10 Oct 2012


Spinalonga is a small rocky island at the entrance of the gulf of Elounda. Because of its position, in antiquity the islet was walled to protect the ancient city of Olous. The Venetian cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli reports that Spinalonga was not always an island, but was once linked to the adjacent peninsula of Kolokitha. According to Coronelli, in 1526 the Venetians cut down a portion of the peninsula and created the island. 

In late 16th century the Venetians built one of the most important defensive sea fortresses in the Mediterranean as part the of the major fortification works they carried out to defend Crete from the Turks. However, in 1715 Spinalonga was surrendered to the Turks following a siege.

In 1903 a leper colony was established on the island, accepting patients from all over Greece. Patients lived independently in their own space, and were responsible to provide for their living with the help of the Greek state that provided a monthly allowance for each patient. The leper colony had a physician, nursing personnel, a financial department and a priest. Despite their decease the patients did not give up hope and managed to create a thriving community. They organised their space, cultivated the land, got married and had children who, in most cases, were raised by their parents in Spinalonga.

The leper colony closed down in 1957, following the discovery of treatment for leprocy (also know as Hansen's decease).  Since then the islet remains desolate and uninhabited. Spinalonga has been stigmatised as a place of confinement and exile for those who experienced the reality of death, desertion and isolation.

Spinalonga is accesible by boat. Boats leave at frequent intervals from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka.

The history of Spinalonga inspired Victoria Hislop's book 'The Island'.  

Restored houses, remnants of  the Ottoman neighborhood

During the Ottoman occupation the settlement operated as the largest Muslim trading centre in the region. It is reported that in 1881 the resident population reached 1.112 inhabitants.

The cemetery chapel

The sculpture visible on the battalion in the picture bellow is part of Costas Tsoklis' interventions for the exhibition 'The last leper' that took place in Spinalonga during the summer of 2012.

Leave behind all hope, you who enter here", Dante Alighieri (Divina Commedia, Inferno, Canto III)

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