I had just finished the book The Island by Victoria Hislop when I got a call inviting me to take photos at a conference in Crete! Those of you who have read the book (and if you haven’t yet you should!) will know that Crete and more specifically, the island of Spinalonga, is where the story is set. I didn’t hesitate to say yes! The opportunity to visit the place where Eleni spent her days was too good to miss.
Spinalonga has an interesting history involving Arabs and Venetians and Ottomans but it’s most recent story is that it was one of the last active leper colonies in Europe, with the last person leaving in 1962. A person suffering with leprosy was required to leave their home, their loved ones and their whole life, and move immediately to this tiny island (a 5 minute boat ride from Crete’s shores) and live out the rest of their lives.
It was amazing (and a bit surreal) to visit the island and see the places I’d imagined in my head in real life. It felt like a ghost-town. Walking down the main street I remembered Victoria Hislop’s descriptions of life here and how much suffering there had been. Yet people made their life here. They had too. There were all sorts of people. Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Bakers, Builders. And so a community was formed, and they supported each other. They worked, they traded, they educated. Some even got married. And they clung on to the hope of a cure.
As well as Spinalonga, I also got to visit Europe’s oldest City – Knossos, which was fascinating.
Hope you enjoy this little glimpse of island life.
HERAKLION – the view from my hotel room
The road to Plaka
First glimpse of Spinalonga from Plaka. It takes about 30 minutes to walk around the whole island.This was the lepers entrance known as Dante’s gate – they didn’t know what was going to happen to them once they were through the tunnel.
The other side of the tunnelWhat you see when you first arrive through the tunnelThe main streetShop fronts in the main streetView back across to Plaka
Burial siteBack on PlakaPlaka HarboursidePalace of Knossos – home to the MinoansRestoration of ancient artwork using original piecesRestoration of pots using original pieces
A quick trip to the beach to catch the sun settingA beautiful Cretan sunset