Spinalonga Castle

Spinalonga Castle is located on an island in the gulf of Elounda in north-eastern Crete. According to Venetian documents, the name of the island originated from a Greek expression. The Venetians could not understand the expression, and they familiarised it using their language. They called it spina, which means “thorn”, and longa, meaning “long”. The strategic location of the place made it a very important port and base. Spinalonga remained under Venetian rule even after the rest of Crete was occupied by the Ottomans. However, in 1715, the Ottomans managed to conquer the island but eventually left in 1903. In the first decades of the 20th century, Spinalonga Castle served as a leper colony. During those times, leprosy was a serious illness and there is still no available medicine to cure it. By the year 1948, the first drug to treat leprosy was discovered. Patients on the “Greek Leper Island” began to be treated, and until the last one left in 1957. The leprosarium then was permanently closed. Today, the island is a popular tourist attraction in Crete. Spinalonga Castle is known for its small pebbled beaches and shallow waters. A beautiful novel, called “The Island”, told the story of Spinalonga. It made people more curious about the fascinating history of Spinalonga Castle. It was once called the “grave of the living”, but it is now the second most visited archaeological site in Crete. 

The Spinalonga Castle can be reached by ferry and explored during the day. Most tourists prefer to travel by car while visiting Spinalonga Castle. Several car rental companies offer the best services and affordable prices. Car Rental Crete offers a variety of vehicles to choose from. A larger group of tourists may pick a spacious car for comfort. While solo travellers or couples may opt for a smaller car. There are things to be considered first before renting a car in Crete. The driver must be at least 21 years old. Insurance is important for the driver’s protection. A credit or debit card with the driver’s name must also be presented when renting a vehicle in Crete. Customers who wish to avail of a car rental service can easily book online and follow the procedure. When travelling in Crete, it is highly suggested to rent a vehicle for more convenience.

Spinalonga Castle - View from top

What is the history of Spinalonga Castle?

The Spinalonga Castle is the only castle in Greece that has a more interesting modern history. Situated in the gulf of Elounda, in north-eastern Crete. Spinalonga was not always an island. It was once connected to a nearby peninsula. In 1526, the Venetians cut down a part of the peninsula and created an island. The island was strengthened from its earliest years to protect the port’s entrance. During the Cretan war, the castle became the hideaway of the Greek rebels, who used the island as a base for operations against the Turks. Spinalonga’s most recent history is fascinating. It was used to keep lepers in isolation starting in 1903. Spinalonga was one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. The leprosarium was permanently closed by 1948.

Why was the Spinalonga Crete built on an island?

Not known to many, Spinalonga was not always an island. In 1526, it is believed that Venetians destroyed part of the peninsula of Elounda, to establish an island, which was strengthened to protect the port of ancient Olous. The apprehension of the city, along with the pirate attacks, and Turkish invasion threat, made the fortification fundamental in Spinalonga turning into one of the most dominant sea fortresses in the Mediterranean.

Spinalonga Castle

When is Spinalonga Fortress open?

The Spinalonga Fortress is open daily between 8 am to 6 pm. The Mediaeval castle can be reached by ferry and explored during the day. The busiest days at Spinalonga are from Wednesday to Friday.

When is the best time to visit Spinalonga Castle?

The best time to visit Spinalonga Castle is between 10 am to 2 pm. The best season to visit Spinalonga castle is during summer. It is during summer that visitors may enjoy the nearby beaches in Spinalonga. Most tourists spend an average of 4 hrs at Spinalonga Castle.

What are the tourist attractions near Spinalonga Castle?

Listed below are the tourist attractions near Spinalonga Castle.

  • Spinalonga Fortress. The Spinalonga Fortress is an arid rocky islet, with an area of 85,000 sq. m., lying in the natural harbour of Elounda in Lasithi Prefecture, Crete. It was built to protect the ancient city of Olous.
  • Plaka Beach. It is located 900 metres away from Agapitos Villas. It is an attraction for tourists due to its deep crystal water. Plaka beach features a wide variety of little pebbles. Visitors should be careful, though, because the water gets deeper suddenly and the waves reach higher when it blows from the north.
  • Windmills Poros Elounda. The windmills were built into mountain sides and in places exposed to the winds. In eastern Crete, windmills are a feature where rivers are absent.
  • Dialiskari Beach. Dialiskari Beach is located 1 km east of Elounda, the southwest corner of the Spinalonga Peninsula. A rocky beach after the floor mosaic of the Early Christian basilica of Olous on the way to the famous Kolokytha beach.
  • Kolokytha Beach. Kolokytha Beach is located on the Spinalonga peninsula’s eastern side, which is relatively close to the area of Elounda and roughly 12 kilometres north of Agios Nikolaos. Kolokytha Beach is an unorganised beach with no amenities. It is fairly quiet and you can truly enjoy the beach in its most natural state.

What is the best transportation going to Spinalonga Castle?

