Visit the island of Spinalonga in Crete, Greece

The island of Spinalonga: the most interesting facts from history

Spinalonga Island is a miniature piece of land located just 200 meters off the east coast of Crete in Greece. The area of the site is 0.085 km². The island is uninhabited. It is opposite the fishing village of Plaka, fringed by the waters of the picturesque Gulf of Mirabello. Today a visit to Spinalonga is very popular among tourists, and first of all the object attracts the attention of its ancient architectural structure – once a majestic fortress, which managed to be well preserved to this day. The island has a pretty interesting history, which will be interesting and useful to get acquainted with before visiting the object.

The Island of Spinalonga

Brief history

The first remarkable fact in the history of Spinalonga island is actually its origin. The fact is that originally the site was territorially part of Crete and was a peninsula. Once this place flourished the ancient city of Olus, which was completely destroyed in the 4th century as a result of a powerful earthquake. Even today, travelers can see large, centuries-old cracks in the coastal cliffs. Eventually, the elements separated the peninsula from Crete with a small bay.

The walls of the fort

Until the 9th century Crete belonged to the Greeks, but in 824 it was taken by the Arabs, who, however, were not destined to rule it for long. Already in 10th century the Byzantines recaptured the island and in honor of their victory over the Arab invaders they built the church of St. Phokas, which can still be seen today in Crete. In the 13th century, power over the island passed to the Crusaders who later sold the territory to the Republic of Venice.

Map of Spinalonga Island in 1583

In 1526 the Venetians decided to convert Spinalonga from a peninsula separated from the mainland by a narrow bay into a full island. The Italians erected an impregnable fortress on what was left of Olus, the main aim of which was to protect the port of Elounda from the frequent raids of pirates. History tells us that the Venetians remained in Crete until 1669, when the Ottoman Empire conquered the island. However, the Italians managed to hold Spinalonga thanks to the strong walls of the fort, which finally fell to the Turks only in 1715.

Ruins of buildings

For almost two centuries the Ottoman Empire ruled over Crete and Spinalonga. The island took a sharp turn only in 1898, when the inhabitants of Crete revolted against the Turks in anticipation of the Greek-Turkish War of Independence for Greece. But Spinalonga remained in the hands of the Ottomans, who took refuge within the walls of the fortress. Then the Greeks began collecting leprosy patients from all over the country and directing them to the fort. The Turks, who were afraid of being infected, left the island without thinking twice.

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Thus, from the beginning of the 20th century, within the walls of the fortress was starting to happen a completely different, full of tragedy history, which made Spinalonga famous as the island of the damned. We decided to tell more about this period in a separate item.

The Island of the Lepers

Leprach (or leprosy) is a chronic infectious disease that first struck Europe in the Middle Ages. There were no medicines against the disease at that time, and the only way to stop the spread of infection was to isolate the sick. For this purpose, special places, as far away as possible from the cities, were created, called leprosariums. In 1903, the Greeks chose the fortress on the island of Spinalonga as a treatment center for lepers. Ten years later, not only Greek, but also European patients were sent here for treatment.

The hospital building

Spinalonga, having become an island of lepers, did not bode well for the sick. The Greek authorities did not pay enough attention to the development of the hospital, so its inhabitants led a miserable existence waiting to die. But this story has a bright spot, named Remundakis. A young student, infected with leprosy, arrived on the island in 1936 and, thanks to his will and faith in his own strength, radically changed life in the leprosarium. Attracting the attention of various organizations to the hospital, the young man managed to establish and develop the infrastructure of the institution. Electricity appeared on the island, a theater and cinema, a cafe and a hairdresser’s, public events and holidays began to be held. Thus, over time, the patients regained a taste for life and faith in recovery.

Church of Saint Panteleimon

In the middle of the 20th century, scientists managed to find a cure for leprosy, and by 1957 Spinalonga had left its last patients. Those who were in an incurable stage of the disease were distributed among different hospitals in the country. This was the end of another phase in the history of Spinalonga Island in Crete. After this small piece of land, nobody needed it for two decades. Only at the end of the 20th century, it gradually began to attract the attention of tourists.

