The well known Spinalonga Island is one of the most popular historical attractions in Crete. It is situated opposite of Plaka village and very close to Elounda village. The famous awarded English author Victoria Hislop, made the island widely known through her best seller novel called ”The Island”, which was followed by a Greek TV series program. Moreover, Spinalonga is protected by UNESCO, as it has been added in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage.
How to visit Spinalonga
There are several ways to visit the island. First of all, from the beautiful port of Plaka, which is opposite the island, you can take one of the small boats transporting visitors to Spinalonga, that costs 8euro (2017 rate). Also, you can reach the island by taking the boat from Elounda port, which will cost 10euro (2017 rate). In addition, you can take the boat from Agios Nikolaos, which will cost you 18euro (2017 rate), as the distance is longer.
The standard fee entrance in the island is 8 euro. Over 65 years old you can get 50% discount in your entrance fee and for students and children the entrance is free.
Additionally, you can visit the island and enjoy a whole tour experience by purchasing one of several excursion packages, that are available through travel agencies. For example, a package can include your transfer to the island by bus (starting from your hotel), a visit to Kolokytha bay for swimming and BBQ on the beach. Kolokytha is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Crete.
Spinalonga was not always an island; according to history, the Venetians ‘created’ the island, in order to have one of the most significant defensive sea fortresses in the Mediterranean. Their main purpose was to protect their trade from pirates; they say, that even the famous Barbarossa pirate didn’t manage to defeat the fort! The Venetians, however, kept control of the island until the Ottoman Empire took possession of it in 1715. When the Ottoman occupation of Crete came to an end, the island became a refuge for thousands of Ottoman families, who formed their own community there during the 19th century.
After Crete gained its independence, the Turks had to leave the Island of Crete. But because the Turks, who were living in Spinalonga were reluctant to leave, the Greek government turned the island into a leper colony, in order to scare away the remaining Turks. As a result, from 1903 until 1957 Spinalonga Island became a leper colony. People from Crete and other parts of Greece suffering from leprosy were forced to live on the island. Despite of the difficulties, these people managed to develop a society with its own rules and values in Spinalonga.
At that time, Leprosy was one of the most feared diseases, as it was contagious and caused deformities affecting the face and limbs. But the truth is that it could take years for visible signs to manifest themselves. Leprosy is considered to be an ancient disease, but although curable, is still prevalent today, especially in the regions of India and Africa. The signs of the disease are usually very mild symptoms, that are almost undetectable, such as slight changes of pigmentation on the skin. This notion started changing after the 19th century, when was discovered, that leprosy -like any other disease – is caused by a bacteria.
In 1957, the last patient of Spinalonga left; the island was abandoned for many years, as the locals wanted to forget… In 1970, the island was declared as a protected archaeological site and maintenance works begun.
On the Island
Spinalonga is a small arid and barren rocky island of 85 acres. For many years the reference to the name of the island was taboo, as it was connected with the leprosy.
Visiting the island: it takes about 1 hour to make the tour of the island on foot. While walking on the island, you will see the remains of the wonderful civilization that the residents had developed.
Spinalonga is the third most visited archaeological site in Greece after Acropolis and Knossos, with thousands of visitors from around the world. A MUST SEE world heritage site during your holidays on Crete!