This is famous as the sponge-divers’ island, after what was until recently the chief occupation of the islanders.
The fourth largest of the Dodecanese islands, between Kos & Leros at the South Eastern part of Greece, bathed by the vivid blue waters of the Aegean Sea. The Kalymnian landscape is rocky and arid yet majestic, voted the best rock climbing destination in Europe, fragrant with thyme, sage and oregano, the ingredients which make the local honey world famous.
Kalymnos, is best known as home of the world’s finest sponge divers. The sea has always been a focal point of everyday life for both work & pleasure. Day trips to Leros, Patmos, Lipsi, Pserimos, Kos and Nisiros, Rhodes as well as Bodrum in Turkey, will give you the chance to visit an area blessed with history, since the ancient days, culture, monuments and the art of Religious Painting.
From the Ancient capital of Argos and the Prehistoric ruins on Telendos, to the many Byzantine Churches & Chapels, from the medieval castles of Hora, to the Museums which show the wealth of the old Sponge Trading Families, you will not find a dull moment during your stay.
Religious tourism is at its best here, the recently proclaimed Saint Savas and the Monastery, Saint Panteleimon known for his miracles even today, the Old Cathedral of the Virgin at Hora with its treasures and the New Cathedral of Christos at Pothia, Kalymnos Town, will show you another dimension of the art of religious painting!
During the day the white washed beaches of Myrties, Masouri, Melitsaha, Platis Gialos, Linaria & Kantouni, Vlyhadia, Potha & Hohlakas at Telendos, will rejuvenate you in their crystal clear waters. You may select sea sport activities like scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing, fishing or island hopping to keep yourself busy or you may choose trekking to the interesting paths through the rocky formations and the many interesting trails. If you decide to stroll around Kalymnos Town, don’t forget to visit the Sponge processing Factories where they will show you some of the 280 different kinds of sponges.
At night enjoy yourself at the many restaurants, tavernas, ouzeri – the sea food tavernas serving ouzo- cafeterias and bars. Local gastronomy includes kritharo-kouloura (hard wheat bread), used to make mirmizeli the local salad with fresh tomatoes, onion, olives and olive oil sprinkled with thribi (the local oregano). Also try chtapodokeftedes – octopus deep fried meat balls – and the many sea food specialties. At the end try loukoumades (honey dumplings) sprinkled with cinnamon and the kalymnian thyme honey. Don’t forget to buy some honey to take home as well as some thribi, your greek salad will never be the same!
In 1306, the Knights from Rhodes who imposed heavy taxation and work on the locals, without providing any protection from pirate raids, occupied the island. In 1495, the fierce Turk, Hamza, who occupied the island and raided and massacred the locals, while Kalymnos was destroyed by a new earthquake, attacked the island. Ten years later, Vayiezit B’attacked the island, but the coordinated effort made by both the locals and the Knights scared him away. The Turks occupied the island again in 1523 AD. Kalymnos, like all the Dodecanese islands, participated in the Greek Revolution in 1821, but in London Protocol (1830), did not include the island inside the boundaries of the Greek state. The Turkish Occupation lasted until 1912, when Kalymnos was occupied by Italian troops. In 1943 the island was given over to the Germans until 7 May 1948 when it was united with Greece. As early as the 12th century B.C., Homer wrote that the island sent two kings and thirty ships to the battle of Troy. After the Trojan War (according to Diodoros) four of Agamemnon’s ships were wrecked near Kalymnos on their return journey. Their crews stayed on the island and built a settlement in Argos.From the 14th century, Kalymnos suffered hundreds of years of occupation by the Turks, who made it part of the Ottoman Empire. Kalymnians always resisted, as far as possible, the influence of their foreign rulers and fought bravely in the Greek War of Independence, which started in 1821.
Ottoman rule was again established in 1830, but throughout the 19th and early 20th century KALYMNOS struggled to maintain its own identity, providing education, health care and a literary and culture center. This was also the period when sponge diving thrived and created prosperity for the island. In ancient times, the Dorians colonized the island, the history of which had no important events and is tied with that of nearby Kos. In Classical times, it was an ally of Athens and later it passed under the domination of Rome. Later in its history, the Venetians in 1204, the Turks in 1522 and the Italians in 1912 conquered the island.
