Spinalonga


Peering into dark rooms, staring at old forgotten cutlery and walking through streets that have had their fair share of history brought upon them. The Island of Spinalonga, now inhabited daily by tourists, still really belongs to those who lived there just a century ago. The history of the island dates back a long time and most of its years spent in the gulf near the harbour of Plaka were far from calm. Spinalonga isn't somewhere regularly associated with palm trees and long holidays. If you had been banished to this Island 70 years ago you wouldn't be picking which 3 things to take with you like in the classic game- you would have to take your whole life there and leave your family and friends behind.

Although Spinalonga dates back 1562 many know it well from its years as a home for a community of Lepers. Its position at the mouth of the Gulf of Elounda meant it spent many years in a strong defensive position for war but by the 20th century the disease of Leprosy was at a peak and with little knowledge of it, many feared anyone who had contracted it.

A person, or a leper, who had contracted Leprosy would have to wear a bell around their neck to warn those without the disease of their presence. From 1903 those with Leprosy in Crete and eventually other parts of Greece were forced to leave their families and homes to start a new life on the Island of Spinalonga. This was one of many colonies all over the world.

Now, as I walked around Spinalonga it wasn't entirely what I expected. I expected to see ruins and fragments of a life of misery. Being forced to live in quarantine for what they foresaw to be their whole lives should have made these people give up. At this point in time there wasn't much hope for a cure and I guessed the lepers of Crete would travel there to die in one big island hospital. This wasn't the case.

After reading a book called The Island by Victoria Hislop I learn that Spinalonga wasn't a place of death and misery. So when arriving there the ruins didn't paint a picture of misery and morbidness they showed me that this had once been a place thriving with community. 

Walking around, you first came to a main street which was a row of colourfully painted buildings stood side by side. Walking inside you could find cabinets of old cutlery that had been forgotten in haste when a cure had eventually been discovered. The houses and memories have remained almost completely untouched in an attempt to preserve the true history of it.

There are a few churches on the Island, one of which you can enter. Looking around it gave the impression that the inhabitants of Spinalonga had not all given up hope. Perhaps some had turned to religion or stuck with what they believed in in the hope that one day they would be saved. 

Finally, as your trip around the island draws to a close, you come to the communal graves. Now, not everyone who lived on this island is buried there as eventually a cure was found and some were fortunate enough to return to their homes. For some, this was a relief, others however had grown to love living on The Island and couldn't remember what life was like living off of it. They would have to live with the stigma and surrounding speculation of being a leper. For those who did pass away, the large grave was where they were buried. There were so many deaths it wasn't practical at the time for each person to have their own grave. It's horrible to look at it and think of all the lives that were lost.




























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