The island of the tears and the island of the leppers are some of the characterizations of the beautiful and historical Spinaloga.
Spinaloga is in the north of the Elounta bay, in the Mirampello Province. It was fortified due to its strategic position and had different roles and uses in the years and that created a long history and awe.
Its area is 85 acres and its height about 50 meters.
In order to visit the archaeological site of Spinaloga, you should take a small boat from Agios Nikolaos, Elounta or Plaka. The boats from Agios Nikolaos depart every morning in the summer and, apart from Spinaloga, they also visit the Kolokitha peninsula and return in the afternoon. In the summer, the departures from Elounta and Plaka are more frequent.
Thousands of tourists visit Spinaloga every year in order to see the desolated and suffering place.
You may witness its revival by walking in its tiled streets and meet a Venetian worker of the fortification or a chainis that found shelter in the island or a leper….
The ancient name of the island was “Kalidon”. In the ancient times it was fortified as it protected the entrance of the port of the ancient Olous city. The area was desolated in the 7th century due to the Arabic attacks in the Mediterranean and was inhabited again by the Venetians in the middle of the 15th century.
Vitsentzo Koronelli, the Venetian cartographer, supported that Spinaloga was not always an island but naturally united with the Kolokitha peninsula. He also mentioned that, in 1526, the Venetians destroyed a part of the peninsula and created the island.
When the Venetians took over the island, they called it “spina lunga” that means long thorn. They began its fortification in 1574 in the fear of the Turkish invasion. They also fortified Spinaloga in order to protect the salt pans of Elounta and their ships (that transferred the salt) from the pirates. The Venetians were actually responsible for the today’s building and architecture of the area. After the occupation of Crete by the Turks, in 1649, Spinaloga stayed under the Venetians’ control for 65 years, until 1715.
The Cretan rebels, “Chainides”, found shelter in Spinaloga. That irritated the Turks and so they prohibited the inhabitance of Spinaloga and the larger area.
In the beginning of 1905, the Cretan government took the lepers of the whole Crete to Spinaloga and, later, the lepers of the whole Greece.
The patients were left there and no one cared about their health and medicine. So they worked alone and managed to organize a decent society, with a hospital, a school and everything that was necessary for them.
When the Germans took over Greece, they evacuated the area of Plaka and fortified it with pillboxes, underground hatches and minefields in the fear of an English landing. The Germans never tried to enter in Spinaloga although they supplied it and so a pirate radio station based in Spinaloga started to transmit the news from London and Cairo.
The leper house closed in 1957 when the treatment of the disease was found.
The island was not used until 1970 when it was declared as a protected archaeological site. Then its restoration began and the leper house was demolished.