According to mythology, Uranus and Gaia had many children: the Titans, the Giants, the Cyclopes, and the Hundred-handed. Aware of the fact that one of his sons would dethrone him, Uranus threw them to Tartara, the bottom of the earth. One of his sons was Kalydnos who fell on a piece of land, which later emerged, to the surface forming a complex of island called “The Islands of Kalydnos”. Today, every island has its own name and they all surround the largest, called Kalymnos. The island, with its huge mountains, has two small plains, which, if viewed from above, resemble the legs of Kalydnos. According to myth, Kalydnos, once the god of Ades, became a sea god, yet no evidence of his worship was ever found. The first people who inhabited Kalymnos were Kares, Leleges and Pelasgians.
It’s well known that the Sponges of the Eastern Mediterranean are of excellent quality and that the trading of Sponges originated from this area. For millions of years, the Sponge, one of the simplest and oldest species of multicellular organisms, has retained its simplicity. The Sponge carries out all its functions of eating, breathing, reproducing and moving, entirely within its own cellular structure.
For centuries the people of Kalymnos have relied on Sponge fishing and their close relationship with the sea for their prosperity and good fortune. Their high standard of living and economic wellbeing led to such spectacular social and cultural growth that it is an understandable belief that, in comparison to the island’s actual potential, such progress made is largely greater than that of other islands.
History and Tradition of Sponge Diving
The first divers of Kalymnos gathered their sponges from the bottom of the sea using the “skin diving” technique. In other words, they dived into the sea naked, carrying a “skandalopetra” (flat stone weighing about 15 kilograms) in order to sink to the sea floor quickly. The mates of the divers in the boat above would already have ensured the presence of sponges on the sea floor with the help of a glass-bottomed cylindrical tool. The skilled divers would dive up to 30 meters down and stay there three to five minutes gathering the sponges with a special net.
Although it was a hard, dangerous and manual technique, the skin diving method produced an abundance of sponges and brought enormous wealth to the island of Kalymnos. During the middle of the 19th century, the merchants of the island made immense profits from the trade and export of sponges and became highly influential members of society in Kalymnos.
The already booming business in sponges got a further boost after 1865 with the introduction of the standard diving suit, the “skafandro”, as the Greeks called it. The skafandro enabled the previously naked divers to gather larger quantities of sponges at greater depths (up to 70 meters), staying down for longer periods than was previously possible.
The introduction of the Skafandro brought profound changes to the sponge diving industry in Greece generally and more specifically on Kalymnos. Gone were the days of the small boats in which the naked divers of Kalymnos ventured out to the sea. Now it was the turn of large fleets consisting of numerous ships to mine for sponges on a large scale.
According to Faith Warn, a British journalist and former resident of Kalymnos, the vast sponge diving fleet included 300 ships with 6 to 15 divers for each ship, another 70 ships that used harpoons to harvest sponges and 70 trawlers. The ships were launched from the island of Kalymnos to scour the Aegean and the Mediterranean, often staying at sea for as long as 6 months and visiting places as far away as Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and Tunis.
However, the use of the standard diving suit brought in its wake serious risk and danger to the divers who had to make several dives a day at greater depths without any decompression pauses. Such grueling conditions caused great damage to the health of the divers, many of them getting paralyzed and some of them even dying of decompression sickness. According to Warn, the new diving method caused the death of around 10,000 divers between 1886 and 1910; another 20,000 divers were permanently disabled that same period.
The dangers of the new sponge diving method had a deep impact upon the families and society of Kalymnos. Every household on the island could count at least one family member who had either died or been paralyzed during the sponge diving season. The situation became so dire at the end of the 19th century that the Turkish sultan, who then ruled all Dodecanese islands, banned the use of the Skafandro at the request of the suffering women of Kalymnos. However, the ban was short-lived as the profits of the sponge diving industry plunged causing serious economic concern. The Skafandro returned after a few years, bringing in further deaths and disabilities due to decompression-related accidents. The benefits though also grew up. Commerce flourished and merchants made immense fortunes. The common people also benefited as free healthcare and education was made available to everyone.
