Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee announced that Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs, Pinellas County has been listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
Florida Cultural Resources Director Tina Bucavalas was instrumental in securing this distinction after a lobbying and awareness effort that included gaining the support of prominent Greek Americans from the area, including support letters from U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis, Metropolitan Nikitas Lulias and Tampa’s Greek Consul General Dimitrios Sparos.
“Cycadia Cemetery is a culturally and historically significant site for Tarpon Springs’ Greek community,” Secretary Lee said. “Artistic detail on many of the graves is associated with important cultural practices such as sponge diving and music as well as religious beliefs.”
Many headstones are carved with sponge boats, anchors and diving helmets, or include porcelain portraits of the deceased in their diving suits or at the Sponge Exchange.
Tarpon Springs has been home to a large Greek American community since the early 20th century, and today has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S.
Greek sponge diving crews came to Tarpon Springs from the islands of Kalymnos, Halki and Symi and the Saronic Gulf islands of Aegina and Hydra. The crews immigrated after learning about the city through letters, newspaper articles and advertisements offering to pay travel expenses.
Sponge diving had already been a thriving industry in Tarpon Springs, but the city capitalized on the Greeks’ expertise to improve it even further.
Shortly thereafter, the new immigrants established Greektown with numerous residences, stores, churches, restaurants, coffee houses and recreational facilities that stretched from the Sponge Docks to the central section of the city.
Greektown was designated as a Traditional Cultural Property historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.
Many nationally respected Greek and Greek American musicians and vocalists have lived in Tarpon Springs and performed at kafeneia (coffee shops), restaurants, clubs or for special events.
Some of these significant musicians are buried in Cycadia Cemetery, including George Katsaros (1888-1997), a guitarist and one of the most widely respected Greek musicians of the 20th century, and Amalia Baka Vasilia (1897-1979), a singer who was one of the most famous Greek female vocalists of her time.
Another significant burial at Cycadia Cemetery is Mother Superior Thekla Makris (1910-1992), believed to be the first Greek Orthodox nun in North and South America.
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