The best transportation to Spinalonga Castle is by rented car. Driving a rented car allows anyone to have their schedule whenever they want to visit Spinalonga Castle. Transportation is important whenever a person travels. When a traveller is driving a rented car, it allows one the flexibility of time to go around places more conveniently. A certain schedule may not be followed when driving a rented car, unlike when taking public transportation. One doesn’t have to share a ride with a total stranger and enjoys the privacy of driving a rented vehicle.

Spinalonga Castle - View from inside

What is the importance of Spinalonga Castle to the history of Crete?

Spinalonga Castle plays an important role in the history of Crete. The strategic significance of the fortress in Spinalonga is that it protects the bay of Elounda, which was an indispensable Venetian sea trade. Furthermore, due to the leper hospital, Spinalonga is a monument to human pain. It represents the concept of imprisonment with torment. The use of Spinalonga as a leper colony. The most tragic part of its story, emphasises the unique character of the island.

Stone house on the old street of Spinalonga island

What are the factors to consider before renting a car in Crete?

Listed below are the factors to consider before renting a car in Crete.

  • Insurance. Crete car rental includes insurance for Collision Damage waiver, and a credit or debit card is required as a guarantee. Rental car insurance protects a passenger against the cost of damage when renting a car.
  • Driver’s age. The legal age needed to drive in Crete is between 18 years old. Although, to rent a car in Crete the legal age is 21 years old. A driving licence is also required in both cases.
  • Driver’s gender. Both women and men can drive in Crete. As long as the driver is of the legal age of 18, driving regardless of gender is allowed in Crete.
  • Car type. When travelling in Crete, the vehicle type needed depends on the number of passengers. Travelling with members of the family requires a more prominent type of car. Opting for a smaller car is best when driving in Crete. The main reason is that Greek roads are narrow. There are noticeable smaller cars on the roads too.
  • Documents needed for renting a car. Others might think that the only necessary document for renting a car is a driving licence. However, a credit or debit card with the driver’s name must be provided. It is one of the requirements in Crete car rental.

How much does a car rental in Crete cost?

Crete is a magnificent island with several tourist destinations that can be travelled using a rented car. Crete car rental costs vary depending on the number of passengers, itinerary, car type, location, and duration. The average cost of renting a vehicle in Crete is around €30 to €40 per day. Renting a car for a week will cost an average of €250. Renting a vehicle for the weekend will cost around  €78. Car rentals in Crete vary depending on the car type. Car rental companies offer a variety of vehicles depending on customers’ preferences.

What are the movies about Spinalonga Castle?

Listed below are the movies about Spinalonga Castle.

  • The Island of Silence. The Island of Silence is a 1958 drama film that tells the story of two idealistic young doctors and the difference they made in the lives of the lepers located on the isolated islet of Spinalonga. The film was screened from 1958 to 1959 and sold 6,206 tickets.
  • Last Words.  The Last Words is a 1968 short film, shot in two days and edited in one day. It tells the story of a man who refuses to leave Spinalonga island, a leper colony, during that time. The short film’s runtime is 13 minutes and is in black and white colour.
  • Spinalonga. Spinalonga is a 2007 short drama film shot in the locations of Spinalonga, and Chania, Crete. The story revolves around Manolis, who experiences nightmares and a traumatic parting as a child from his mother, and his taking away from the leper colony; Spinalonga.

What is the book about Spinalonga Castle?

Spinalonga Castle has an interesting story to tell. It may have a dark past, but its architecture and rich history make it a compelling story that everyone must learn. On June 6, 2005, a book was published called “The Island”, written by Victoria Hislop. It is a historical novel set on the island of Spinalonga, Crete. It won several awards, including Newcomer of the Year at the 2007 British Book Awards.

Spinalonga Castle - View from the sea

Is Spinalonga Castle in UNESCO World Heritage Sites?

Yes, Spinalonga castle is included in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was submitted on January 16, 2014, by the Permanent Delegation of Greece. Spinalonga is a famous tourist destination because of its pebble beach and shallow waters. What makes Spinalonga a monument of outstanding value is the fact that architectural remains of different historical periods coexist on the island. Spinalonga has been a source of inspiration for film directors, artists, and authors all over the world.

Why is Spinalonga Castle considered archaeological sites?

After the Leper Hospital was shut down in 1957. The islet remained uninhabited and deserted until it was designated as an archaeological site in 1976. The restoration carried out in years is under the Ministry’s control. It helped promote and preserve the archaeological riches of Spinalonga.

Is it worth visiting Spinalonga Castle?

Yes, Spinalonga Castle is worth visiting. Despite being a small, barren island, it carries a long history. The Spinalonga Castle is now a tourist spot, but it holds a dark past. Despite its rich heritage, Spinalonga is known across the globe as the place of the leper community from 1903 to 1957. During the outbreak of the illness, it reached nearly 400 inhabitants. At present, Spinalonga Castle is the second most visited archaeological site in Crete, after Knossos. In 2005, a book called “The Island”, by novelist Victoria Hislop was published, and it told the story of Spinalonga. The novel brought light to the life the lepers built for themselves despite the illness.

Alley in Spinalonga Castle