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GreekReporter.comGreek NewsFormer Leper Colony of Spinalonga, Crete Gets a Makeover

Former Leper Colony of Spinalonga, Crete Gets a Makeover

Spinalonga Crete
The islet of Spinalonga will get a makeover. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

The former leper colony of Spinalonga just off the coast of Crete is being restored to create exhibition spaces, the Greek Culture Ministry announced recently.

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.

Spinalonga is also connected to Crete’s power grid which would allow constant electricity supply. The work is expected to be finalized later in March.

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.

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.

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, 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.

Spinalonga became famous worldwide following the publication of the novel “The Island” by British writer Victoria Hislop which won several awards including Newcomer of the Year at the 2007 British Book Awards. Mega Channel Greece produced a 26-episode television series called To Nisi (The Island), based on the book; the series premiered on 11 October 2010.

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.

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