Karnavali on Kalymnos

Poised on the eastern edge of the Aegean in the Dodecanese, Kalymnos is a place where the traditional and the modern exist in harmony. This is an island with a long history. According to Homer, Kalymnos sent thirty ships to Troy as part of the Achaean fleet. But it does not live in the past – Kalymnos celebrates the turn of the seasons and embraces the innovations of the future. It is an island whose culture has survived the Ottoman Empire, the Italians, and the British. It is also an island where extreme sports like rock-climbing and free-diving flourish next to traditional music and crafts.

Many of the traditional aspects of Karnavali/Apokreatiko are present on Kalymnos, but of course the island has to put its own twist on things. There is, as expected, a large parade for Karnavali, where everyone comes in costume.  But the costumes reflect the culture and people of Kalymnos. People dress as sponge divers, both traditional ones who free-dived with rocks, and more modern ones who use helmets and scuba gear.  They also dress as rock climbers, mermaids, birds, and, most impressively, in the traditional clothing of the island.

The most important part of the Karnavali celebrations is the music.  Musicians from all over the island gather in town squares and coffee shops to play the traditional songs of the season.  But they don’t simply repeat what they’ve heard in the past – in Kalymnos, the musicians take the past and put their own interpretation on it.  They improvise new lyrics and music based on the traditional melodies, competing with each other to sing most beautifully and cleverly.  Even the dancers can get tripped up by those tricky musicians!


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