Spinalonga, was connected to the mainland peninsular of Kolokytha, until the Venetians cut a channel on its southern flank, creating the island we see today.
The name has two derivations, the Greek one being that it was called “Stin Elounda” (to Elounda), as it lies north west of that popular tourist destination, the other being that it is named after the island of the same name, off Venice’s coast, which ironically is now called Giudicca, whilst Spinalonga retains the name. The fortifications here are rather splendid, and the island has become a far better-known tourist-attraction in recent years, no doubt thanks to the novels of Beryl Derby and Victoria Hislop, which were set here. Those novels detail the later history, when Spinalonga was a leper colony (1903-1957), but the history of the island predates this by several centuries. Originally the fortification of Olous in antiquity, the Venetians at first tried to use the already existing structure for their purpose of building a castle, here between 1579 and 1586, and in a way they did. Rather than refortify the ancient building, however, they were forced to knock it down, and start again, using some of the materials of the original structure. What we see now, is later still, and was built in 1654; a time when the Ottoman Empire had already captured the lion’s share of Crete. A treaty drawn-up upon the surrender of Herakleion to the Turks, allowed the Venetians to hold on to this islet (along with those of Gramvoussa and Souda), until 1715, when the Turks went back on the deal. Muslims fleeing from Ierapetra and Siteia during the 1866 Cretan revolution, settled here and in 1881 declared the island a quasi-autonomous state. By 1903 all settlers had been removed, and the island became a leper colony – with the mosque becoming the hospital – which it remained until 1957.