The two World Wars of the 20th century seriously disrupted the sponge diving industry of the island which came to an almost total end after the Second World War. Many of the skilled sponge divers resettled in various parts of the world, such as five hundred divers from the Dodecanese who found a new home in the USA. Many divers also found opportunities in Australia’s pearl industry after the Australians refused to work with Japanese pearl divers due to the bitterness caused by the Second World War.
The 1980s tolled the death knell for the Greek sponge diving industry when most of the sponges in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea were found to be infected by pollution. The sponge diving fleet was reduced to four, from a previous high of about 30. Now all that remains on Kalymnos of the once-thriving sponge industry is several workshops in Pothia, selling sponges to tourists as well as a nautical museum exhibiting articles relating to the once flourishing sponge diving.
Here’s how it all started: we first heard about the climbing potential of Kalymnos in 1995 when one of the best Greek climbers out of Patras, Giannis Torelli, visited the island. He didn’t do any climbing, but he did take some rather uninspiring photos of the crags. All Greek islands are littered with cliffs anyway, so we didn’t jump to any conclusions. Why should Kalymnos be any different?
Everything changed by chance, when the Italian climber Andrea di Bari visited Kalymnos for his summer holidays in 1996. Seeing the excellent quality of the rock and the huge potential of the area, he returned to Kalymnos in May 1997 with some climbing friends to put up some routes. They opened 43 sport climbing routes on Kalymnos (in the sectors Arhi, Odyssey and Poets). Andrea di Bari returned to Kalymnos in October of the same year, this time with Andrea Gallo, a photographer working for Alp magazine. After publication in Alp and Rotpunkt magazines in the spring of 1999, the way was open for drill-wielding climbers.
At that point, climbing on Kalymnos took off.
Kalymnos Climbing Festivals
This first climbing event described above was a milestone for Kalymnos, giving it just the right push forward to attain a prominent position on the international climbing map. Since then, the influx of climbers from all over the world to Kalymnos has been increasing. The estimates for 2001 and 2002 are that about 4,000 climbers visited Kalymnos. Among these were some of the biggest names in climbing, who also helped tremendously by putting up some excellent new routes.
The 2nd Climbing Festival of Kalymnos (2-8 October 2004) made it the center of international climbing attention once again. The festival was organized by the Municipality of Kalymnos with the collaboration of Aris. More than 600 climbers from all over the world participated, including the guests of honor Dave Graham, Liv Sansoz, Francois Legrand, Daniel Dulac and Andrea Di Bari. Also present were some climbers known for their important role in the growth of climbing and equipping of numerous routes on Kalymnos, like Michel Piola, Hans Weninger, Guy Abert and Karsten Oelze, Manolo Zanolla and Simone Moro. Some journalists and photographers of the specialized press also took part, including Jeff Achey, editor of Climbing magazine, who subsequently wrote a 10-page article in issue #238 of Climbing.
The highest achievement, perhaps, of the 2nd Kalymnos Climbing Festival was the opening of new routes in the 8a-9a range, which now constitute a major attraction for the climbing stars. Three PETZL workers stayed on Kalymnos for a full month to equip the routes. They mostly set up routes in sectors Arhi, Spartan Wall, Grande Grotta, as well as the first routes at Sikati Cave. Until that point, many high-grade climbers hesitated to visit Kalymnos in fear that they might not find any climb sufficiently challenging; there appeared to be few 8as and above of international status. The 2nd Kalymnos climbing festival proved to be very successful at that, as it endowed Kalymnos with a lot of extremely hard routes for the international rock climbing scene.
