Greece is so rich in interesting destinations that a short holiday is never enough to discover even a fraction of them.
During our stay in Crete, the wish list was very long, but Spinalonga was a “must”. This actually had a very trivial reason. I had read a novel of Victoria Hislop shortly before the trip, and it completely captured my imagination. The “Island of the Forgotten” is set in the leper colony just off the coast of Crete and I was curious about the small island that is within sight of the coastline of Crete.
Leprosy is an infectious disease that can be transmitted by direct and indirect contact. To this day, the disease still causes fear and fright and the sufferers are still isolated but today treated with medication. More than 100 years ago there was no such possibility. The Free State of Crete, therefore, decided to build a leper colony on the island of Spinalonga in 1903. The formally unused fortress on this island then became a place for sickness, despair, and the desire for healing. In the true sense of the word, the government collected all those suffering from leprosy on the main island and brought them over to the small island.
That caused big problems on the island at first. Water and food had to be transported over from the inland of the main island and also no doctor set food on the leper colony for the first four years. But gradually the inhabitants began to feel at home on the island. Houses were renovated, they tinkered with a self-sufficient water supply, gardens were built and livestock was kept. Even small shops were opened by the residents and tavernas with entertainment program started to appear. In the middle of the 1930s, it became possible to build up a generator driven power supply on the island. In 1954 it was decided to abolish the Leper Colony. The last 30 patients were taken to a hospital in Athens.
Today, tourist boats carry countless visitors to the island every day. I really enjoyed the stay on the island. Everywhere I discovered something that I had read before in the novel.
Especially the passage through the archway to the city, from where healthy family members had a last look on their sick relatives before they disappeared in the colony, gave me chills. Some of the residential buildings of the former inhabitants still look as if someone is about to open the door.
Clearly, time has left its mark on Spinalonga, but it is still possible to imagine the conditions under which those with leprosy lived here. For me one of the most impressive places and one that touched me emotionally.
Access to Spinalonga
There are ferries and small fishing boats from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka. Prices vary according to the departure place and the provider. One should also pay attention to the length of stay on the island offered.