I was surprised after arriving in Elounda, Crete to discover that right across the water, there was a beautiful island with a turbulent past. I first spotted the island from our room, seeing old ruin looking buildings on an island in the middle of the sea, and upon asking the hotel staff, discovered the island is called Spinalonga and was one the main leper colony in Greece from 1903-1957. What?!?! That’s like something straight out of Biblical times.
I never really thought about leprosy. I heard about it, really, in sermons or in Bible studies. It’s such an OLD ailment. I imagined the disease in a time when people were shunned and had to go around crying, “unclean, unclean”. I didn’t know it was around in the 1900’s or that it is STILL around, only now, luckily there is treatment.
So, from the moment I discovered what the island was, I imagined only incredible suffering, and I wondered how alone he people felt there, exiled to that island.
In fact, the more I questioned and researched, the more I discovered how wrong I was. Even though suffering was prevalent, the intersting thing about the island is that they had homes, cafes, churches and streets and even a school for the children.
Those with the disease were forced to abandon their lives and go live on the island, but I like to imagine they formed some sort of lives amidst their grief. I can’t imagine being able to look out and see your home though, (as you can see Elounda and Plaka) knowing you are not allowed back. I like to think there was some level of peace simply in the setting. The water is so lovely and clear. When you go to the Island to visit, you can even swim.
Another intersting aspect is during WWII, when the Germans occupied Greece, only Spinalonga was left alone, so those living on the islands were given the blessing of not having to encounter the Nazis and the occupation.
Many pictures were taken on our walk from the hotel to Plaka, which is the village directly across Spinalonga. There are so many churches on the walk framing the scenery. It’s all just so lovely and old, so it’s humbling, to say the least. The small Church in the second picture down is almost like a mailbox on the side of the road. I discovered they are actually erected on the road for people who have died in accidents there.
In fact, when we had dinner in Plaka, the presence of Spinalonga could not be escaped.
Once the sun set, Spinalonga lit up as if to make itself known and its history remembered.
I was utterly fascinated with this place. I hope you have, also, enjoyed getting a glimpse of Spinalonga.
I can’t recommend visiting Crete enough. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram as well for more up to date photos! Sarah Eggar.