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

Neil Hepworth (3 years ago)
Enjoyable couple of hours exploring the fortress and Leper colony ruins. The many intact buildings give you a feel for what life was like! Definitely worth a visit :-)
Thomas Corben (3 years ago)
Fun trip to Spinalonga and back. Probably more expensive that it deserves (10 euros for the boat trip there and back from Plaka + 8 euros for the island fee). Walking around the island and to the top offers great views.
Mopiranger Aleste (3 years ago)
Very atmospheric place. Definitely recommending it. Even if you take guide, take another 1hour after to wander the island and climb above for nice views. Avoid busy hours with influx of boats with travel groups from hotels and mid-day during summer. Earliest boats from Plaka start at 10:00 AM, so perhaps another option exists how to get there earlier, since entrance is opened already at 9:00AM.
Karen Reeves (4 years ago)
Very interesting.
Paul Phillips (4 years ago)
You have to visit this amazing place
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