Kalymnos - the island of sponges

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There was a time when Kalymnos was world famous for something completely different than rock climbing, more specifically sponges. Kalymnos was something of a Mecca for sponge fishing at the time. The island dominated the world's sponge industry for a long time, but overfishing and synthetic manufacturing has made that the fishing has almost stopped. It was a terribly hard life for the divers at the time. They were at sea six months a year and dived for these desirable sponges. When the boats came back to Kalymnos, it was usually with a cargo of sponges and sick divers, and sometimes even dead divers. Many were injured for life. Worried wives, sons and daughters was waiting in the port. It must have been a horrible suspense.

If you want to put yourself in the tough life as it was to be a sponge diver, you should read the book Bitter Sea - The Real Story of Greek Sponge Diving. The book is written by an English writer named Faith Warn. (Faith lived on Kalymnos before, but since a few years she is back in England.) The life as a sponge diver have never before been described as real as in the book Bitter Sea. Read it and you'll get an insight into the Greek life, in the bargain, you get a tremendous sense of Kalymnos, its population and its bitter history.

Bitter Sea is an amazing book that unfortunately is hard to find nowadays, inquire about it when you come to Kalymnos, if you are lucky, you might come across a copy. You can also visit Sea World of Valsamidis in Vlychadia, where there is lots of information about the sponge diving.

Kalymnos - the island of sponges.

Sponges for sale in Pothia.

Sponges for sale in Pothia.

The islanders have obviously made capital of the history of sponge diving. There are several "sponge factories" (for example in Pothia), or sponge souvenir shops might be a more accurate name, because it is certainly not any factories. But that's the way they are marketed: Sponge Factory. Sponges of all shapes, sizes and colours are sold in the shops. When we usually think of sponges, we usually see a yellow soft ball in front of us, but when the sponges are picked, they are dark brown. The yellow colour is added chemically afterwards.

In the sponge souvenir shops you can study the sponges way from dark brown and rather ugly to the beautiful artwork as the sponges later turn into. Much like in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Ugly Duckling. Today we do not use sponges to the same extent as before, the ones we use on ordinary days are synthetically manufactured. On Kalymnos, you can buy both funny and beautiful sponges. Maybe you want to impress the neighbours with a real sponge next time you wash your car.

Avoid the sponge shops when the excursion boats from Kos arrive to Kalymnos, everyone are visiting the shops and then it will be hot, crowded and hysterical.

Sponges are available almost everywhere in Kalymnos.

Sponges are available almost everywhere.

Sponge souvenir shop in Pothia.

Sponge souvenir shop in Pothia.

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