Tag Archives: Dodecanese

Entrance Tickets – The Askelepieion at Kos

Asklepieion Kos 1

Next to pointless cruising and boring city tour buses the third holiday form of holiday transport that I dislike most of all are those annoying tourist trains which are now an irritating feature of almost everywhere you go.

I have vowed never to go on one so was horrified to discover that the bus to the site was not a regular vehicle at all but one of these gaudily painted eye-sores which look so out of place (except perhaps at Disneyland).  Unfortunately it was the only sensible way to get to the Askelepieion because walking was out of the question and I wasn’t even going to consider paying for a taxi so I had to climb down off my snooty pedestal, abandon my lofty principles and jump aboard the train.

Asklepieion Kos 2

It took about twenty minutes to reach the site and we paid the modest entry fee and went inside to see the ruins of the once grand hospital where modern methods of medicine were developed and where treatment was a three stage process of incubation and diagnosis, treatment and recovery and then convalescence.

Rather like the Ancient Agoras in the town there wasn’t a great deal standing and what there was certainly not original because once again it had been dismantled and recycled and try as hard as I could to imagine what it may have looked like it was hopeless because all I could see were toppled columns, ruined temples and fractured and splintered stones.

I used to lament such destruction but here I realised that if I wanted to see it I could always go again to the Knights Castle because they used the very stones that are now missing at this place to construct the fortress.  My view now is that this really doesn’t matter, it is like a child playing with building bricks, it builds, dismantles and builds again using the same bricks but in a different architectural style.

As is often the case the important thing about being there was being there and not what we were going to see.

Kos Askelepieon 03

Temporarily this form of recycling is mostly at an end now thanks to UNESCO and a greater shared global appreciation of World Heritage and for the time being never again will a historically or culturally valuable site suffer the indignity of being wilfully dismantled to build something new and eventually therefore the World will be cluttered up with wholly new construction.

I had visited the Askelepieion several years before in 1984 and little seemed to have changed in thirty years except for fashion (no improvement) and waistline (several more inches).

Then and now…

Kos 1984Kos Askelepieion 02

To make the site make more sense for visitors the Italians, when they excavated the site, thoughtfully restored some of the steps and the columns in the same way that they had rebuilt the Acropolis at Lindos and the Street of the Knights in Rhodes.

I used to think this was rather a shame as well but I am now persuaded by Henry Miller who wrote of the the reconstruction and interpretation of the Minoan Palace at Knossos on Crete: “There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…” 

Substitute Italians for Arthur Evans and he could easily have been talking about the Askelepieion on Kos.

An hour was quite long enough to examine the site in a superficial tourist sort of way (after all we are not archaeologists) and after we had walked around all three levels and through the ruined temples and buildings we returned to the car park and waited to be taken back to Kos on the pretend train.

Kos Askelepieon Train

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Car Hire Misadventures – Kos, 1983

Kos 1983 Stamatis Rent A Car

In 1983 I stayed at the Continental Palace Hotel just outside Kos town.  Only six years previously in his guide to the Greek Islands, Lawrence Durrell described the place as “an unspoilt backwater where the visitor will find good beaches, unsophisticated but clean little hotels and cool breezes even in summer… ”. Prior to travel there had been cases of typhoid on the island so as a precaution we had to have inoculations before leaving the UK.

The Continental Palace was a large hotel (and although modernised and refurbished it is still there today) and much of the holiday was squandered away in pointless days around the swimming pool whilst surrendering to the anaesthesia of the Mythos lunches and the sun frazzled afternoons but for some of the time we rented a flame red open top Suzuki jeep from Stamatis RentaCar, (also still there) and made some attempt to see the island.

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Kos, Diamond Deluxe and Final days

Diamond Deluxe Lambi

The Diamond Deluxe is one of those modern ubiquitous hotels that could be anywhere, Cancun, Taiwan, Sydney because there are no concessions to being in Greece at all.  If I had arrived blindfolded I would not have known where in the world I was.  As it is, I seriously doubt of many of the guests knew that they were in Greece, but then again, show them a map of the world and they probably wouldn’t be able to point it out anyway.  They weren’t here to be in Greece they were here to sit basting in the sun, turning their sunbeds and watching their skin progress through various shades of red in between the occasional dip in the pool and the twenty metre walk to the overpriced cocktail bar.

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Kos, Askelepieion

Kos, Askelepieion

There was no mistaking that it was Sunday because from quite early church bells were ringing in a monotonous and tuneless sort of way to call the faithful to the early morning services in the various churches nearby.

This was to be our last day in Kos and we had one last ancient site to visit – the Askelepieion, an ancient medical centre or hospital about four kilometres or so out of the city and dating from the third century BC and built to honour the god of health and medicine Asklepios shortly after the death of the physician Hippocrates.

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Kos, The Italian Influence

Greece Dodecanese Kos Government House

“In Greece one is ever filled with the sense of eternality which is expressed in the here and now; the moment one returns to the Western world, whether in Europe or America, this feeling of body, of eternality, of incarnated spirit is shattered”                                                                                                                                    Henry Miller

After all the walking from site to site there was time now for a break over a leisurely light lunch before a final bit of sightseeing which was something that I had completely overlooked thirty years ago – the Italian influence.

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Kos, Arrival and Thirty Year Comparison

Kos Greece Dodecanese

Impatient to leave Kardamena we had an early start and after a rushed breakfast and check-out from the hotel we made our way to the busy village square where the buses irregularly leave for Kos town.

The journey was not by the most direct route and took about an hour through all the coastal villages and then through the unexpectedly green plains lying in the shadow of the soaring mountain peaks.  Farming  remains a principal occupation of many people on the island, with the main crops being grapes, almonds, figs, olives, and tomatoes along with wheat and corn and although the harvest was long since past there were still fields of straw like a golden sea of waving champagne next to exhausted black stunted vines and golden melons the size of footballs ripening in the sun.

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Greek Islands, Kos – A Previous Visit

Kos Postcard 1983

In my Corfu journals I mentioned that although I hired a car and travelled around the island as far as I can remember I saw everything but didn’t see anything.  So as with the return visit to Corfu I was interested in trying to compare the two visits because if the Cambridge classical scholar Professor M I Finley knew enough about Greece to fill a barrel, what Lawrence Durrell knew about Greece would fill a bucket and if what I know now would fill a teacup then what I knew then would barely cover the bottom of a thimble!

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