By Jodi Mailander Farrell

Underneath those sponges, shell shacks and bakeries, Greek culture runs deep in Tarpon Springs, which claims the highest percentage of Americans with Greek heritage of any city in the United States.

Now it’s official. The National Park Service recently listed Tarpon SpringsGreektown Historic District on its National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property, which is a first for Florida.

The designation marks Florida’s first recognized Traditional Cultural Property, and the first of its kind as a listed ethnic-based community in the United States.

The 140-acre area, first populated by Greek immigrants in the 1880s drawn to the area’s sponge diving industry, is home to hundreds of residential and commercial buildings and about a dozen sponge boats. At its center: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, with a congregation of 800. People still live and work along the sponge docks, and many of them still speak Greek.

The designation recognizes the area as a model ethnic community, with Greek culture rooted in the built environment, boats, occupations, music and dance, social or regional organizations, rites of passage, beliefs, family values, foodways, sacred and secular events, and religious practices. The designation offers tax incentives to district residents who want to renovate their buildings in line with traditional Greek culture.

One of the best ways to experience Greek culture in Tarpon Springs is at “Night in the Islands,” an outdoor music and dining series that features live Greek music, dancing and dining on the Sponge Docks. The free event occurs July 12, Aug. 2, Sept. 6, Oct. 4 and Nov. 1. 

For more information on this and other historic tours in Florida go to VISIT FLORIDA's official historic sites guide.

related content