Tarpon Springs: Greeks and Sponges

Tarpon Springs was settled by enterprising Greek immigrants at the end of the 19th century. Located at the mouth of the Anclote River in Central West Florida, Tarpon Springs was an ideal place for them to practice sponge diving, a trade their families had practiced for generations in Greece.

sponges

Sponge diving is alive and well in Tarpon Springs.

Indeed, sponges were abundant in the Gulf of Mexico at the turn of the 20th century, and Tarpon Springs thrived. Dodecanese Street, where shops and eateries face rows of docks, positively bustled with activity. So long as the sponges were healthy and numerous, so were the businesses of Tarpon Springs.

Alas, sponges went into decline by the 1940s, as did the market for them. Tarpon Springs contracted, but the community remained strong.

Today, the sponge industry has had a resurgence and so has Tarpon Springs. Once again the tantalizing scent of baklava, spanakopita, and dipoles hovers above Dodecanese Street, luring sponge divers back on land and visitors out of their Tarpon Springs Bed and Breakfasts. People come to learn about the ancient craft of sponge diving, to hunt for antiques on Tarpon Avenue, to eat delicious Greek food, and to immerse themselves in Greek culture without the bother of a long plane ride.

Tarpon Springs recently celebrated its 105th Epiphany celebration – the largest such Greek Orthodox festival in the country and one of the largest in the western hemisphere. This year (2011), the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America tossed a cross into a bayou ringed with boats and nearly 80 teenage boys; the boys dove for the cross and the one who brought it to the surface received a special blessing from the clergy. This tradition takes place every year on the Feast of Epiphany, and this year young Louis Pappas emerged from the bayou with cross in hand.

Events such as this may not occur every day in Tarpon Springs. Still, Greek culture and traditions are visible at every turn in this old Greek Sponging village. Tarpon Springs Bed and Breakfasts welcome guests with typical Greek hospitality: their home is your home, their town, your town. Eat your way up and down Dodecanese Street, watching sponge divers practice their craft between meals, and revel in Tarpon Springs.

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