The 3rd Climbing Festival of Kalymnos (25-30 October 2006) was sponsored by Petzl . Better known as the Petzl Roctrip Kalymnos, it attracted approximately 1000 climbers, including a collection of the finest climbing athletes in the world, who challenged themselves against the newly-bolted ‘ultimate’ routes in Sikati cave. In the words of Steve McClure, “the super-overhanging women’s route went on forever, at a grade of 8b it climbed 60 meters on tufas and stalactites. The men’s route, at over 50m long and 8c was not only endurance orientated but had several distinct cruxes: a bouldery lower section, a long, hard span (especially for the short) under the main roof to reach a 6-foot stalactite, and a steep headwall on with tufa blobs. The route climaxed with 10m of relatively easy (about 7b!!) tufa climbing on crumbly rock to add a bit of spice to the finish!!” And he continues, “the 15 men and 7 women were presented with a real challenge on their ultimate routes. They were allowed only one hour each to work the route before attempting a redpoint a few days later. Not an easy task when the route is 60m long, imagine remembering that many moves! However it still didn’t stop Martina Cufar (SLO), Charlotte Durif (FRA) and Daila OJeda (ESP) from clean ascents. The men’s route was proving more tricky especially with some of the tufas remaining damp and no one managed success on their first redpoint attempt. However, considering the standard of the climbers it was only a matter of time with Steve McClure (UK) and Chris Sharma (USA) getting it in their second attempt and Dani Andrada (ESP) on his third.”
The Petzl Roctrip Kalymnos was more than just a competition. Every evening there were films and slideshows presented by Chris Sharma, Alex Huber, Arnaud Petit and Stephanie Bodet. Aris also spoke about climbing on Kalymnos and presented his latest guidebook. To top it off, the municipality of Kalymnos organized a Greek-themed event and Petzl hosted a techno party complete with its own DJ and all!
The 4th Climbing Festival of Kalymnos (22-26 May 2009) was organized by the Municipality of Kalymnos and sponsored, mainly, by the Greek National Tourism Organisation and the Greek sports company Polo. More than 300 climbers from around the world participated (84 Greeks, 50 Germans, 28 Swedes, 28 Swiss, 26 Austrians, 16 Italians, 13 Spaniards, 12 Americans and individuals from 15 more countries). The star guest at the 4th Kalymnos festival was the mega-talented (and very likeable) 16 year-old Czech climber Adam Ondra. Also invited were the inexhaustible Swiss equippers Christine and Claude Remy who, with brothers Yves Remy and Boris Girardin, have opened more than 250 sport routes on Kalymnos in the past few years. Last but not least, the 22 year-old Slovenian climbing champion Maja Vidmar was there.
Adam Ondra wowed everybody with his ability to send ultra-difficult routes with seemingly incredible ease. He climbed numerous routes from 8a+ to 8c+, many of them as warm-up (!). If you are not impressed yet, he also made the first ascent of route Los Revolucionarios 9a 30m in sector Odyssey after 6 tries over 4 days. This is the hardest route in Kalymnos to-date, and the first 9a route in Greece (after Adam climbed it, on a hot an humid day, he moved on to Los Kukos 8c and just barely missed the onsight. Rare, but it happens!). Immediately after that, he sprinted to Sikati cave in the middle of the scorching hot afternoon. There, he not only climbed Jaws 8c 50m on his first attempt, but he also placed the draws. For the record, Jaws was the ‘Ultimate Route’ in the 2006 Petzl Roctrip Kalymnos.
Maja Vidmar was also in excellent form; she climbed in amazing style and made everything look graceful and easy. She onsighted her first 8b in Kalymnos, Spartan Wall 20m, a vertical technical route with small holds. Maja onsighted a total of 9 routes 8a or harder during her week on Kalymnos.
The next Kalymnos Climbing Festival is planned for 18-21 May 2011. For more information and updates please visit: www.climbkalymnos.com.
The rock of Kalymnos is top-quality limestone. It is a little sharp in places, but free of choss (aka rotten, loose rock). There is nothing monotonous about climbing on Kalymnos: there is a great variety of rock, with slabs, walls with delicate moves, pumpy routes with pockets and stalactites or tufas on overhanging rock and roofs. In some respects the rock resembles that of Thailand, only a little sharper.
Many visitors have described the equipping of routes on Kalymnos as “the epitome of sport climbing.” At the moment there are 64 sport crags – mainly west and south facing – with approximately 1700 routes ranging from F4a to F9a, although there are quite a few project routes which are expected to exceed 9a. All have an athletic, steep and challenging sport climbing character and are equipped in a sensible and friendly manner using stainless steel bolts.
