Spinalonga in the Gulf of Elounda
Nicknamed as the island of the living dead, Spinalonga, lies at the natural harbor of Elounda in the prefecture of Lassithi in Crete. Despite being a small barren island of 85 acres, it carries a long history and holds a special place in the Greeks’ hearts, while it preserves its beauty notwithstanding of its dark past.
Leper island of Spinalonga is the second most visited place in Crete
About this activity
Admire Crete's leper tragic island...
- Board a beautiful boat at Agios Nikolaos and cruise in Mirabello bay until you reach the Spinalonga island
- Take time to sunbathe and swim at the turquoise waters of the Elounda beach
- See from the boat the cave of legendary Pirate Barbarosa, the sunken ancient City of Olous and the island where the Cretan Kri Kri goats live.
A little known fact is that Spinalonga was not always an island. It is believed that in 1526, the Venetians destroyed part of the Elounda peninsula to create an island. So it was fortified to protect the port of ancient Olous. Olous remained uninhabited until the middle of the 15th century, when it gained commercial value due to its salts. The suspension of the city, together with the pirate raids and the Turkish threat, made the fortification necessary. As a result, Spinalonga became one of the strongest naval fortresses in the Mediterranean.
Spinalonga is known around the world as the host of the leper community. From 1903 to 1957 and as one of the last active leprosy colonies in Europe. It reached a number of almost 400 inhabitants during the outbreak of the disease.
There are many stories about the island, especially regarding the first years of its operation as a colony of lepers. The island had no infrastructure and people were sent there to wait for their deaths while fighting inhumane conditions, with no running water available in the area. In addition, it is believed that due to the ignorance of the doctors at that time, many people were misdiagnosed and imprisoned in Spinalonga while suffering from minor conditions such as psoriasis.
In March 1936, however, a young man was about to change the fate of all the islanders. Epamineondas Remountakis, at the age of 21. He was forced into exile after years of battling the disease, which he tried to keep hidden. There, he founded the “Brotherhood of the Spinalonga Patients”. He tried to improve the living conditions of the patients and dedicated his life to this new project.
For the first time in years, houses in Spinalonga were whitewashed.
The ring road was opened, a cleaning service was set up, and even a theater and a cinema were built. Classical music was often heard in the streets of the island, coming from a loudspeaker donated by a patient. After a while, an electric generator arrived to light the streets at night.
Slowly but surely, the islanders began to form a community that did not focus solely on survival. People fell in love and got married. Also, children were born who grew up without ever being infected with the disease. They formed strong bonds with each other and began to live life as normally as they could. They did exercises, went to school, opened a cafe and barber shop, while they had the opportunity to go to the church of Agios Panteleimon.
Fortunately, the number of patients on the island began to decline in 1948, due to the discovery of the first drug against leprosy. The last inhabitant left the island in 1962. However, the stigma around leprosy did not end with the evacuation of the island. Lepers were not considered sick but monsters. Even the mention of the name of the island remained taboo for years to come.
At the entrance of the island, an inscription advises you to leave hope behind. On the other side at the entrance of the cemetery, a small sign promotes respect for the souls who never managed to escape from Spinalonga.
In the words of Remountakis, “Walking on the street of Spinalonga, stop and hold your breath. From a haze around you, you will hear the echo of the wound of a mother, sister or man. You will see the glow of the millions of tears that have watered this road before …
Prepare for the activity
Meet your chauffeur/tour guide in the hotel lobby at the time of the appointment.
What to bring
- Sun hat
- Weather-appropriate clothing
- Comfortable shoes
Smoking in the vehicle
Know before you go
- If you wish to swim please bring swimsuit and towel
- A full refund is available if you don’t enjoy this self-guided tour
- The tour is available in English and German