Spinalonga Fortress

Agios Nikolaos, Greece

Spinalonga is a barren, arid rocky islet lying in the mouth of the natural harbour of Elounda. The islet was fortified in antiquity, to protect the ancient city of Olous. Towards the end of the 16th century, the Venetians, as part of their great fortification works to defend Crete, built on Spinalonga one of the most important bastion-type seaward fortresses of the Mediterranean. At strategic points in the fortifications are set the two demilunes, major works of fortification architecture.

During the Cretan War (1645-1669), refugees sought shelter on the islet, as did rebels who used it as a base to harrass the Ottomans. Under the terms of the treaty for the surrender of Chandax (Heraklion) in 1669, Spinalonga remained a Venetian possession. In 1715, following a siege, the islet was surrendered to the Ottomans, the Venetian garrison left and the remaining 600 inhabitants were taken captive.

From 1715 onwards, Spinalonga was settled by Muslims, who built their houses on the foundations of the Venetian buildings. The village flourished after the mid-19th century, until by 1881 it housed a population of 1,112 and was the largest Muslim commercial centre of Merabello Bay.

The village houses were arranged in a stepped pattern across the west and south sides of the islet. At the end of the 19th century it is estimated that there were approximately 200 homes and 25 shops or workshops on Spinalonga. Today many well-built two-storey houses and shops remain; their morphology and symmetrical proportions are indicative of the principles of local and Balkan architectural tradition.

In 1904, during the period of the Cretan State, Spinalonga was chosen as the site of a Leper Hospital. Sufferers who were sent to live on the island survived on State funding and charitable donations. Their hard, wretched life did not weaken their will to live. They organised their home, fell in love, married, had children.

After the Leper Hospital was shut down in 1957, the islet remained deserted and uninhabited. In 1976 it was designated an archaeological site. Today it is an organised archaeological site with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

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Founded: 16th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in Greece

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4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Muzibul Shahid (2 years ago)
very nice day out, views from the island were very nice
Deborah Adams (2 years ago)
Amazing experience, looking at the history of this fortress, my children (4 & 1) looked running around and exploring, asking questions. Good boat service from plaka
Alex Matheson (2 years ago)
Very interesting and historic location. Tour guides well informed and entertaining. Well worth the boat to get there.
James Hadjakis (2 years ago)
Amazing place and scenery. Great photo destination. Highly recommend the boat ride over to the island if you are visiting the east side of Crete and worth the drive from Heraklion. Do some research into the history of the island as you will appreciate it more. There is also a small museum filled with stories about the history of Spinalonga but it can get crowded so definitely research before! There are plenty of shops and restaurants in the town closest to the island and toilets on the island itself. Bring bathers on a hot day as there is a great spot to swim. Just be careful entering the water as there are many sea urchins. Once out, the water is deep so you no longer need to worry about stepping on them. Also don’t swim if you aren’t confident as it isn’t watched by life guards and there is bit of a current. Not too strong as I swam there with average swimming capabilities and didn’t have any issues! The walk around the island doesn’t take long and the boats leave every half hour or so. 5 stars from me. Do yourself a favour and visit Spinalonga and visit Agios Nikolaos on the same day!
Jack Rousseau (3 years ago)
Place of great history not so back time. Information available in Greek and English plus guides touring in Italian, English, German and Dutch if i remember correctly. Very picturesque place plus the boat trip to get there is fantastic!
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The history of the castle is the subject of different legends. One of them narrates the origin of the name of castle derived from that of jester Becko for whom the Duke Stibor had the castle built.

Another legend has it that the lord of the castle had his servant thrown down from the rock because he protected his child from the lords favourite dog. Before his death, the servant pronounced a curse saying that they would meet in a year and days time, and indeed precisely after that time the lord was bitten by a snake and fell down to the same abyss.

The well-conserved ruins of the castle, now the National Cultural Monument, are frequently visited by tourists, above all in July when the castle festival takes place. The former Ambro curia situated below the castle now shelters the exhibition of the local history.