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.References:
The Seaplane Harbour is the newest and one of the most exciting museums in Tallinn. It tells stories about the Estonian maritime and military history. The museum’s display, that comprises of more than a couple of hundred large exhibits, revitalizes the colourful history of Estonia.
British built submarine Lembit weighing 600 tones is the centrepiece of the new museum. Built in 1936 for the Estonian navy, Lembit served in the World War II under the Soviet flag. It remained in service for 75 years being the oldest submarine in the World still in use until it was hauled ashore in 2011. Despite its long history, Lembit is still in an excellent condition offering a glimpse of the 1930s art of technology.
Another exciting attraction is a full-scale replica of Short Type 184, a British pre-World War II seaplane, which was also used by the Estonian armed forces. Short Type 184 has earned its place in military history by being the first aircraft ever to attack an enemy’s ship with an air-launched torpedo. Since none of the original seaplanes have survived, the replica in Seaplane Harbour is the only full-size representation of the aircraft in the whole World.
Simulators mimicking a flight above Tallinn, around-the-world journey in the yellow submarine, navigating on the Tallinn bay make this museum heaven for kids or adventurous adults.
Seaplane Harbour operates in architecturally unique hangars built almost a century ago, in 1916 and 1917, as a part of Peter the Great sea fortress. These hangars are the World’s first reinforced concrete shell structures of such a great size. Charles Lindbergh, the man who performed the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, landed here in 1930s.
On the outdoor area visitors can tour a collection of historic ships, including the Suur Tõll, Europe's largest steam-powered icebreaker.