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The Eerie Beauty of the Former Leper Colony of Spinalonga, Crete

Spinalonga in Crete
Spinalonga in now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Crete. Public Domain

Stunning videos recently published by Crete’s CNA website perfectly depict the unique mystery and eerie beauty of the former leper Spinalonga islet.

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 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 after forty days, six months, one year, three years, and five years after death.

Spinalonga, Crete
Dilapidated houses on the road in the west of the island. Credit: Pumpel43 , CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia

There were two entrances to Spinalonga, one being the lepers’ entrance, a tunnel known as “Dante’s Gate.” This was so named because the patients did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived.

However, once on the island, they received food, water, medical attention, and social security payments. Previously, such amenities had been unavailable to Crete’s leprosy patients, as they mostly lived in the area’s caves away from civilization.

After the leper colony was dissolved, Spinalonga sank into oblivion; interest in it was revived by the work of people such as Maurice Born. Spinalonga was one of the last active leper colonies in Europe.

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.

The islet can very easily be accessed from Plaka, Elounda, and Agios Nikolaos, all of which offer luxurious tourist accommodations and facilities.

Heraklion: Discover the Capital of Crete

Heraklion, the capital of the Greek island of Crete, is an ancient city that perhaps is under-appreciated for its many attractions for the international traveler. From first-rate hotels with swimming pools and bars on roofs that look out over the city and the many villages around the ancient city, the Heraklion area has much to offer.

Perhaps best known for its stunning cathedrals, picturesque old towns, and first-class restaurants and boutiques, Crete is an island at the heart of Greece’s ancient history, and the place where the Minoan civilization flourished. It boasts traditions that go back into time immemorial.

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