defensive perimeter are built partly with massive dressed stones slotted tightly together, like Katana a more impressive structure than Lappationou. Though not dramatic from the approach, it towers above the Nanou Gorge to the south.
By far the most accessible high point is on the kalderimi heading out of Horio towards the chapel of Agia Paraskevi (Walk 1 on the Greek Island Walks page of this blog). As well as being the start point of a number of longer treks it’s a great place to stroll to early morning or evening to catch it with good light. Though by no means close to the top of the ridge the views are dramatic, very good reward for little effort or with little time.