Spinalonga, an island of the coast of Crete has a long and contentious history. It was first ruled by the Venetians, who cut the small isthmus that connected it to mainland Crete and fortified it because of Arab raids. It was captured by the Ottomans in 1715 after several unsuccessful attempts to take it. After the fall of Constantinople, many Turkish families fled to Spinalonga. It was one of two fortresses that did not fall to the Chiristian Cretan army that took the rest of Crete in 1881. But the Turkish people began to leave Spinalonga as tensions with their neighbors began to increase, and by 1903 it was completely deserted.
This was perfect timing. Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease as it is now called, was a growing problem in Crete. And Spinalonga was the perfect solution. It was abandoned, and the fortifications were as good at keeping people in as they were at keeping people out. It held more than a thousand leprosy “patients”. Their monthly stipend was barely enough for food, let alone medical care. During the colony’s operation, Greece fought in four international wars and suffered a civil war. It stands to reason that money was tight in all the Grecian lands, but it was especially bad on Spinalonga.
In 1930, this man, a third year law student named Epameinondas Remoundakis was moved to the island after contracting leprosy. He was quickly the center of attention as he sued for better conditions for the island’s “residents”. He was successful, and the monthly allowance was increased as was the level of cleanliness and care in the colony.
But it was not until the 1950s that the now independent Cretan government began moving patients off of Spinalonga and into hospitals in Crete and Greece. By 1957, the island was abandoned again. It remains empty today, though tourists can visit and tour what is left of ancient Spinalonga.
That’s it, except to say that Hansen’s Disease is pretty much curable today. It is mainly carried by humans and armadillos. Since 2001, the annual worldwide occurrence of leprosy has fallen by more than 60%. So long, until next week.