Spinalonga can be found on the northern part of the Kolokitha peninsula and its close proximity to Elounda makes it a safe harbour for the area. Currently, the Island has no inhabitants but, it is an excellent spot for exploration and boat trips from Plaka, Elounda or from Agios Nikolaos. However, the irresistible beauty of the landscape and the crystal clear beaches are not the driving forces that make people want to visit Spinalonga, as everyone seeks to discover and unfold its history.


The Island can be found at a strategic position and due to its location it forms a safe harbour for the passing-by ships. For that reason, a large defensive fortress was constructed there by the Venetians, which stands there until today. In fact, the Island’s name is Italian as Spina-longa means long spine. The defensive fortress remained under the hands of the Venetians for approximately 40 years. That was the moment when the Ottoman Empire conquered and finally gained the Island of Crete. The fortress remained under Ottoman rule for up until 1715 when Green was officially independent. The people who were living on the Island remained there and according to the official data, the last Turkish people left the Island during the beginning of the 1900’s. However, the Island of Spinalonga was about the play another major role in the next years of history. That role was the most important of all and remained famous up until today.

Spinalonga Island Crete

The Island’s dark history

The Island has some picturesque beaches with crystal clear water that are protected from the wind. However, the last decade Spinalonga became a tourist attraction due to its rich and mysterious history. Less than 60 years ago, the Island was a destination where people that were suffering from leprosy, were sent there to die isolated. In fact, Spinalonga was one of Europe’s last surviving leprosy colonies.

During that period, when a person was diagnosed was immediately sent there in an effort to get isolated from the healthy population, as back then, there was no cure for the disease. In accordance, the government was seizing the people’s property and money. Therefore, Spinalonga was their new home where they had to spend the rest of their lives away from their families and their community. The inhabitants of Spinalonga were never treated for their disease. In fact, a doctor was visiting the Island when one of the patients was experiencing a different disease, other than leprosy.

Dante’s Gate

The development of Spinalonga as a colony for the leper patients, started during the 1903 and the Island’s dark history lasted until 1957. The colony was gradually transformed into a community as people keep on sent into exile there. The community of the leper colony included cafeterias, schools and churches. In 1962, a priest was sent to the Island of Spinalonga in order to continue and maintain the Greek Orthodox Church. The priest was in a way enhancing the religious spirit and the courage of the patients by providing teachings.

An interesting highlight of the leper colony was the way by which people were entering. Spinalonga has two main entrances; the one was used only by the healthy people who were visiting the Island while the other was used by the affected ones. More precisely, the entrance that was used by the patients was named as Dante’s Gate. The name was a direct reference to Hell in respect to the infamous masterpiece of Dante’s. The entrance took its name as the people who were sent there, had no idea of what to expect once they enter the colony.

Spinalonga Island Crete

Abandonment of the colony

Once the affected people were entering the Dante’s Gate, they were given food, water and a place inside the Venetian Fortress to live. The people living there developed strong bonds between them and they were helping one another as they had limited external support, either from Crete or from the Government. As the years were passing, the support went from limited to almost zero and the patients were suffering. In 1957, a team of British experts visited the colony of Spinalonga and made an official report of the situation that was taken place there. The report was the driving force for the Government to close the leper colony forever, as it was held responsible for the medical gaps and the low living standards of the people there.

Since 1957, when Spinalonga was not forming an official exile Island, the availability of information was limited, as the Government tried to destroy all the evidences by burning them. In accordance, any survivors of Spinalonga were strongly refusing to discuss about their experiences and the conditions of the Island. From 1957 up until 2006, Spinalonga never existed. In 2006, a book that unfolded Spinalonga’s history made the Island famous around the world.

A charming journey

Today, the Island of Spinalonga is a famous attraction about the visitors of Crete. The mysterious atmosphere of the Island immediately immerses visitors into an impeccable journey in history, like no other. Today, visitors can explore and observe the fortress that was hosting the leper community. In addition, visitors can walk around the narrow streets and enjoy spectacular sunsets. Spinalonga has a hidden charm as it combines an impeccable setting with a dark history.