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Greece » Crete » Lassithi Prefecture » Lassithi Sightseeing » Islet of Spinalonga
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Islet of Spinalonga

Spinalonga, or Calydona as its official name is, is an islet almost closing the bay of Elounda; in antiquity there was a fort there, constructed by the Olounites. The actual name is Italian and means “long spine”; from here comes the former name of the island, called Makrakanthi for some period of time.

After Constatinopolis was conquered by the Francs of the 4 th Crusade, in 1204, Spinalonga, along with the rest of Crete was given to Bonifatius of Monferrat; this latter sold the island to the Venetians who took possession of the island in 1211 and kept it until 1715. The Venetians fortified the islet during 1571-1574.

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The fort was very strong and had storerooms, water tanks and several buildings. Venetians kept possessing it, as it also happened with the forts of Gramvousa and Souda, even after the conquest of Crete by the Ottomans in 1669. During this period, Spinalonga was a safe refuge for the Greek population persecuted by the Ottomans.

In 1715, following the Treaty between Ottomans and Venetians, the islet passed to the Ottoman domination and, during the last years of it, was considered as a safe place of residence for Ottoman families.

When Crete was declared autonomous in 1898, the Cretan State converted it to leper house, initially only of Crete and later of entire Greece. Before the World War II, the islet housed more than 300 people suffering from leprosy, within the hospital of Aghios Panteleimon. The hospital stopped working and the islet totally abandoned in the 1960s’.

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Near the fortress the visitor may see the three-aisled Basilica of Aghios Panteleimon, celebrated on the 27th of July.

Recently, several restoration works have been done to some of the buildings by the 13 th Ephorate of Byzantine monuments.

Access to the islet is possible in summer by excursion boats departing from Aghios Nicolaos, Elounda and Plaka.
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