Friday, 22 August 2008

Spinalonga - 'The Island'

The second week of our holidays we went to Crete and the week before I mentioned to some friends that it had been recommended that we visit an island just off Crete called Spinalonga. 'Oh - you mean the island as in the book 'The Island' by Victoria Hislop' one of them said. Well it hadn't clicked with me that it was 'The Island' - and I hadn't read it! So Friday night, Gatwick airport I purchased the aforementioned book. Sunday we were visiting 'The Island' and I had only just started reading it. However I was really looking forward to visiting Spinalonga as the book had me interested from the start and we love boat trips.

For anyone who hasn't read the book, Spinalonga was Greece's main leper colony from 1903 until 1957 and also has a very rich history, having been occupied by the Venetians who built a fortress on the island and then later by the Turks.

Victoria Hislop's book starts in the year 1953 and tells the moving story of a family touched by leprosy and follows it through to the eradication of the disease and beyond.

After alighting from the boat, visitors go through this tunnel - what the islanders called Dante's Gate:

Although a lot of the buildings were being held up by scaffolding what I wasn't prepared for was the sight of a row of shops and buildings that would have been a school, hospital, church and even a town hall.
There was a whole infrastructure to this community that I think many are suprised at.

These buildings were built by the Ottomans when they occupied the island.

I found Spinalonga fascinating and even though there were many people visiting there it was very peaceful,

The island has a real beauty of its own and I started to question why we were all visiting; was it purely as a beautiful island, the bizarre fascination of it being a former leper colony or because of the publication of Victoria Hislop's book? Possibly a mixture of all three? Wherever you go on the island it is a sobering thought that for some people it was both a prison and freedom and when people first went there they thought they would never leave.

In the sixteenth-century the Venetians fortified the island to stop it being invaded.

The north of the island is more rugged and the wind picks up the dust as you walk around the headland, apparently in the winter this wind is really cold and for the colony it would have been very uncomfortable as there was no electricity when they first went to Spinalonga.

All too soon we had to head back to the boat, which seemed far too early for me, I wanted to stay longer, but a beach barbeque and swim had been booked for everyone on the boat.

I am really glad I visited Spinalonga and wanted to revisit, but unfortunately we only spent a week on Crete. I continued to read the book and was glad that I had visited first before I read it as I was able to formulate my own memories of the island.

1 comment:

Darcy Lear said...

I've really enjoyed your photos. Spinalonga looks beautiful and I would love to go there myself one day. I'd never heard of it before I read 'The Island' but it really catches the imagination.