BLOG: Exploring the Sponge Capital of the World

Alyssa Raymond

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (WTHR) — Tarpon Springs! What a cool little place. It's called the Sponge Capital of the World, and it has a deep rooted Greek history. The town was was formed in 1882. During that time, 52 people lived there. But then around 1904, the population skyrocketed as people started to move to Tarpon Springs from Greece to work the booming sponge industry.

Tarpon Springs is the closest you can get to Greece without actually going to Greece. There are more than dozen Greek restaurants and more than 40 Greek inspired shops. And of course, you can buy sponges in almost any store.

The town's Greektown District, near the sponge docks, was named to the list of U.S. Register of Historical Places in 2014. It's the only such cultural district in Florida.

Chuck and I ate at a restaurant called Mykonos. We're still stuffed from this meal! The owner, Andreas, treats you like family the moment you step into his restaurant. It's authentic Greek food made fresh every morning. Andreas just kept bringing us one amazing dish after another. We got to try three different salads, moussaka, saganaki (flaming cheese), octopus, fried calamari and finally baklava for dessert. Everything was magnificent! This is a must-try restaurant if you visit Tarpon Springs.

Another fascinating experience was going out on a sponge boat tour with the St. Nicholas Boat Line. They gather five types of sponges:

  1. Wool sponge
  2. Grass sponge
  3. Yellow sponge
  4. Finger sponge
  5. Wire sponge

The most eye opening part of the tour is the amount of gear that the divers used to have to wear to go sponge diving. The suit the diver wears during the tour itself weighs 18 pounds all by itself. Then there's a breast plate that weighs 22 pounds. The boots are made out of leather, wood and iron. Those are 12 pounds each. The helmet is made out of copper, brass and glass. That's 38 pounds. So all that, plus the diver's body weight means he's going in the water at 320 pounds.

The experience was memorable. It's a place the whole family would enjoy, and if you're already going to Florida and didn't think about Tarpon Springs before, you can add it to your trip. It makes for a great day trip. It's a 50-minute drive from Tampa and St. Petersburg. It's an hour and a half drive from Sarasota and only a two-hour drive from Orlando.