SPINALONGA FORTRESS AND LEPER COLONY

  

Spinalonga is a Venetian word meaning 'long thorn', although its official name is Kalidon. It is an island situated near the town of Elounda in eastern Crete. 

 

Its name, according to Venetian documents, originated from the Greek expression - 'stin Elounda' (meaning in or to Elounda). The Venetians could not understand the expression so they adapted it using their own language, and called it Spins (thorn) Longs (long), an expression that was also then used by the locals. They were also inspired by this name, as it was named after an island near Venice which is known today as the island of Giudecca.

 

The Venetian cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli wrote in a report that Spinalonga had not always been an island, but was once linked to the adjacent peninsula of Kolokitha. Stating that in 1526, the Venetians knocked down a portion of the peninsula creating the island. Because of its position the island was fortified from its earliest years in order to protect the entranceway of the port of Ancient Olous.

 

 

Olous, and its region, was abandoned during the middle of the 7th century because of the many raids by the Arab pirates which happened in most areas of the Mediterranean. Olous remained deserted until the middle of the 15th century when the Venetians began to construct salt-pans in the shallow and salty waters of the gulf. As a result of this, the region acquired commercial value and steadily became inhabited once again. After the occupation of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks repeatedly threatened to use gunpowder on their raids, this then forced the Venetians to fortify the island. The Venetians did not spare resources to achieve this objective. In 1578 the engineer Genese Bressani was employed and began making plans. In 1579 they built high walls right on the sea to leave no room for landing and two circular bastions on the top of the hill, from where their artillery could control the access to the harbour, stopping any hostile disembarkation. 

This then made Spinalonga an impregnable sea fortress, one of the most important in the Mediterranean basin.

 

They kept control of the island until the Ottoman Empire took possession of it in 1715. Following the Turkish occupation of Crete in 1669, only the fortresses of Gramvousa , Souda and Spinalonga remained in Venetian hands and did so for almost half a century. Over the years many Christians found refuge in all of these fortresses, escaping persecution. In 1715, the Turks took over the occupation of the island until  the revolution of 1866 when other Ottoman families came to the island from the region of Mirabello (hence the name the Gulf of Mirabello) later forming their own community. In 1903, the last Turks left the island.

  

The island was subsequently then used as a leper colony, from 1903 to 1957. It is famous for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. Its last inhabitant, a priest, left the island in 1962.
 

There were two entrances to Spinalonga, one was the lepers' entrance, a tunnel known as Dante's Gate. It acquired its named because the lepers had no idea what was going to happen to them once they had arrived, as prior to the island they had mostly lived in caves keeping away from the rest of the islanders. Albeit, once they did arrive on the island they received food, water, medical attention and even social security payments, unknown to them in their meagre and often miserable past existence.

 

Today, this unoccupied island is now one of the main tourist attractions in Crete. This abandoned leper colony and the fortress, is also known for its small pebble beaches. The island can easily be accessed from Elounda as well as Ayios Nikolaos. Tourist boats depart from both towns on a daily basis.  Boat trips take approximately fifteen minutes while trips departing Ayios Nikolaos can take nearly an hour.

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 More Round the Island pages
: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
: Frangokastello : Gramvousa : Spinalonga : Monasteries
: Phaestos : Gortys : Knossos:

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