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Tourists on the restored street

Spinalonga these days

The real boom of visiting Spinalonga in Greece started after the publication of the book The Island (2005), the brainchild of the British writer Victoria Hislop. Five years later, a TV series based on the novel was filmed, which only fueled the interest of travelers in the place. Today Spinalonga is a popular attraction of Crete, which is visited primarily for a walk through the medieval fortress.

You can visit the island on your own or with a tour group. The first place to start visiting the site is the Archaeological Museum, located to the left of the pier. The fortress welcomes visitors with half-destroyed stairs, tunnels and churches. In addition to the ruins of the medieval structure, tourists can appreciate the spectacular views from the top of the structure. It will be interesting to walk around the island in a circle, leisurely observing its natural landscapes. Travelers who know the history of Spinalonga in advance will be able to step back in time and experience the island’s bleak past.

Ruins

After exploring the island, everyone has the option to linger at a local café near the pier. The restaurant serves traditional Cretan cuisine with salads, meats and various appetizers. There is also a picturesque beach in the southwest of Spinalonga, where you can enjoy the panoramic views of the eastern coast of Crete.

How to get to the island

You can reach Spinalonga in Crete by boat from three different points. The fastest and cheapest way to get to the island is from the nearby village of Plaka. Transport departs to the site every 15 minutes. The cost of the round trip is 10 €. Travel time is no more than 5-7 minutes.

The port of the village Plaka

You can also go to the island from the port of Elounda. During the summer boats go every 30 minutes. The round trip ticket costs 20 €. The trip takes about 20 minutes, so you can enjoy plenty of sea views. The parking lot at Elounda pier is free, but it is often crowded, so many people leave their cars in the paid parking lot for 2 €.

The port of Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos

You can also take a boat to the site from Agios Nikolaos. During the high season, the ship sails every hour. For the round trip you will pay 24 €. The trip takes up to 25 minutes.

Useful hints

Going to the island of Spinalonga in Greece, be sure to take into account tips from travelers who have already been there. Having studied the reviews of tourists, we noted among them the most sensible ones:

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Bottled Water

  1. Wear comfortable athletic shoes to visit the attraction, even in the heat. Inside the fortress, there are a lot of stones under your feet, so flip-flops or sandals are absolutely not suitable for the tour.
  2. It is worth considering that the weather on the island is always much hotter than on the coast of Crete. At the same time there is almost nowhere to hide from the sun. Therefore, it is important to worry about sunscreen, sunglasses and headgear. You’d better take a cap or headscarf, because Spinalong is very windy and wide-brimmed hats are an inconvenience.
  3. Be sure to stock up on bottled water.
  4. The cheapest way to visit the attraction is on your own. The cost of tours in travel agencies ranges from 40 to 60 €. In this case, the quality of the organization of tours often leaves much to be desired. In order for your walking tour to be as interesting as possible, find out about the history of the place beforehand.
  5. If you plan to explore Spinalonga island thoroughly, see all the corners of the fortress and have a rest at a local cafe, we recommend to give at least 3 hours for the tour.

Author: Ekaterina Unal

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Greece, Crete, Spinalonga – reviews

Greetings, dear ones. I can not avoid the topic of my vacation in Crete and those places that scratched my childhood heart. The island of Spinalonga is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, but with its huge unique history.

Julia_Dev avatar

In the fall of 2019 we vacationed in Greece on the island of Crete .Excursion to the island of Spinalonga or the island of the damned, like the excursion to Santorini, we took almost immediately upon arrival . It cost about 80 or 90 euros, this price included lunch.

kati-kitty avatar

Greetings to all who came by. Crete is my disease. It’s my happiness and my bitterness. I had to be born there. Only there my soul comes alive, only there do I feel that I take everything from this life to the max. I realized this three years ago.

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Miss_etc avatar

Hello everyone Today I’m going to tell you about a not very standard place I’ve been to, an island that used to be a refuge for leprosy patients, Spinalonga.

