Managing difficult heritage: The case of Spinalonga Island in Greece

Start: Mar 22, 2017 06:15 PM

Location: Room 612, UCL Institute of Archaeology

Managing difficult heritage: The case of Spinalonga Island in Greece

Stelios Lekakis (Newcastle University) will give a seminar at the Institute on 22 March.


In 1904 the new born independent Cretan State designated the island of Spinalonga 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. 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, 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 (2006) has been translated into more than 20 languages, before being adapted in a popular TV series in Greece.

With the growth of ‘dark tourism’ and the increasing sensationalisation of sites with a difficult past, this talk will discuss the processes and limits of heritage management and interpretation in Spinalonga, visitors’ perceptions and the role of the surrounding communities in the public image of the site. It will also examine reactions to the possibility of inscribing Spinalonga on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

All welcome!

Any enquiries about the event may be directed to Tim Williams.