Photographer's Note

Leprosy, or Hansen's disease, is a long-term bacterial infection that affects the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes of the patient. The illness causes the deformation of features, especially on the face and the limbs. Although leprosy itself is not lethal, it can ultimately cause death from a condition secondary to the original diagnosis.
During the early 19th century, there was a world of misconception surrounding the disease. At first, it was believed to be hereditary. However, it was soon proved to be infectious, and patients were immediately sent to isolation. In Greece, the isolation center was on the island of Spinalonga.

There are many tales of horror about the island, especially in regard to the early years of its operation as a leper colony. The island had no infrastructure and people were sent there to wait for their death while battling inhumane conditions, with not so much as running water being available in the region. Additionally, it is believed, that due to the ignorance of the doctors at the time, many people were misdiagnosed and were imprisoned in Spinalonga while suffering minor conditions, such as Psoriasis.

In March 1936, however, a young man was about to change the fate of all the island's inhabitants. Epaminondas Remountakis, a third-year student of Athens’ Law School, at the age of 21, was forced to exile, following years of struggle with the disease, which he tried to keep hidden. There, he founded the 'Brotherhood of the Sick of Spinalonga’, in an effort to improve the patient's living conditions and he dedicated his life to this novel cause.

For the first time in years, the houses in Spinalonga were whitewashed, the ring road was opened, a public cleaning service was established, and even a theater and a cinema were constructed, while classical music could be often heard in the streets of the island, coming from a loudspeaker a patient had donated. After a little while, a power-generating machine arrived to light the streets at night.

Slowly but surely, the inhabitants of the islands started forming a community that didn’t focus only on survival. People fell in love and got married, giving birth to children who grew up without ever being infected by the disease. They developed strong bonds with one another and started living life as normally as they could: they exercised, went to school, opened a coffee shop and barbershop, while they had the ability to go to church in St. Panteleimon, operated by the brave Chrysanthos Katsoulogiannakis, a priest that volunteered to live in the island without being a leper himself.
Fortunately, the number of patients on the island started to decrease in 1948, due to the first drug against Lepracy being discovered and the last inhabitant left the island in 1962. The stigma around leprosy, however, didn’t end with the evacuation of the island. Lepers weren’t seen as patients but as monsters, and even the reference to the island’s name remained taboo for years to come.
In 2005, Victoria Hislop’s novel titled ‘The Island’ told the story of Spinaloga, bringing light to the life the lepers built for themselves against all odds. The book later became a hit television show in Greece, clearing decades of fallacy surrounding the island.

Today, Spinalonga, the once “grave of the living”, is the second most visited archaeological site of Crete after Knossos, with people from all over the world arriving in Crete only to explore its grounds.

At the entrance of the island, an inscription advises you to leave hope behind, while at the entrance of the cemetery, a small plaque urges respect for the souls that never managed to escape Spinalonga. While the Greek island has been officially renamed to ‘Kalydron’, the past of Spinalonga cannot be erased; it is apparent in every nook and crevice of the island, as well as in the eerie vibe that makes your hair at the back of your neck stand up when you walk down its streets.

The photo shows the remains of the houses of the inhabitants of the colony.
WS: Remains of a Venetian fortress

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Additional Photos by Aleksandar Dekanski (dekanski) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 321 W: 129 N: 1545] (9365)
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