Spinalonga is a small island near Elounda in East Crete. Spinalonga is also known as the Leper Island, as that is where lepers from Crete and the rest of Greece were quarantined until 1957.
Today thousands of tourists visit Spinalonga each summer by boat from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka, for a tour of its ruined buildings, which the Archaeological Service is laboriously trying to maintain, you do need to pay to get into the ruins, but this goes to the upkeep and maintenance, so worth paying out for. If budget is tight, it is still worth the boat trip to explore the rest of the island, go early and take plenty of water.
The strategic position of the rocky islet for the control and defence of Elounda harbour could not but mark Spinalonga with a turbulent history of fierce battles and much human suffering.
Apparently Kolokytha used to be joined to Spinalonga (which is why it shared the same name), but in 1526 the Venetians cut a canal between the two, forming this small island.
This information comes from the Venetian cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli, but it may not be true. However, the islet is only 170 metres from Kolokytha and the water is shallow, so perhaps the Venetians did indeed carry out this project to form an impregnable island fortress.
The name Spinalonga appeared around the 13th century, bestowed by the Venetian conquerors, who, unfamiliar with Greek, corrupted the place-name “Stin Olounda” (“at Olounda”), originally to Spinalonde (13th century) and later to Spinalonga. It is no coincidence that the small island of Giudecca near Venice was also known as Spinalonga. Much later, in 1957, another name, Kalydon, was proposed for the island, in an unsuccessful attempt to replace the Latinate Spinalonga with a Greek name.
To get to Spinalonga you must take the boat from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka. Boats depart from Agios Nikolaos in the morning. Apart from the trip to Spinalonga, they also offer lunch and the opportunity for a swim off the beaches behind the Kolokytha Peninsula, before returning to Agios Nikolaos in the afternoon.