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.
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.
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…
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.
Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…