Not to be missed is a trip to the island of Spinalonga, located in northeastern Crete. Spinalonga wasn’t originally an island, but instead was considered part of Crete. During the Venetian occupation, the island was carved out with a bastion-type seaward fortress built to defend Crete during Venetian and Ottoman rule. Years after the Turks were evicted from Spinalonga, the island became a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. As one of the last active leper colonies in Europe, nearly 400 inhabitants called Spinalonga home.
I only learned about the fortress aspect of Spinalonga recently. It was “The Island,” a historical novel written by Victoria Hislop, that sparked my reason for visiting. While just a 10-minute boat ride from Plaka - Spinalonga seemed a world away. Walking through the deserted streets, my mind wondered what it was like to live with the disease, deal with the initially poor living conditions, and bear the separation from loved ones.
As I followed the path, I entered one of the churches on the island and spent a few quiet, emotional moments at the cemetery. Making my way back to catch my return boat to Plaka, I realized that despite the sad history of Spinalonga, there was still a reminder of hope and healing through the breathtaking views of Crete’s clear, blue waters.
When visiting Crete, be sure to take the short boat ride to wander through Spinalonga and journey through its vast history.