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At first glance

A place of historical importance and particular beauty, the islet of Spinalonga, just 85 acres in size, is located at the northern entrance of Elounda bay, in a key position for the control of its natural harbour. An important Venetian fortress, a refuge for revolutionaries during the Cretan War, an Ottoman settlement during the Turkish occupation and a leprosarium from the early to mid 20th century, it was the setting for the novel «TheIsland» by British author Victoria Hislop, which has been translated into 35 languages and has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide.

Places to visit

Spinalonga was fortified in antiquity, probably during the Hellenistic period, and on the ruins of the ancient castle, the Venetians built a strong fortress, designed according to the fortification practice of the bastion system by GeneseBressani and LatinoOrsini. The first phase of the construction lasted from 1579 to 1586. It was built using local hard limestone and soft sandstone, quarried from the eastern side of the island and from the adjacent peninsula. Repairs and alterations to the fortress were made before and during the Cretan War (1645 to 1669).

 

The fortification of the island consists of two zones. The first follows the contour of the coasts, whereas the second one is founded on the rocks of the ridge. Two transverse wall sections, one to the southwest and the other to the northeast of the islet, link the two zones. At strategic points of the fortification are the Michel crescent and the Moceniga or Barbariga crescent, both very important works of fortification architecture.

During the Venetian period, the fortress was used for military purposes. The premiseswere used to cover the needs of the garrison. During the Cretan War (1645 to 1669), refugees and revolutionaries (the so-called Chainides) took refuge in Spinalonga, using the island as a base to harass the Turks. Since the Venetian period, the vaulted tanks, the garrison building, the triple building and the powder magazine, situated next to the church of Agios Nikolaos which predates the fortress, are preserved. During the period of the Cretan War, the churches of Agios Panteleimon and Agios Georgios were built.

Crete fell to the hands of the Turks in 1669 but Spinalonga remained the property of Venice until 1715, when it was occupied by the Turks and gradually became a purely Ottoman settlement.

Initially, the fortress was marginalised and used as a place of exile and isolation but in the late 18th century, the role of the port was upgraded, as it was licensed for export trade. Thus, in the mid 19th century, a large number of inhabitants – the majority of whom were merchants and sailors – gathered in Spinalonga, taking advantage of the security of the fortified settlement to exploit the trade routes of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The lifespan of the settlement was abruptly cut shortduring the last years of the 19th century, as the revolutionary activity of the Christians forced the majority of the Ottoman inhabitants of Spinalonga to emigrate. In 1897, French military forces settled on the island.

In 1903, the Cretan State decided to establish a leprosarium in Spinalonga in order to provide more coordinated assistance to those suffering from leprosy. The harsh living conditions of the people who stayed on the island until 1957, brandedSpinalonga as a place of martyrdom and would forever evoke strongemotions for all time.

Not to be missed

A tour of the fortress and the castle town of Spinalonga – both of which are preserved to this day in very good condition – is a unique experience, offering powerful visuals and sensations to the visitor. The island itself is considered as one of the most important sea forts in the Mediterranean. It is worth exploring the traditional settlement in the centre of the islet, with its ruined houses, the theatre on the north coast, the small Venetian church of Agios Georgios and the cemetery with a plaque with the names of those buried on the site – the last inhabitant of the island was a priest who remained in Spinalonga until 1962, carrying out the mission to «commemorate» those who died from Hansen’s disease.

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More Information

  • Accessible for people with special needs: YES
  • Location: Spinaloga
  • Telephone: +30 2810 288394
  • Operation Hours: 09:00-19:00, Daily
  • Ticket Price (€): 2
  • Reduced Ticket Price (€): 1

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