The first time I heard about Spinalonga was when the Greek channel Mega sent the first episode of the series “To Nisi”, meaning The Island in Greek. It`s the captivating story of the Greek family from Plaka, which achieved record ratings for Greek television. Plaka is a small fishing village in Elounda bay in Crete, opposite of the the small island of Spinalonga. The Greek history books did not cover the history of the leper colony Spinalonga, the island was unknown and forgotten until then.
It´s the fictional story is about leprosy patiens who lived and survived in Spinalonga and their relationship with the inhabitants of the little village Plaka. Giorgos Petrakis and his wife Eleni are the main characters in the story, they live in Plaka with their two daughters. He is a fisherman who trasports supplies to the lepra colony. One day he is forced to transport his wife to the island and later on his daughter. Its a story about fear, passion, love of three generations and the best tv serie Greek television ever produced I dare to say.
The island´s fortress was built in the end of the 16th century by the Venetians, who wanted to protect themselves from the Ottoman Empire that had invaded other islands in the Medeterranean. The islands name originates from this time, Spina Longa means Long Thorn. Two hundred years later the Turks invaded Spinalonga and in the late of 1800s as many as two hundred families lived on the island with two-story houses and a mosque. Around the turn of the century there are troubled times in Greece, French rule over the island and the Muslim population decides to abandon the island.
In 1903 the greek government decides that the abandoned island will become a leprosy colony as many, with Dr Hansen´s disease as it called, live in caves to avoid to infect others. In the beginning there was no treatment and many lepers died. But as time went by doctors came to the island and a hospital, shops and school was established. The lepers lived in the houses that the turks abandoned. People fell in love and married at the island, they had children, some of them who grow up at the island never get infected. When the cure of the disease was found the numbers of lepers fell and the leper hospital closed 1957 and the island was abandoned.
Spinalonga or Kalydon which is the official name of the island is reached by boat from Plaka, Elounda or from Agios Nikolaos in Crete. Visit the site early in the morning or late in the afternoon, its very hot temperatures during the middle of the day due to the little amount of vegetation at the island. The island is uninhabited, but there is a coffe shop and restrooms at the entrance. The island is open for tourists from April to October, more practical information at the official website for Spinalonga
There are a number of books written about Spinalonga.
“The island” is the name of the novel that made Spinalonga known to the public.
Victoria Hislop British writer and journalist made her debut 2005 with the novel. The book became a bestseller in UK and is sold over two million copies worldwide in more than 17 countries.
The Greek tv channel Mega broadcasted the series of 26 episodes in 2010.
Shot in Crete and in Spinalonga over two years. Watch the trailer in English version here. The story begins with Alexis who wants to learn everything about her mother’s past. To her surprise, she finds out that her family is connected with the isolated island of Spinalonga, the former settlement of lepers.
Victoria Hislop about Crete and Spinalonga
“Visiting Spinalonga for the first time was a very strong experience and I knew even in the first minute that I arrived there that I had to write about it. It was very compelling and very emotional. And I admit that this visit made a profound change to my life”. Read the article at Athensinsider.com .
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