To get there it is best to rent a car, although the serpentine there when crossing the ridge is still the same. But the views - and earlier, wealthy people specially went here to admire the views, it was only later that it became fashionable to go swimming in the sea almost naked - the views are wonderful. Mountains and the sea! And at the same time, and if you sometimes get tired of looking at the sea, never at the mountains! And olive oil is the most present and much cheaper than in Nicosia. I bought a canister and the whole family is provided for a year!
That's how it comes closer, growing out of the sea ...
And getting closer and closer!
Well, when you get to Spinalonga, you see ... something like a fortress and ancient ruins, and here you should at least know a little in advance about what you have before your eyes. To begin with, we will report some interesting facts from stories this place. For example, from the fact that since 1957, this island has the official ancient name of Calydon, but people still call it Spinalonga by habit. And next to the island there is also a peninsula with the same name.
And this is how it looks from the mountain if you go there by car.
The last way is the best. By the way, this is how the gates of Heraklion look in the surrounding fortress wall. Impressive, isn't it?
Today, the peninsula is separated from Crete by a small bay. In ancient times, this place was land and there was a large port city, Olus, which turned out to be under water after a strong earthquake that occurred in the 2nd century AD. Today the village of Elounda is located here. But in the era of the Middle Ages, all these lands were not inhabited because of the constant pirate raids.
Pier and the main tower of the fortress Spinalonga.
Tourists go stream!
Then, at the beginning of the 13th century, the island of Crete, which at that time was called the kingdom of Kandia, was taken over by the Venetians, so that it became part of the Republic of Venice. On the Spinalonga peninsula, salt began to be mined, and the revival of the region began with this salt industry. Then, in 1526, by the Venetians, the northern end of the Spinalonga peninsula was turned into an island, because it was decided to build an impregnable fortress, which was supposed to protect the approach to the restored port of Olus. The place was chosen not by chance, since here on the top of the rock the ruins of the ancient acropolis still remained, which the Venetians decided to use as its foundation. As a result, the fortress was commissioned in the 1586 year.
The same tower and the ruins of the fortifications.
By this time, the neighboring island of Cyprus, which, like Crete in the 16th century, belonged to the Venetians, captured the Ottoman Empire. And it was absolutely clear that they would not stop at that, and their next goal would be Crete, so the Venetians took the construction of a new fortress very seriously.
Venetian helmet. Found not here, but in Cyprus. But once again says that the Venetians in the Mediterranean hosted a long and successful! (Cyprus, Museum of the Sea in Ayia Napa)
As a result, they got a powerful concentric fortification, consisting of two lines of defense: the fortress wall that surrounded the entire island along its perimeter and went along the coast, and the citadel on the top of the rock in the most elevated part of the island. It was armed with 35 guns and therefore legally considered one of the most impregnable fortresses of the Venetians in the Mediterranean basin.
Fortress from afar. You can imagine what she looked like when from each embrasure there was a gun barrel, spewing smoke and flames ... Directly ready place for shooting a movie about Admiral Ushakov - “Ships storming bastions”.
In the 1669 year, Crete was nevertheless captured by the Ottomans, but Spinalonga did not succumb to them and even more 35 years, until the 1715 year belonged to the Venetians. But then they still surrendered it to the Turks, and they built their village in the ring of its walls. In the 19th century, more than 1100 people lived there. When, in 1913, the island became owned by Greece, most of the Turks fled from here, leaving behind only empty houses. The solitude of the place and the absence of any economic interests in this area prompted the government to solve all the problems of the deserted island in an original way - from the year 1903 began to impose lepers!
The watchtower was entirely stone!
Now this disease, although still occurring, is almost forgotten in European countries, and at one time this terrible and incurable disease, called leprosy, or leprosy, was well known to people from deep antiquity. There are references to it both in the Egyptian papyrus and in the Bible in the Old Testament. In medieval Europe, leprosy was widespread, even in Scotland and Scandinavia, and the only means to combat it was to isolate the sick in special places - leprosariums. People who have fallen into them have never returned to normal life, being buried alive in these terrible places.
