Dr. Stelios Lekakis (Archaeologist – CHM Consultant, McCord Centre – Newcastle University), “The dark matter of Spinalonga; Perceptions, interpretations and abuses of a troubled past”
In 1904 the newborn, independent Cretan State designated the island of Spinalonga, off the coast of Elounda in north-eastern Crete, as a leper colony. Based on an unproven theory for the containment of the disease, Spinalonga, once a mighty Venetian fort and a prosperous Ottoman settlement (16th-19thc.), was used as a concentration camp for the infected citizens of Crete -and a few years later of the rest of Greece- that were arrested by the police and shipped “out to the island”. Provided with rudimentary medical support and basic infrastructure, the exiles organised a small community and fought the disease with “solidarity architecture” and pre-modern remedies. The leper colony was abandoned 50 years ago and in 1963 it was listed as an archaeological site.
Today Spinalonga features as the second most visited site in Crete, after Knossos and the sixth in Greece as a whole, receiving more than 350.000 visitors annually (April-October). Its modern history has been adapted in a number of novels and movies. Hislop’s book “the island”, published in 2006, has been translated into more than 20 languages and has sold millions of copies, before being adapted in a popular TV series in Greece.
In the advent of ‘dark tourism’ and the increasing sensationalisation of sites with a difficult past, we will discuss the processes and limits of heritage management and interpretation in Spinalonga, the visitors’ perceptions and the role of the surrounding communities in the public image of the site. We will also examine reactions of interested parties pertaining to the possibility of inscribing Spinalonga on the UNESCO World Heritage List.