the islet of Spinalonga
To the north of the Bay of Mirabello is the Spinalonga peninsula – the small channel separating it from the rest of Crete was only opened in 1897 by the French army, in order to link the bay of Spinalonga with the open sea.
In 1579 and under the supervision of the Proveditor Giacomo Foscarini, the Venetians built one of their strongest forts in Crete on the islet of Spinalonga.
In antiquity, this was also the site of an ancient fort that controlled the entrance to the bay of Olous, and whose ruins must have still been visible until the 16th century (parts were used in the construction of the Venetian fortress).
In fact, it was the Venetians who gave the name Spinalonga to the area, after the islet of the same name near Venice (now called Guidecca) and perhaps because of the shape of the narrow peninsula (Spina – thorn, longa – long).
The Spinalonga fortress had 35 cannons in 1630, and so was able to withstand the Turkish siege. It explains how Venice was able to retain control of it after the fall of the rest of Crete in 1669 (along with the fortresses of Gramvousa and Souda).
In 1715, however, the fortress was besieged by Capudan pasha, and was then settled by a large number of Turks because of the security it provided.
During the period of Cretan independence, the Turks abandoned it, the last of them leaving as late as 1903 when the Cretan State decided to use it as the island’s leper colony. This was eventually closed in 1957.
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