Spinalonga is a small isle close to Elunta in eastern Crete and is known as the isle of the lepers, since lepers from all around Greece used to be cast to Spinalonga until 1957.
Nowadays, thousands of tourists visit Spinalonga by boats from Agios Nikolaos, Elunta and Plaka in order to explore its deserted buildings the archaeological service struggles to preserve. The pivotal location of Spinalonga regarding the control and the protection of Elunta port has cost the isle a stormy history of fierce battles and human suffering. Although nowadays Spinalonga only designates the small isle, during the Venetian occupation it used to signify the peninsula Nisi (also known as Kolokytha) which is adjoined to Elunta via a narrow isthmus as well. While Kolokytha was adjoined to Spinalonga, the Venetians created a canal which resulted to the formation of the small isle in 1526. The name of Spinalonga, attributed to Venetian conquerors, derives from paraphrasing the place-name “Stin Elunta” (at Elunta) into “Spinalonte”, which later on became Spinalonga. According to another, less popular theory, the name is due to the shape of the isle which is reminiscent of a long thorn (spina meaning thorn and longa meaning long). In 1957, there was an unsuccessful attempt to replace the Latin name with a Greek one, calling the isle “Kalydon”. In the early 20th century, high commissioner of the Cretan state, prince George decided to establish a leper colony in Spinalonga, so as to seclude the lepers. Leprosy was then on its rise and, as a result, the population of Spinalonga reached 1,000 inhabitants. From 1948, when a medicine against leprosy was invented in the USA, Spinalonga was gradually evacuated until 1957, when the last remaining patients left the isle. In 1970 the isle was declared a preservable archaeological area, excavations began, the buildings of the leper hospital were demolished and the walls were restored. Nowadays, this beautiful and historic isle is a touristic site, while its pending inclusion in the UNESCO catalog of International Heritage is expected to foster the touristic development of the region.