Monday, May 13, 2013

Spinalonga Island

Spinalonga Island is a famous spot since it's been through a lot of history. It began as a much larger island, but a channel between the fortified rock and the larger rolling hillside to the south was cut out by the Venetians in the 1600s. The island fortress held out against various invaders (Venetians held out against the Ottoman Turks, the Turks held out against the Four Powers (Britain, France, Italy, and Russia)) and became a colony for lepers in the early 20th century. By 1957, the last of the lepers left. Eventually the island became a tourist attraction, since many of the buildings still survive.

Spinalonga Island, Crete

We drove to the town of Plaka, the closest to the island. The ferry ride was quick from here, about ten minutes (other ferries run from Agios Nikolaus but take over an hour). The ferry runs on the hour (at least when we were there, which is not the height of tourist season), so we had to wait a bit in town before we could cross. We had a snack at one of the local coffee bars and wandered the two or three streets, enjoying the views and the architecture.

Charming town buildings

The parking lot for cars and boats

The Archangel Michael was our ferry!

Then time came to ride the ferry over to the island. We climbed aboard the side quite easily and found seats at the front of the boat. The cruise over was quick and pleasant, as my wife built up the children's anticipation of visiting "Pirate Island." This description made the island more interesting for the children, even if it wasn't quite accurate.

Disembarking was more of a challenge, as the boat made straight for a small walkway sticking out into the landing bay. The prow was pushed up against it and everyone got off by climbing down from the very front of the ship. The first step was quite a drop, maybe three or four feet. I went first and then received J and L, who were handed down by one of the shipmates.

Approaching the island

Someone was worried about pirates

Goodbye, ferry!

We proceeded to the small shack where they sell tickets for the island and then headed inland. The first area we visited was the Turkish town, where the Muslims had built upon the Venetian ruins.

Entrance tunnel

Old house

Old two-story house

Store room?

The Ottoman Market dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, during the Turkish occupation.

Ottoman Market

The leper colony used many of the Turkish buildings. In the 1930s some new buildings were constructed, the mosque was converted to a hospital and the guard room became a disinfecting room. Most of the colony's buildings were destroyed in the 1970s on the assumption that they detracted from the aesthetics of the island monument. The guard room is still there and has a small landing, presumably where people and supplies came to the island in the early 20th century.

Newer buildings

Garrison room/Disinfection area

Path to landing area

Landing area


Just outside of the town is some of the original defenses. The Mezzaluna Michiel is the western defensive structure of the island built in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mezzaluna Michiel

Behind the mezzaluna is a rocky outcrop with many caves.

Rocky outcrop

The cave we were afraid had pirates in it

Cliffs on the north side of the island

A bit of grass and tree

The church of St. George was built in 1661 by the Venetians. It is off by itself on the north side of the island and was not open for visitors.

St. George church

Entrance to St. George Church

On the eastern side of the island is another defensive position, the Moceniga mezzaluna, which has since been used as the graveyard for the lepers.

Leper's Cemetery

Another fortification from the Venetian period was built on top of the island's hill, presumably to give better views for the cannons. We climbed only half-way up since the ferry was soon to arrive.

Climbing up to the fortifications

Other side of that same building

View of the fort from the departing ferry boat

The ride back was uneventful, other than our discussions of how lucky we were to escape the pirates. The island is definitely worth visiting and we discovered a new way to make the children more excited to go on these adventures with us.

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