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Tarpon Springs - The Sponge Capital
Over on the Gulf Coast and an hour and a half away, Tarpon Springs is a delightful and historic town comprising new communities and old mansions blending together around waterways and bayous.
The city, named after the tarpon fish which is found in abundance off the coast, was originally developed as a winter haven for wealthy Northerners. The arrival of the Greek sponge divers in 1905 was just the beginning for the sponge capital of the world.
A red tide algae hit the area in 1947 virtually wiping out the sponge fields in the region and many of the divers switched their trade to fishing. The sponge docks, although more active in the last twenty years, are now mainly home to restaurants and shops but new sponge beds were discovered in the 1980’s and the industry underwent a welcomed revival.
The Greek influence is prevalent in the street music and themes of the stores, many of which have been in the same families for generations.
The hub of the town is the Sponge Docks which has over 15 restaurants offering traditional Greek cuisine. Sample some delicious moussaka or homemade tzatztiki or a traditional Greek snack of Gyros pitta - messy and mouth watering! The other Greek specialities are sweets, cakes and pastries so there is an abundance of bakeries from which to sample traditional goods such as the gloriously sticky Baklava.
There are over 100 shops and boutiques selling traditional tourist gifts and a huge array of sponge products. There is also a great selection of small boutiques, gift and speciality shops.
Part of the National Main Street Program, historic Tarpon Avenue is a mile further south in Downtown Tarpon Springs and is a delightful mixture of art galleries, unique shops and antique stores. St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral is located here and open daily to visitors and worshippers and is an exact replica of St Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople.
The area surrounding the docks is extremely picturesque and a leisurely drive around the neighbourhood will give you a glimpse of glorious mansions built in the 1800’s as winter homes for the rich northerners.
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