Kos, Greece: Hippocrates' Hospital at Asklepeion
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Kos, the second largest island in the Dodecanses, 5 km from Bodrum on the Turkish coast, was the birthplace of the physician, who like the tree, lived to a venerable age. It is known for its hot springs, orange groves, vineyards and resplendent gardens, and has given a name to a variety of lettuce introduced from its shores.
The town of Kos is a pretty little port, with tidy streets and many new and old Venetian style buildings of elegant design. The castle of the Knights of St John built by the Venetians in 1450 dominates the harbour with its high stone walls. Yachts charter boats crowd the harbour, many offering excursions to nearby islands or Turkey.
I set off to do more sight-seeing on a little motorized train that chugs around past various archaeological sites of Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras, then heads the 4 kms out of town to the Asklepeion, the sanctuary and school of medicine that made Kos famous all over the ancient world.
The road leads up a pine covered mountain slope along an avenue of cypresses. The Asklepeion is one of the most important holy places of ancient times. Located in a magnificent setting on a hillside with a view of the distant sea amid a grove of cypress trees, the site covers a large area and is built on three tiers that enclose temples, baths, a medical school, museum, and housing for priests and patients.
It was the most famous hospital of its time, consisting of a religious sanctuary, a healing centre, school of medicine and many mineral springs where people came to bathe. On the top tier was a large Doric temple to Asklepios, the God of healing, occupied by a hereditary order of priests who guarded the secrets of medicine. In the early Christian period a church was built over the site so all that remains of the temple is a capital which was used as an altar. Much of the temple structure was quarried by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem to be used in the construction of the medieval castle and walls seen in the town.
I spent a pleasant afternoon climbing the stairways to explore the porticoes and ruined buildings. There is a magnificent view of the red-tiled rooftops of the town below and the teal-coloured sea stretched eastward toward the shores of Turkey. The air is fragrant with scent of herbs, cooled by the sea-breeze. The serenity of the setting leaves me refreshed and calm. It was easy to see how this popular sanctuary was the perfect place for recuperating patients and made it the most famous hospital in antiquity.