The changing face of Spinalonga, ‘island of the living dead’

The islet of Spinalonga is the second most visited archaeological site on Crete, after Knossos. [Shutterstock]

Immortalized in Victoria Hislop's award-winning novel, "The Island," the uninhabited islet of Spinalonga has a long and tragic past. Known by its grim epithet, the "island of the living dead," and nestled in the picturesque Elounda Bay of northeast Crete, the islet was home to one of Europe's last leper colonies, active from 1903 to 1957. At its height, in 1933, the islet was home to as many as 954 inhabitants.

Prior to its role as a leprosarium, Spinalonga served as an important Venetian, and later Ottoman, fortress, safeguarding the entranceway to the nearby port of Olous from pirate raids. Despite its diminutive size - 0.085 square kilometers - from the mid-15th century to the early Ottoman occupation in 1715, the islet was one of the most powerful sea fortresses in the Mediterranean.

During its time as a leper colony, the inhabitants forged close familial bonds...

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