A mile off the coast from Elounda, Spinalonga is the most famous abandoned island of Crete, north of Agios Nikolaos, across to the seaside village of Plaka.
It is a popular tourist attraction for being a leper colony, one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. The fate of this little island was marked by the fortification by the Venetians, the occupation by the Ottomans and its final use as a leper colony. The Hansen’s Disease, a contagious disease that was regarded with horror in the early decades of the last century forced the patients to live isolated or off the charity. The island of Spinalonga became the ideal solution for gathering and isolating the leper sufferers from the healthy population; it was close to coast, allowing the easy transfer of patients, food and medicine supplies and there were many empty houses after the Turkish community departure, ready to host the new under quarantine population. The International Leper Hospital of Spinalonga remained operational until 1957 and afterwards the island was abandoned, left in guilt and neglect until recently, where the restoration gives a fresh air to the previously heavy atmosphere and washes away the suffer and stigmatization. The island's fortification is due to Venetians in order to protect the entranceway of the port of Ancient Olous and defend their trade route from pirates. During the Ottoman Rule, the fortress was taken by the Turks, mark the ending of the venetian presence. After the Cretan revolt of 1878, on this island the Ottoman minority formed their own community until 1903, when the last Turks abandoned the island. Today Spinalonga is visited by thousands of people while the public buildings, the dwellings and the walls of the fortress are being restored. You can visit it by boat from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka. *Note Spinalonga has appeared in novel and television series "The Island", written by the British author Victoria Hislop.
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