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Dodecanese Islands | Kalymnos

Kalymnos Sponge Diving

Sponge diving has been carried out in Greece since time immemorial.  The use of sponges was described by Aristotle, and was mentioned in both of Homer’s epic works, the Iliad and the Odyssey.  For centuries, and until about 1986, the Greek sponge trade had been focused around the Dodecanese, with Kalymnos being the most notable.  In the mid 80s, a disease struck the eastern Mediterranean, destroying most of the sponges and decimating the sponge diving industry.  The once large fleet of more than 30 boats was then reduced to only three or four, and sponges are now primarily fished from the waters off Florida, the Caribbean, Asia, and off the north coast of Africa.

Though not as important commercially as it once was, the traditions and history relating to sponge diving are still at the forefront of the culture and soul of the island and its people.  A most important festival takes place one week after Easter, just before the sponge fleet departs for its four-month expedition to the waters between southern Italy and the north coast of Africa.  Known as Sponge Week, the weeklong celebration is literally an incredible feast of food, drink, and dance.  The dances depict the relation between the Kalymnian people and the sponge (the Kalymnian “Gold,” as it is often referred to) and recount the joy and the tragedy of this incredibly dangerous deep-sea endeavor.  You can still see today many former divers who were horribly crippled by the effects of the bends, as they dived to depths of 90 meters without proper equipment.