A trip to Spinalonga is definitely worth doing. Spinalonga is officially known as Kalydon and is a tiny island off the coast of Crete. It is just 0.085km2. The island was originally part of Crete itself, however during the Venetian occupation the area was carved out to create a small island fortress to defend the salt-pans in Elounda Bay, Crete. Venetians were selling salt in the Mediterranean, that’s why the salt-pans at Olous (Elounda) should be protected. In those days of course, piracy made commerce unsafe and it was apparent in the 16th century that the Ottoman Turks were turning their gaze ever westwards. This, in combination with the emergent Turkish threat, particularly after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 and after the loss of the Venetian salt-pans on Cyprus by the Ottomans, forced the Venetians to fortify better the island.
The new fortress of Spinalonga was built in 1579. In 1630 it had 35 cannon, essentially meaning that it had been turned into an island fortress with great firepower. This explains why it was never conquered by an enemy. Venice managed to hang onto Spinalonga even after the fall of Heraklion to the Turks in 1669, keeping it in its possession, along with Gramvoussa and Souda, until 1715, in the hope of retaking Crete. Spinalonga was finally ceded to the Ottoman Turks in 1715 until 1903, when the island followed a slightly sadder route when it became a leper colony. Spinalonga was a leper colony till 1957. In 1952 Spinalonga was renamed “Kalydon”, which had been the island’s name throughout antiquity.
Although modern maps now list the small islet by its official name, the locals have never ceased to think of it as “Spinalonga”. After the leper colony closed in 1957, the Greek Government explored the possibility of using the islet for other purposes. Newspaper articles from that time report that the Government was considering establishing a public psychiatric hospital there, but these discussions were soon dropped.
After the leper colony closed, residents of the Gulf of Mirabello had to endure several difficult years. The construction of new roads, however, helped them adjust to the new reality. And over time, the unique beauty of the Gulf, in combination with the growth of tourism, established the area as one of the most attractive destinations in Greece. Its natural beauty caught the eye of major businessmen from Crete and elsewhere in Greece, and it wasn’t long before luxury hotels started appearing along the coast, feeding a cycle of growth.
Today, the Gulf of Mirabello, Elounda, Plaka and Agios Nikolaos together welcome thousands of visitors each year from all over the world. Nowadays, this beautiful and historic monument, its pending inclusion in the UNESCO catalogue of International Heritage.
See more rare articles, archives, photos & the detailed history of Spinalonga at https://spinalongacrete.com/
Anna Giakoumaki is the author of the best-selling nonfiction book "Spinalonga - the True Story. Spinalonga reveals the hidden truth behind the island of Spinalonga, as recorded in historical archives and as narrated by those who lived it. To know more, visit https://spinalongacrete.com/