The former leper colony of Spinalonga just off the coast of Crete will be restored in order to create exhibition spaces, the Greek Culture Ministry announced.
The restoration of the buildings of the Leprosy Hospital is part of the ministry’s promotion and protection of the Venetian fortress.
“Spinalonga was an extremely important fortress complex of the Venetian period, but also a place charged with sad memories from the period when the island served as a leprosarium,” said Culture Ministry Lina Mendoni.
She noted how the Venetians transformed a barren rock into a strong fortress, and the Muslims transformed it into a significant commercial hub, while the patients of the Leprosy Hospital created a supportive community.
The tiny islet of Spinalonga, or Kalydon, as it is officially known, is located in the famous Gulf of Elounda off northeastern Crete in the region of Lasithi, next to the town of Plaka.
Originally connected to the mainland of Crete, Spinalonga was separated from the rest of Crete by the Venetians, probably in the 15th or 16th century. The entire island was then turned into a fort, as stout walls were built all around the islet.
Crete’s Spinalonga used as a leper colony
The most famous and tragic aspect of its history, however, began in the year 1903, when Spinalonga was used as a leper colony because of its isolation from the mainland.
One of Europe’s last leper colonies, it ceased operation only in 1957. The last inhabitant, a priest, did not leave the island until 1962, in order to maintain the Greek Orthodox tradition of commemorating a buried person forty days, six months, one year, three years, and five years after their death.
Today, the uninhabited islet, which has docking facilities and beaches, is one of Crete’s most popular tourist attractions. In addition to the abandoned leper colony and the fortress, Spinalonga is known for its small pebble beaches and shallow waters.