The rock on Kalymnos seems to come in three varieties:
1. Extremely overhanging rock with blobs, tufas and stalactites which, even when tilted 20 degrees past vertical, can still check in at a “mere” 7a!
2. Slightly overhanging or vertical, smooth white and orange walls with pockets and smaller tufa features.
3. Grey slabs with sharp rock that has been sculpted by the rain (‘gouttes’) with little iron knobs cemented into the matrix.
The best of the routes can possibly combine the three types of rock in one pitch. Of equal importance is that the limestone is showing little sign of polish, in sharp contrast to the rock at some other well-known climbing areas of Europe. This situation will be slow to change given the particularly rough surface of the rock. The majority of the routes on Kalymnos are single-pitch around 20-30m. However, there are a few longer routes reaching 3-5 pitches, and there is tons of room for many more great routes at all levels. Coupled with the excellent quality of the rock is the sheer quantity of it. The existing routes only cover a tiny portion of what is possible here. There are some quality crags still waiting for their first route – all they demand is a slightly longer walk-in. For those with time to spare and a good drill there is work here for at least the next 20 years.
• The Archaeological Museum in Pothia is new (2009), stylish and definitely worth a visit. It features prehistoric, classical and private collections as well as the preserved interior of a 19th-century Kalymnian mansion.
• The Museum of Marine Finds in Vlychadia features assorted items found underwater or salvaged from sunken ships. On an island relying on diving and the sea for so many centuries, you can imagine how fascinating this is!
• The Sponge Diving Museum in Pothia is the perfect (and poignant) introduction to the island’s centuries-old marine history and culture.
• The Kalymnian Home in Vothyni is a private folk art museum replicating a traditional local home. You will feel like you walked straight into a previous century, and talking with the friendly owner will give you a different perspective on what daily life on Kalymnos was like.
The rocky coastlines of both Kalymnos and Telendos are excellent for snorkeling, as rock formations and fish abound. Basic, inexpensive masks, snorkels and fins are sold at all tourist shops on the island. Explore them, but remember to watch out for passing boats. It is best not to stray too far from the coast. Watch out too for sea urchins and, occasionally, moray eels.
Kalymnos is one of the better-known scuba diving venues in Greece. For professional instruction and certification information you may contact the island’s diving schools.
Kalymnos is embroidered with hiking trails, short and long; walking through its wilderness landscape, while listening to the silence, is better than psychotherapy. Make sure you bring your hat and remember to stay hydrated. Full descriptions of the hiking trails of Kalymnos alongside a large-scale map (1:25.000) can be found in the Kalymnos Hiking Map by Terrain, which is readily available in Masouri.
The best areas for a bike ride are northwest of Masouri. The coastal road from Masouri to Emporios (where the tarmac road ends) snakes through approximately 15 km of stunning wild landscape. If you have a mountain bike, you can continue on the dirt road from Emporios to the northwestern headland. Bikes are available for rent at scooter rental shops for about €5 per day. The direction from Masouri towards Pothia is not recommended, as parts of it are very steep and two-way traffic on this narrow road can be risky.
There are several caves with exceptional stalactite and stalagmite decorations in Kalymnos; prehistoric findings suggest that many of these caves were ancient ritual sites. Some of the caves worth special mention include Kefàla Cave near Pothia; Daskalio Cave at Vathy; Skalia Cave at the village of Skalia; and the Cave of the Seven Virgins, in which according to local lore seven maidens disappeared trying to flee from the pirates.
Town Hall Tel: 0030 22430 59141
Municipal Tourist Organization Tel: 0030 22430 59056
Port Authority Tel: 0030 22430 29304 / 24444
Tourist Information Kiosk Tel: 0030 22430 50879
Police Station Tel: 0030 22430 22100
Hospital Tel: 0030 22430 23025
Taxis Tel: 0030 22430 50300
Kalymnos Airport Tel: 0030 22430 59370.
Sources: Myrties boutique apartments, dodekanissaweb.gr, www.kalymnos-isl.gr, www.climbkalymnos.com