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KALYMNOS is the island of sponge fishermen.

It is the fourth largest island in the Dodecanese archipelago, measuring about 111 sq. km (43 sq. miles). It lies between Kos and Leros and is surrounded by several small islets. Kalymnos is 338 km (210 miles) from the mainland gateway port city of Piraeus.

The people of Kalymnos, currently numbering about 15,500 year round reside, mostly in Pothia, have always relied on the sea for their living. The island is mostly barren and mountainous, harboring two small valleys full of citrus groves and plentiful aromatic plants, such as thyme, sage and oregano to which the excellent Kalymnos honey owes its fragrance. The impressive rocky crags make for ideal for rock climbing: Kalymnos is a famous rock climber's paradise, with organized venues and events. At the same time, the rough terrain makes it a difficult land to cultivate causing the Kalymnians to turn to the sea to eke out a living with many becoming fishermen and sponge divers. For centuries flotillas of boats would head out, beginning in local waters and then moving on to places like the Bays of Bengazi and Syrti, off the coast of Tunisia and Libya in North Africa, every year to dive for the then valuable sea sponges. Many of the divers were paralyzed or died as a result of those deep sea dives, and most women on the island were permanently clad in black, mourning the loss of loved ones; it was a hard and dangerous life. Many Kalymnians emmigrated to United States and settled on the Gulf Coast of Florida, mainly around Tarpon Springs, where they continued their sponge diving. Today Tarpon Springs and the nearby town of Saint Augustine are dominated by Greek-Americans of Kalymnian descent, although sponge diving is not their business these days. Kalymnos is believed to have been inhabited since the Neolithic period. Its first inhabitants appear to have been the Carians who came to the island from Caria in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) who in turn were followed by the Cretans around 1100 B.C. The Dorians followed the Cretans and built a settlement named Argos. In the 5th century BC the Queen of Halicarnassus, named Artemesia, an ally of the Persians, occupied the island. Following the Persian Wars Kalymnos became part of the Athenian Alliance, which is when it forged its relationship with neighboring Kos. Later it was occupied by the Romans and at the end of the 13th century AD by the Genoese, along with the rest of the Dodecanese. It was at this time that the Castle of Chorio was built, as well as Pera Kastro (the "Far Castle"). The Knights of the Order of St. John who took control of the island in 1306 held it until 1522. When faced with the Ottoman onslaught, they withdrew to Rhodes to make their unsuccessful last stand at their home base of Rhodes town. The Ottoman occupation lasted nearly 400 years, until 1912 when the Italians moved in to occupy Kalymnos along with the rest of the Dodecanese islands. Kalymnos finally became a part of Greece in 1948 after the Axis powers were defeated during WWII.

Present day Kalymnos offers the more adventurous traveler a plethora of options. Along with the usual pastime of 'bronzing' on the beach, as previously mentioned, there is an abundance of rock climbing. Other options include windsurfing, mountain biking, trekking, yachting and of course diving.

 

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