Tower of the fortress from the inside. Here you can put guns on the carriages, and a couple of gunners in historical costumes for photographs, and arrange paid shooting from these guns for tourists ... But while the Greeks are not able to extort money from tourists as they should. And everyone who enters the island should donate 25 grams of strong local alcohol free of charge. This raises the level of critical perception of the surrounding and, accordingly, will increase the number of rave reviews on the Internet by an order of magnitude.
However, the patients disfigured by the disease could still leave them. They were even allowed to beg on the roads of Europe, but the entry to the cities was strictly forbidden. They were obliged to cover their faces with canvas bags and carry a bell in their hands, warning their healthy travelers with their bells so that they could turn the road to the side in time. How frightening a meeting with a leper could be is well written by Robert Stevenson in The Black Arrow, and this is by no means a fabrication. There were leper colonys called “mesquinia” and in Crete. In France in the Middle Ages there was even a special ritual, according to which a leprosy patient was placed in a coffin and buried in a cemetery, and then dug out with the words: “You died for us,” they were sent to the leprosorium. The entrance to the fortress on the island was through a curved tunnel. At the time of the leprosarium, it was called “the gate of Dante” - as in hell, the people who got here did not have the slightest hope of ever returning back.
And it was Spinalonga that turned out to be an ideal place to isolate the sick and calm the rest of the healthy population of Crete. After all, this island was located not too far from the coast, so it was not difficult to deliver food and patients there. In addition, there remained many empty houses abandoned by the Turks, where they could live. But still it was an island, so there was an impassable strip of water between the "contagion" and the rest of the island!
There is a legend that after Crete gained independence, the Turks did not want to leave Spinalonga, and only when the first lepers were sent to the island fled from it in horror. Anyway, by the year of 1913, there were already about 1000 patients on the island, and already in 1915, Spinalonga became one of the largest international leprosariums.
The conditions of life on the island at that time were simply horrendous - slums, poverty and complete poverty. There was neither medicine, nor elementary comforts; there was absolutely nothing that could at least somehow brighten the life of the unfortunate inhabitants of this island.
Most of the island’s territory is such ruins. So do not flatter yourself, you are warned!
True, patients with Spinalonga were given a monthly allowance, but it was so miserable that it was not even enough for food, not to mention the purchase of drugs of some kind. The island itself was almost completely cut off from civilization - all things coming from there were carefully sterilized, and water and food were delivered by its inhabitants only by water.
However, pretty soon, in spite of everything, the inhabitants of the island were able to organize and create a community with their own rules and ... values. There were even marriages on the island, although it was forbidden by law. True, if married couples on the island had healthy children, they were immediately taken from their parents and sent to orphanages in Crete. By the way, the inhabitants of Crete seriously believe that ghosts are found on the island - the restless souls of the dead. They say that at night on the island there are voices and even a bell ringing. So don't be late for the last boat to the mainland!
Over time, shops and cafes appeared on the island, and a church was even built, in which a healthy priest served, who lived on the island for many years. A traditional market appeared at the gates of the fortress, where patients could buy food and even send letters to their families on the mainland. In 1930, new houses began to be built on the island, and in 1939, a roundabout road was conducted around the island, for which part of the fortress walls were blown up.
Some walls and bastions of the fortress go straight into the water, so that the enemy could not land.
However, even before it was built, the island seemed quite ordinary at first glance, but it turned out to be a very important event: in 1936, the former law student 21-year-old Epaminondas Remundakis was sent there as another patient. He turned out to be a true leader who managed to rally the islanders. He created the “Brotherhood of Spinalonga St. Panteleimon's Patients”, the head of which was chosen, restored the old Byzantine church of St. Panteleimon, established contact with the outside world. They found a dentist who agreed to come to the island, which was not at all easy, given the specifics of the work ahead, and for the nurses who had already worked there, “Brotherhood ...” achieved an increase in salary. Then an electric generator was installed on the island, so he received electric lighting earlier than the surrounding settlements. Thanks to the works of Remundakis, a theater and cinema, a hairdresser and a cafeteria appeared on Spinalonga. They put the loudspeakers, broadcast classical music, there was a school, a teacher in which was one of the patients, even began to publish his humorous magazine. Now on the island, marriages were officially entered into and the birth of 20 children was registered.
