Tarpon Springs, Florida

Downtown Historic Arts and Antiques District, Tarpon Springs, Florida
Historic Downtown District

The historic downtown district  with its turn-of-the-century buildings is the center for art galleries, studios and antique shops.

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Among the first settlers of Tarpon Springs in the 1880's were sponge divers from the Kalymnos island in Greece. Located northwest of Tampa Bay, the waterfront community of Tarpon Springs has several areas of interest to visitors and locals alike.

The "sponge capital of the world" is still alive at the original sponge docks where sponge boats berth alongside authentic Greek restaurants, shops and bakeries.

Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and Historic Downtown Shopping District
Map to Tarpon Springs

Sponge Docks, Tarpon Springs, Florida
Sponge Docks

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© GoThere "GoThere® before you go there"

Tarpon Springs is a city in Pinellas County, Florida, United States. The population was 21,003 at the 2000 census. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2004 estimates, the city had a population of 22,554. Tarpon Springs is notable for having the largest percentage of Greek-Americans of any city in the U.S.

Tarpon Springs is located at 28°8′55″N, 82°45′29″W (28.148658, -82.758098)GR1. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 43.7 km˛ (16.9 mi˛). 23.7 km˛ (9.1 mi˛) of it is land and 20.0 km˛ (7.7 mi˛) of it (45.83%) is water.


The region, with a series of bayous feeding into the Gulf of Mexico, first attracted attention as a place for winter homes about 1876. Some of the newly arrived visitors spotted fish jumping out of the waters and so named the location Tarpon Springs. The first Greek immigrants arrived to this city during the 1880s, when they were hired to work as divers in the growing sponge harvesting industry. In 1905, John Cocoris introduced the technique of sponge diving to Tarpon Springs. Cocoris recruited Greek sponge divers from the Dodecanese Islands and by the 1930s, the sponge industry of Tarpon Springs was very productive, generating millions of dollars a year.

When a red tide algae bloom occurred in 1947, wiping out the sponge fields in that region of the Gulf of Mexico, most of the sponge boats and divers switched to fishing and shrimping for a livelihood. The city then converted most of its sponge-related activities, especially the warehouses where they were sold, into tourist attractions. The Sponge Docks are now mostly shops, restaurants, and museums dedicated to the memory of Tarpon Springs' earlier industry. Most sponges sold on the docks are now imports: Very few sponges are harvested from the area. Attempts have been made in recent years to restart local sponge harvesting.

National historic status

There are several locations in Tarpon Springs which have been included to the National Register of Historic Places.
They are:

Arcade Hotel
Safford House
Old Tarpon Springs City Hall
Old Tarpon Springs High School
Tarpon Springs Historic District

Remnants of the once thriving sponge industry have also been recognized. They include two packing houses:

E. R. Meres Sponge Packing House
N. G. Arfaras Sponge Packing House
And five boats:

Duchess (Sponge Hooking Boat)
George N. Cretekos (Sponge Diving Boat)
N. K. Symi (Sponge Diving Boat)
St. Nicholas III (Sponge Diving Boat)
St. Nicholas VI (Sponge Diving Boat)

Epiphany Celebration

Natural sponges in Tarpon Springs, FloridaTarpon Springs is known for elaborate religious ceremonies related to the Greek Orthodox Church such as Epiphany celebrated every January 6 with the blessing of the waters and the boats. Since the livelihood of the initial Greek immigrants hinged around the sea and their boats, their attachment to a religious service centered at requesting divine protection for what used to be a highly risky job can be easily explained.

The celebration attracts Greek Americans from across the country, and the city's population is known to triple in size for that day. The Metropolitan of Atlanta usually presides over the blessings, sometimes joined by the Archbishop of America. The blessings conclude with the ceremonial throwing of a wooden cross into the city's Spring Bayou, and young men dive in to retrieve it: whoever recovers the cross is said to be blessed for a full year. Following the blessings, the celebration moves to the Sponge Docks where food and music are made part of the festivities.

On January 6th, 2006, for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Epiphany services in Tarpon Springs, his all-holiness Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who is considered "first among equals" of all hierarchs of the Orthodox Church, visited Tarpon Springs to preside over the Epiphany services. Bartholomew's visit to Tarpon Springs was one of the few visits to America by an Ecumenical Patriarch thus far in history.


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