Dante’s Gate: Leper Entrance to Spinalonga Fortress.
Spinalonga was one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. There were two entrances through the massive stone walls of the Venetian fortress: one main gate, and one tiny dark tunnel of an entrance on the side of the island that was not much higher than head height. This was the lepers’ entrance, known as “Dante’s Gate”. Due to the slow curve in the entrance path, peering into the tunnel caused daylight to close into darkness, giving no clue as to what horrors lie ahead. What the arriving lepers soon found on the other side was food, water, shelter, and medical attention.
The fortunes of the lepers on the island took a turn for the better in the 1930’s when law student Epameinondas Remoundakis arrived and pressed the Cretes for improvements to the inhuman living conditions. Soon, the “houses of Spinalonga were whitewashed after many years of decay, the road around the island was opened, an outdoor cleaning service was set up, a theatre and cinema were built, and classical music was heard from the loudspeakers in the street. People fell in love and were married on Spinalonga. They had children, some of whom grew up with them without ever catching the disease. They looked after one another, did any work they could to improve their lives, ran their own kafeneion and barber shop, and had their own church of St Panteleimon, with a brave priest who, though not a leper himself, volunteered to spend his life among the exiles. Life on the Leper Island began to be more like that they had left behind when they had been forced to leave their homes and move to Spinalonga”.