Nominated by Greece’s Culture Ministry for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the amazing island of Spinalonga is one of those picturesque Cretan treasures shrouded in mystery.
The site of an impressive sixteenth-century Venetian fortress, Spinalonga was a leper colony in the early 20th century, up until 1957. The fortress, the second most visited archaeological site behind the Palace at Knossos, is a site to behold sitting in the Gulf of Elounda on the northeastern coast above postcard perfect Agios Nikolaos. Situated right across from the town of Plaka, the islet was once known as Kalydon.
Renowned for its perfect pebble beaches, spectacular views, and crystal aquamarine seas, the island was once connected to the mainland of Crete. Separated by the Venetians in the 15th or 16th century, the whole islet ended up as a fairly impregnable fortress. Built to withstand the Turkish threat after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the fort was also intended to thwart almost continuous pirate raids.
Transformed into a leper colony in 1906 owing to its separation from the mainland, one of the last in Europe. In the 50s, when a cure for leprosy was discovered, most of the patients recovered and left the island. The final inhabitant, a priest, left the island in way back in 1962. Today, if you walk around Spinalonga’s ruined buildings, which were once home to lepers, you’ll certainly gain a sense of the isolation those people must have felt when they lived here.
The islet can very easily be accessed from Plaka, Elounda and Agios Nikolaos, all of which offer luxurious tourist accommodations and facilities.