Some streets and houses are nevertheless put in order.
At least some greenery ...
At least some shadow ...
In a word, as it happens very often, only one person has changed the life of very many, and for the better. In his autobiography, which he called “The Eagle without wings,” he himself wrote about it this way: “... I spent 36 years in prison without committing a crime. Over the years many people visited us. Some, to take photos, others - for literary purposes. Why did others want to show disgust, and others - compassion? We want no hatred or condolences. We need kindness and love ... "
View of the fortress from above. Nothing special, but the panorama around is simply breathtaking.
But most importantly, what the inhabitants of the island needed, it was medicine. And just from the year 1950, diaphenylsulfone (dapsone) has become the main means of leprosy. By 1957, the leprosarium on the island was closed, and those patients who were incurable, including Remundakis himself, were transferred to clinics on the continent.
The evening is coming.
The sun is setting ...
After that, the small island off the south coast of Crete was forgotten by people for long 20 years. But in 70, tourists visited him often and this place began to gradually come to life. There was a tourist infrastructure in the nearby villages, and where there are tourists, there are new jobs. But the real boom on the island began after the bestseller of Victoria Hislop "The Island" appeared in England in 2005 and then in other countries. He had a great success, and then the MEGA television channel in 2010, filmed the eponymous series on him. So, if you have time before you go to Spinalonga, you should read this book, or even better, watch a TV movie shot on it.
Village Plaka, where many come by car. The village is rather small, but cozy.
On the opposite side of the village stands this church - the church of St. George. It looks funny, doesn’t it?
Well, if you don’t read anything, then ... it’s still worth going there, although there’s nothing so special about it. Ruins and ... everything! An impressive fortress, but no guns, so there are only stones all around. But very beautiful views. Just really! And, by the way, about the fortress and the cannons ... It’s not difficult to imagine their people with a developed imagination, and at the same time to think how well it would be here to shoot one of our Russian, modern, historical TV series about Admiral Ushakov. Oh, someone who, and he deserved it! Moreover, he deserved much more than Admiral Kolchak, who had already received a television series. The British, for example, filmed an eight-serial Hornblower television series (1998 - 2003), about the adventures of a young sailor, ships and battles at sea and filmed perfectly. Moreover, some of his episodes were filmed here in the Crimea, in the Livadia Palace. So if they can, then why can't we remove the series about such a significant national hero? And just the storming of the bastions of Corfu Island is asking for it to be removed right here on Spinalonga Island! But this is so - “reflections at the main entrance” and no more. But who knows, maybe there are people among the VO website visitors who have access to our Russian producers, and this idea will appeal to them. Who knows…
This is a shot from the Hornblower television series. And the ships are there, what is needed, and the guns roll away when firing, and the uniform is accurate to the smallest ... Who is interested in the maritime theme of the Napoleonic wars era I advise you to look for sure.
Whatever it was, and the island is worth a visit. Well, you can get to Spinalonga from Agios Nikolaos or from Elounda on a small boat, running in the summer months back and forth from morning until late at night. There is also the village of Plaka, located directly opposite the island, from where you can be taken to the island by boat on 10 minutes and in just 8 euros. But to sail from Elounda is half an hour and the ticket will cost 15-16 euros, respectively. When visiting the island do not forget the water and be sure to take protective equipment from the sun, since there is no shade on the island. From the city of Heraklion it is best to get to the above places by a rented car or by bus KTEL, which runs every half hour, starting with 6: 30 and up to 21: 45. The ticket costs 7,1 euros, travel time 1,5 hours. From Agios Nikolaos to Elounda from 7: 00 to 20: 00 also runs a local bus. Travel time is approximately 30 minutes. The ticket costs 1,70 euro. From here, a bus also runs to Plaka every 2 hours, starting with 9: 00 and up to 17: 00. The ticket costs 2,10 euro. The main thing is not to stay on the island for the night, because then you will have to sleep on bare rocks. Everyone who works there, leaving the island the last boat!