During the trip to Crete, it was decided to spend part of the vacation lying on the beach and the other part on sightseeing. One of those was a trip to Spinalonga. We bought a tour, which included a visit to the island.

Dorian_Gray avatar

I think that most tourists when traveling to Greece have some kind of a rough plan of what he wants to do, buy or visit. But unfortunately, many tourists in this plan completely do not include a visit to any historical sites, and are limited to beaches and bars nearby and trips to…

Julia1206 avatar

Planning a trip to Crete, I definitely wanted to visit the island of lepers – Spinalonga. Especially after reading Victoria Hislop’s book The Island. And I wanted not to take a tour, but to do it myself, as in the book: stopping in the town of Agios Nikolaos, then to Elounda, and then from the little village of Plaka, where lived…

Vasilisa_Krasnoslovskaya avatar

о. Spinalonga The main place of our stay in Greece a couple of years ago was Miramare Resort & Spa, located in the small, insanely cozy coastal town of Agios Nikolaos on Crete.

CW avatar

Today I will tell you about the excursion to Spinalonga, where we went from Kokkini Hani. The price of the excursion in May 2018 was 59 euros for an adult and 32 euros for a child 5 years.We took the excursion from Pegas Touristik, so that our travel insurance was valid.

Mariyamaria2222 avatar

We were in Greece, on the Aegean Sea, and we decided to visit the island Spinalonga. Excursion chosen in our tour operator Pegas tourist. The cost for 1 person 65 euros + 8 euros for the entrance to the island. The excursion starts at 8 am, and finishes at about 18.00.

Belucci_Dashik. avatar

Hello again! I am finally ripe to write my impressions of one of the most memorable excursions that I had to be on.In 2015, my friends and I vacationed on the Greek island of Crete.

I vacationed in September 2019 in Crete, in the cozy town of Elounda. In advance I got acquainted with the excursions offered in Crete. Of course, the most common in southern Crete is an excursion to the infamous island of Spinalonga, which served for decades as a leprosarium.

The mysterious Spinalonga Spinalonga is itself a Venetian fortress with fortification buildings: chapels, houses, hospitals. After the independence of Greece, the island was for a long time under the control of the Turks.

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Aeroplane avatar

Good day to all readers of my review! In one of my previous reviews, I told about a vacation on the island of Crete – irecommend.rucontents-nego-nachalos-moe- . One of the popular sea excursions from the island is an excursion to the island of Spinalonga, its other name is Kalidon.

bestideas avatar

The Gorge of the Winds or the Gorge of Flapping Sails in Crete is a place worth seeing when visiting the peninsula. Everyone takes away unforgettable memories.

Good day, everyone! Today I will share my memories of a wonderful place in Crete: Kourtaliotos Gorge. This place has several names, all of which are beloved by tourists.

elena_1962_3 avatar

Preveli Monastery. An interesting tour. A miraculous cross, a holy spring, a mini zoo and a view of the Libyan Sea.

Hello everyone! My review of Preveli Monastery which we visited on a sightseeing trip to the south coast of Crete. This Monastery stands on the hillside and from its square there is a beautiful view of the Libyan Sea.

Julia1206 avatar

We stayed in Crete for 9 days and rented a car. My review about it here . I was planning to take a tour to Balos, because to go to Crete and not get to the most beautiful beach in Europe, the confluence of 3 seas, to see 17 shades of water, pink sand.

Kristina_Kash avatar

That’s how you live, believe in the Minotaur ☺ And then you come to the Palace of Knossos and your childish psyche is broken, revealing the secrets of antiquity! :) Which I want to share with you, as well as impressions of the tour as a whole ♥ (+ very many photos)

I am glad to see you in my review! I just recently returned from Crete and now decided to share my impressions of my vacation, and Knossos Palace in particular.

Irinka_Iris1006 avatar

Do you love Greece? Going to Crete?! Crete is a beautiful Orthodox Greek island! I recommend Bali Bay, for those who like to swim with turtles and don’t really like winds and waves, as Crete is well blown from all sides! An excursion to Santorini!

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