At the northern entrance of Elounda Bay, at a key-position for the control of the natural harbour, is located the islet of Spinalonga, with an area of 8,5 ha and an altitude of 53 m. The island was fortified in the antiquity, possibly in the Hellenistic period, with a large enclosure.
On the ruins of the ancient castle the Venetians built a strong fortress, which was designed according to the bastion fortification system by Genese Bressani and Latino Orsini. The first construction stage of the fortress lasted from 1579 to 1586. Repairs and alterations to the fortress were also made during the Cretan War (1645-1669). During the Venetian rule the fortress was used for military purposes. The buildings in its interior covered the accommodation needs of the guard. During the Cretan war (1645-1669) Spinalonga offered shelter to refugees and rebels, who harassed the Turks, using the islet as their base. Their action lasted as long as the fortress was occupied by the Venetians. According to the treaty of the surrender of the “Khandax” in 1669, Spinalonga remained under the rule of Venice.
After the island was occupied by the Ottomans in 1715, a purely Ottoman settlement was gradually formed in Spinalonga. During the first two centuries of the Ottoman rule the fortress was marginalised and used as a place of exile and isolation. The situation changed, however, at the end of the 19th century. Its role was upgraded as it obtained an export trade permit. In the middle of the 19th century a large number of inhabitants concentrated on the islet, mostly tradesmen and seamen, who exploited the seaways of the eastern Mediterranean and the advantage of a safe fortified settlement.
The life of this settlement was soon interrupted abruptly due to the political developments that took place in Crete during the last years of the 19th century. Most of the inhabitants of Spinalonga were forced to emigrate, as the revolutionary activity of the Christians spread insecurity among the Ottomans of Crete. From 1897 French military forces settled on the island and stayed there for about one year. The Cretan State established the isolation of the lepers in 1903 and decided to create a leper hospital in Spinalonga, in order for coordinated help to be available to Hansen patients. The hard life of the patients, who lived on the island until 1957, marked the area as a place of martyrdom and heartbreaking memories. (Author: Georgia Moschovi, archeologist)