Kalymnos island belongs to the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean; it is located 183 nautical miles (339 km) southeast of Athens and 85 nautical miles (157 km) northwest of Rhodes, the capital of the region. Many smaller islands are nearby; most notably Telendos, (which was part of Kalymnos until it was separated by a devastating earthquake in 554 AD), Pserimos, and Plati. At 109 km² Kalymnos is the fifth largest amongst the Dodecanese Islands, with a population of nearly 17,000 people. On the east coast is the capital of Kalymnos, Pothia. Lively and picturesque, it is built around the port and combines strict traditions with the hustle and bustle of a modern town. The small and attractive ‘climbing’ villages of Panormos, Myrties, Masouri, Arginonta, Skalia and Emporios are to the west and north; Vothini, Vlychadia and Vathy are to the south and east.
Kalymnos was once known as Isola Umbrosa, the ‘island of shade’, but that is certainly no longer the case. Today it is dotted with low vegetation (herbs and small drought-resistant bushes), but it is virtually bare of trees. The land is mountainous with a major rock escarpment all along the west coast. In the past, this barrenness drove the locals to sea for a living. The men of Kalymnos became sponge-divers, a traditional and dangerous occupation; they excelled to such an extent that their island went on to be the most celebrated sponge trade center in the Mediterranean, until the sponge trade began to decline gradually in the 1980s. Nevertheless, the history of Kalymnos will forever be linked to that ubiquitous little creature, the sea sponge. When rock climbing was ‘discovered’ on Kalymnos in the late 1990s, the island found its place back onto the map, so to speak.