What A Longa Strange Trip It's Been Oct 20, 2005
Spinalonga, also known as Kalydon, is an island located northeast of the Crete town of Elounda. It was given its Italian name, “long thorn”, by the Venetians to describe its shape.
It is surreal strolling the fabulous fortress overlooking the gorgeous sea on one side of the island and the stark shore viewing Crete on the other. The small island's natural beauty and serenity charm the 21st century tourist. However, thoughts of the hellish history for 20th century lepers are never far from your mind.
VENETIAN FORTRESS - CHRISTIAN REFUGE
The Venetians built a fortress on Spinalonga in 1579 over the ruins of an ancient Oloun acropolis. They kept control of the island until 1715, when it was handed over to the Turkish Ottoman Empire by treaty. During the last years of Ottoman occupation, it served as a Christian refuge to escape the Turks.
EUROPE'S LAST LEPER COLONY
Unfortunately, Spinalonga was used as a leper colony from 1903-1957. It was a prison-like home for leper outcasts even after medical advances rendered isolation unnecessary. A Greek Orthodox priest was the last resident to leave the island in 1962. He dutifully stayed in order to preserve the church tradition of commemorating a buried person 40 days, six months, one year, three years and, finally, five years after his/her death.
There were two entrances to Spinalonga. This was due to the fact that the lepers were unaware what was going to happen to them once they arrived. They were tricked into entering the leper’s tunnel known as Dante’s Gate. Once inside, they were captured, imprisoned and isolated forever.
Today, the unoccupied island is one of the main tourist attractions in Crete. In addition to the abandoned leper colony and the well-preserved fortress, it is known for its barren, small pebble beaches. From the nearest to farthest distance away, you can reach Spinalonga from Plaka, Elounda or Agios Nikolaos (Ag Nik).
If you’re interested in more information on Spinalonga, I recommend reading Victor Zorba’s book, Island of the Damned or Victoria Hislop’s best-selling novel, The Island :-D
Part of the Crete, Greece (Elounda, Athens) - October 2005 travel blog
Part of the list My Two Cents On Some Places I've Visited
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