The municipalities of Hydra, Greece and Tarpon Springs, Florida signed a sister city agreement in Hydra on Saturday as a way to mark their historic connections and foster the growth of cultural and economic development between the two.
The agreement was signed in the presence of the US Embassy’s Economic Counselor, Eric Holmgren. A Tweet posted by the Embassy noted “Congrats to Tarpon Springs, Florida and Hydra on signing a new sister cities agreement! Our economic counselor Eric Holmgren joined celebrations commemorating decades of people-to-people ties between the two cities — from sponge diving to advancing exchanges and commerce!”
The signing of the same agreement will follow in the city in Florida, while the two municipalities will soon announce their first joint activities related to the twinning.
Tarpon Springs, home to the most Greek people of any American city per capita, first attracted Greek sponge divers, who flocked to the area to extract sponges from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, just north of Tampa Bay.
The mayor of Hydra, George Koukoudakis, stated in his remarks at the ceremony that “Our desire and pursuit from today should be to bring our citizens closer. To create relationships of cooperation, mutual respect, and mutual assistance. But above all, what we need to do is to bequeath the elements of the past that connect us to the new generation.”
The Hydra mayor proposed that the first Sister City initiative should be the organization of a trip for Tarpon Springs students to come to Hydra to attend the traditional sponge custom of the Island for its festive Easter celebrations.
Christoforos Alahouzos, the mayor of Tarpon Springs, related the history of how Greek immigrants started up the sponge business in his city, noting their great contributions to the area at the beginning of the last century.
Congrats to Tarpon Springs, FL and #Hydra on signing a new Sister Cities agreement! Our Economic Counselor Erik Holmgren joined celebrations commemorating decades of people to people ties between the two cities – from sponge diving to advancing exchanges and commerce! @sciint pic.twitter.com/FKc5uvJty8
— U.S. Embassy Athens (@USEmbassyAthens) September 27, 2021
Tarpon Springs is a popular tourist destination, attracting those who want to soak in the Greek flavor of the city while sampling the Greek foods at local restaurants and taking boat trips out into the Gulf.
The ceremony also included a festive traditional dance by the children of Hydra, which the Embassy official took part in as well.
As a way to further cement relations with the motherland, Tarpon Springs will forge additional Sister City Agreements with three new municipalities in Greece in September.
Formal ceremonies joining the cities in friendship and cooperation ceremonies were held in Chania on September 21 with mayor Panagiotis Simandirakis and will be held in Ilida today and tomorrow with the mayor of Ilida, Giannis Lymperis.
Tarpon Springs also forges Sister City agreements with Chania, Ilida
The Sister Cities program will foster further cooperation between the peoples of each city, including the cultural and educational exchange and the creation of economic development programs.
Chania, on Greece’s largest island of Crete, is home to the United States Naval Base in Souda Bay. In addition, many Greeks who live in Tarpon Springs have ancestors from Chania because the sponge divers of that city were recruited to relocate to FLorida.
For more information about the Sister Cities International program please visit its website, here.
Tarpon Springs mayor Alahouzos’ trip, which was funded by Sister Cities International, is a way to foster further cooperation and the development of cultural, educational and economic development initiatives.
According to census figures, more than one in ten residents of Tarpon Springs are of Greek descent, and over seven percent say that they speak the Greek language in their homes. The Tarpon Springs high school sports teams are nicknamed the “Spongers” in a nod to the dangerous occupation of sponge diving.
With the city still known as the “Sponge Capital of the World,” the area profited greatly from the harvesting, processing, and selling of the natural sponges that grew naturally in the Gulf waters.
The city which was built around the sponge industry was once known as the “Venice of the South.”