Tourist’s guide to Spinalonga Island and its most interesting historical facts

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

Spinalonga Island

Short story

The first remarkable fact in the history of the island of Spinalonga is, in fact, its origin. The fact is that initially the object was territorially part of Crete and was a peninsula. Once upon a time, the ancient city of Olus flourished, which completely collapsed in the 4th century as a result of a powerful earthquake. Even today, travelers can observe large centuries-old cracks on the coastal cliffs. As a result, the elements separated the peninsula from Crete by a small bay.

Fort walls

Crete belonged to the Greeks until the 9th century, but in 824 it was captured by the Arabs, who, however, were not destined to rule them for long. Already in the 10th century, the Byzantines conquered the island, where in honor of the victory over the Arab aggressors built the church of St. Foki, which today can be seen in Crete. In the 13th century, power over the island passed to the crusaders, who later sold these territories to the Venetian Republic.

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Map of Spinalonga Island in 1583

In 1526, the Venetians decided to transform Spinalonga from a peninsula, separated from the mainland by a narrow bay, into a full-fledged island. And on the site of the ruins left from Olus, the Italians erected an impregnable fortress, the main purpose of which was to protect the port of Elounda from frequent raids by pirates. It is known from history that the Venetians dominated Crete until 1669, when the Ottoman Empire entered the arena and captured the island. However, the Italians managed to keep Spinalonga thanks to the strong walls of the fort, which finally fell under the onslaught of the Turks only in 1715.

Ruins of buildings

For almost two centuries, the Ottoman Empire dominated Crete and the island of Spinalonga. There was a sharp turn in history only in 1898, when the inhabitants of Crete staged an uprising against the Turks on the eve of the Greek-Turkish war for the independence of Greece. But Spinalonga remained in the hands of the Ottomans, hiding in the walls of the fortress. Then the Greeks began to collect leprosy patients all over the country and send them to the fort. Frightened by the infection of the Turks, without thinking twice, they left the island.

So, from the beginning of the 20th century, a completely different story full of tragedy began to take shape within the walls of the fortress, glorifying Spinalonga as the island of the damned. We decided to tell more about this period in a separate paragraph.

Leper Island

Leprosy (or leprosy) is a chronic infectious disease that first hit Europe in the Middle Ages. There was no cure for the disease at that time, and the only way to stop the spread of infection was to isolate the patients. For this purpose, special places were created, as far away as possible from cities, called leprosoria. In 1903, the Greeks chose a fortress on the island of Spinalonga as a hospital for lepers. After 10 years, not only patients from Greece were sent here for treatment, but also from Europe.

Hospital building

Spinalonga, becoming an island of lepers, did not promise recovery to the sick. The Greek authorities did not pay enough attention to the development of the hospital, so its inhabitants eked out a miserable existence in anticipation of death. But this story also has a bright spot, whose name is 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 his life in the leper colony. 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 a cinema, a cafe and a hairdresser opened, social events and holidays began to be held. So, over time, the taste for life and faith in recovery returned to patients.

Church of St. Panteleimon

In the mid-20th century, scientists managed to find a cure for leprosy, and by 1957, Spinalong was left by her last patients. Those who were at an incurable stage of the disease were assigned to different hospitals in the country. This ended another stage in the history of the island of Spinalonga in Crete. After a small piece of sushi remained useless for two decades. And only at the end of the 20th century, he gradually began to attract the attention of tourists.

Tourists on a restored street

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Spinalonga these days

The book "Island"

A real boom in visiting the island of Spinalonga in Greece broke out after the publication of the book “Island” (2005) – the brainchild of British writer Victoria Hislop. After 5 years, a series was shot based on the novel, which only fueled the interest of travelers to the place. Today, Spinalonga is a popular attraction of Crete, which is visited primarily for a walk around the medieval fortress.

You can go to the island on your own by boat or as part of an excursion group. It is best to start your acquaintance with the attraction from the Archaeological Museum, located to the left of the pier. The fortress welcomes visitors with dilapidated stairs, tunnels and churches. In addition to the ruins of a medieval building, tourists will be able to appreciate the breathtaking views from the top platform of the building. It will be interesting to go around the island in a circle, slowly observing its natural landscapes. And travelers who have familiarized themselves with the history of Spinalonga in advance will be able to mentally go back several decades ago and penetrate the gloomy past of the area.

Ruins of buildings

After exploring the island, everyone has the opportunity to linger in a local cafe located near the pier. The restaurant serves traditional Cretan cuisine with salads, meats and various snacks. Also in the south-west of Spinalonga lies a picturesque beach, where it is interesting to admire the panoramas on the east coast of Crete.

Local cafe
  • Opening hours: Monday and Tuesday – from 09:00 to 17:00, from Wednesday to Sunday – from 08:00 to 19:00.
  • Entrance fee: 8 €.

How to get to the island

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

Port of Plaka Village

It is also possible to go to the island from the port of Elounda. In the summer, boats run every 30 minutes. Round-trip ticket price is 20 €. The trip takes about 20 minutes, which allows you to enjoy plenty of sea views. There is free parking at Elounda’s pier, but it is often crowded, so many leave their cars in a paid parking lot for 2 €.

Port of Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos

You can sail to the object from the city of Agios Nikolaos. In high season, transport departs every hour. Round trip you will pay 24 €. The ride takes up to 25 minutes.

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Useful Tips

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

Excursion to the island of Spinalonga in Greece
  1. Wear comfortable athletic shoes to visit the sights, even in hot weather. Inside the fortress, many stones come under your feet, so flip flops or sandals are completely unsuitable for excursions.
  2. It is worth considering that on the island the weather is always perceived much hotter than on the coast of Crete. At the same time, there is practically nowhere to hide from the sun. Therefore, it is important to worry about sunscreen, glasses and headgear in advance. It is best to take a cap or scarf, as it is very windy on Spinalonga, and wide-brimmed hats will only bring inconvenience.
  3. Bottled water
  4. Be sure to stock up with bottled water.
  5. The cheapest thing is to visit the attraction on your own. The cost of excursions at travel agencies ranges from 40 to 60 €. Moreover, often the quality of the organization of tours leaves much to be desired. To make your independent walk as interesting as possible, read the history of the property in advance.
  6. If you plan to thoroughly explore the island of Spinalonga, explore all corners of the fortress and stop to relax in a local cafe, we recommend that you allocate at least 3 hours for the tour.

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