A place to spend a quiet afternoon, both with a little thought on the "human condition" and what people are capable of, and also some beautiful "sights" to photograph.
The tree in the middle of a stone stair shows how nature takes back very soon what man has built if they do not maintain it.
Anybody visiting Crete really should visit the island of Spinalonga which lies a little way off the North East coast of the island.
Spinalonga has an amazing history, and has served as many things over the years. The name, incidentally, comes from two Venetian words meaning long thorn.
Initially a hugely impressive and still extant Venetian stronghold and fort (from 1579) guarding the sea routes, the island remained unconquered even when the Turks invaded Crete in 1715 and was a haven for the Cretan resistance and other assorted Christians.
Looking at the huge emplacements still there, especially approached from the sea, it is easy to understand why the Turks never conquered the place. Sheer cliffs give way to monstrous fortifications and any attack would have been positively suicidal.
Please also see my Spinalonga2 page for details of the later history of the island.
Perhaps the island's greatest "claim to fame", if it can be called such, is that it was a leper colony, in fact the last leper colony in Europe. From the early 20th century until 1957 those unfortunate enough to be afflicted with that awful disease were confined on the island in conditions that were, frankly, appalling. Those still on the island in 1957 were moved to a hospital in Athens.
A large portion of the island, crumbling into ruin now, was devoted to the accomodation of the lepers. Supplies were landed by boat at a gate close by where the tourist boats now dock. A walk round what was the leper village is a remarkable experience. The obvious living quarters are small, sparse and somehow incredibly sad.
My picture shows the cooking facilities for a household of lepers. Everything was cooked in or round the forno (oven).
The "new" hospital, dating from the 1930's and built somewhat incongruously of concrete, is now crumbling away. In it's day, I suppose it was a great improvement on the existing facilities, but I found it profoundly depressing.
I left the island, with the sun setting very prettily over the hills of Crete, musing on the fact that people were still required to live in this fashion a mere two years before I was born.
Spinalonga, with it's long and varied history is an absolute "must see" for anyone vvisiting Crete.
In Agios Nikolaos you can find along the waterfront numerous ferry services that will take you for the day to Spinalonga. We decided, just by chance, on the Venus Cruises and can say that we were very happy with our choice. The boat left exactly on time and returned the same way, also stopping along the way to allow people to take a short swim near the sunken city of Olous if desired. There restaurant, cafeteria were well stocked and at reasonable prices for a ferry....and most important the bathrooms were clean.
The cost per person at the time was 16 Euro.