Right across from our hotel was an interesting looking island.
It’s original name was Greek and derived from language meaning to protect the ancient port of Olous (present day Elounda). However, the island had quite a history after this origin.
First, it was occupied by the Venetians (of Venice). They renamed it Spinalonga for “long thorn”. It is said that until the Venetian rule, this island was actually part of Crete, but they carved it to be a free-standing island. They used it in farming and selling salt. However, they soon had to build fortifications as of the threat of pirate invasions as well as take-over by the nearby Turks, based on their profits in salt-mining. The Fall of Constantinople (Istanbul today) hurried their development.
They built dual fortifications – both on the basin, and up above. Having these enabled the island to become one of the most powerful defenses of this side of Crete.
Even during the Cretean war, when the Turks tookover the whole of Crete, the island remained a Venetian stronghold. Our driver from the airport commented, “imagine some people lived their whole lives out there in isolation, during that period”.
Spinalonga fell to the Turks in 1715. Ironically, because it was so hard to take over, it was the Turks last footing when the Christian Cretans overtook them.
In 1903, Spinalonga became a leper colony for Crete. When Crete joined Greece, it grew into a leper colony for the entire Greek population. They worked, married and had children, while isolated on this little island. In 1957 it was dispanded and has been abandoned ever since.
The author Victoria Hislop wrote a story about Spinalonga, entitled “The Island”. I plan to read it to get a greater context for the history.
A few tips if you plan to visit:
-It was only a 5 minute boat ride from our hotel, The Blue Palace, via private boat where you can indicate when you wanted to come back. You can also get tours from Plaka, Elounda or Ag Nik with the closer being the least expensive.
-We went the latest possible time in the day to avoid the heat and the crowds, as Spinalonga is the #2 tourist visited spot in Crete.
-Bring water and lots of it. We had severe dehydration from climbing and not a place to purchase water on the island.
-You can swim if you want. So bring your suit.
-Also, Spinalonga is incredibly windy. Dress accordingly. We thought Le Mistral was bad, but look at the effects on this tree:
A few other note-worthy islands we adore:
Burano: Bella Burano, Mediocre Murano
Capri: Oh, Amalfi.
Phuket & James Bond Island: Christmas in Phuket