The island of Kaleidon or Spinalonga (the name is Italian, meaning “long thorn”) as it is widely known, is located in the eastern part of Crete, near the village of Elounda. In 1579, the Venetians built a fortress on Spinalonga over the ruins of an ancient acropolis.
The island is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe, being used in this manner from 1903 until 1957. The last inhabitant, a priest, left in 1962. This was to maintain the religious tradition of the Greek Orthodox church, in which a buried person has to be commemorated 40 days, 6 months,1,3 & 5 years after their death Leper colonies that have survived Spinalonga include Tichilesti in Romania, Fontilles in Spain & Talsi in Latvia.
There are 2 entrances to Spinalonga, one being the lepers’ entrance, a tunnel known as Dante’s Gate. This was due to the fact that the lepers did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived. However, once on the island they received food, medical attention and social security payments.
Today, the unoccupied island is one of the main tourist attractions in Crete also the setting for Victoria Hislop’s bestselling novel “The Island”. In addition to the abandoned leper colony and the fortress, Spinalonga is known for its small pebble beaches. The island can easily be accessed from Elounda and Aghios Nikolaos. There is no accommodation on Spinalonga, meaning all tours last only a few hours. Boat trips from Elounda take approximately fifteen minutes.