History Spinalonga

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History of Spinalonga

Spinalonga is a dry rock of 850 metres perimeter and situated between the Golf of Mirabello and Elounda on the island of Crete in Greece.

The history started in the ninth century, when the Saracens (Arabs) conquered Crete for a period of 138 years. Historical evidences are for instance, that during this occupation the island was a save refuge for the Christians of Crete and at that time the Christians build a small fortress for their safety here.

In 1204 the Venetians occupied Crete until 1715. They build several fortresses around the island of Crete in fear of attacks from the sea. The fortress of Spinalonga was built in 1538, when the Turkish fleet under the command of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, later know as the pirate Barbarossa, attacked Crete. The building of the fortress would take until 1649. The purpose of this fortification was to protect the Venetian fleet in the military harbour of Elounda. In 1649 the Turkish Ottoman Empire tried for the second time to conquer Crete and this time they succeeded.

The island, according to a peace treaty between the Venetians and the Turks kept its sovereignty until 1715, when general Kapudan Pasha, commander of the occupying forces, who couldn’t accept this sovereignty sieges Spinalonga for several years and in 1715 it fell in the hands of the Turks.

It is known that the name Spinalonga is an Italian Venetian name. The original name in Greek was Stin Elounda. According the historians the name Spinalonga was given because of the resemblance of an island in Venice called Spinalunga (today Giudecca).

During the Turkish occupation of Crete, Spinalonga had a Turkish village with around a thousand inhabitants.

It is also known that the governor of east Crete Ali Bey used to live on the Spinalonga and at that time he used part of the island as a prisoner camp for the members of the Cretan resistance for the independence of Crete.

In 1898 Crete became independent. Turkish residents started to return to Turkey afraid for reprisals. In the Cretan republic of 1903 all Turks were obliged to leave Crete but unfortunately the Turks living on Spinalonga refused to leave, this because they were protected by the French marine, which had a naval base on Spinalonga.

The government, to achieve their target to get these Turks to leave, decided to scare them off by banishing all lepers of the island of Crete to Spinalonga (at that time living in two villages especially for lepers near Heraklion and Ierapetra, called the Mesquinis (meaning the damned). At the time these sick people were known as the untouchables, because the illness was incurable and contagious and was also known already from the Old Testament as a punishment from God to incredulous and impure people. The Turks, fearing contamination left the island and repatriated to Turkey.

So Spinalonga became a leper colony which would exist until 1957. After the drugs for cure were found in 1950 the colony closed down. From 1970 the island is a tourist attraction and is visited every year by thousands of tourists from all over the world.

Read more about the true history of Spinalonga in the books Victor Zorbas wrote…