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Greece » Dodecanese islands » Kos island » Kos Sightseeing » The «Asklepieion»
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The «Asklepieion»

Asklepieion is the most well known ancient monument of the island. It is situated at a distance of 3,5 kilometers southwestern to the town of Kos, in the area of Panaghia of Tarsos or Alsos. The monument was built on a hillside overlooking the area, with an excellent view of the sea below and of the opposite coasts of Asia Minor.

According to archaeological evidence, the place was in use as early as in the Mycenaean times; local tradition cites that the area was a ritual place of Apollo Kyparissos, the father of Aesculapius. When there was established the city of Kos, in the 4th century b.C., the small wood of cypress tree was considered as a sacred place, dedicated to Aesculapius. The small Ionian temple and the altar come from this period.

Later on, in the 2nd century b.C., when the Medical school established by Hippocrates had become very famous, a lot of people came to visit the place. It is then that the place was declared immune and started the «Megala Asklepieia», athletic and music games taking place every five years. As people came here in mass, the buildings were extended: it is then that was established the big temple, while the altar was reconstructed, following the design of the famous altar of Zeus in Pergamos.
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In the 1st century A.D., during the Roman period, there was built the public lavatory (Wespasiana) and the small temple of Xenophon. Later on, in the 2nd century, during the period of Antonines’ dynasty, it was established the Corinthian temple dedicated to Apollo and a century later the Thermae (Baths).

The church of Panaghia of Tarsos was built during the Byzantine times on the foundations of an ancient temple. Only the capital of a column of Early Christian period, which served as the altar, has been preserved from this Early Christian church. The Knights of St. John had used several parts of the temple in the construction of the medieval castle.

Surveys for the discovery of the ancient sanctuary have started as early as in the period of Ottoman domination of the island. The sanctuary was brought to light only in early 20th century by the German archaeologist Hertzog, after the instructions of the doctor and amateur historian Zarraftis. According to this latter, the temple should be close to the springs of Vourrina and Kokkinonero, as water was indispensable for the function and the rituals of the sanctuary. Additionally, he had noticed several architectural parts, semi-buried in earth.

Excavations went on during the period of Italian domination of the island. Apart from excavations, the Italians have also partly restored the sanctuary and given the place its actual form.

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The site is extended on three levels-terraces, with the following monuments: at the first level, there was a Π-shaped arcade, with several small rooms for the faithful people visiting the temple. Both the arcade and the rooms go back to the Hellenistic period (3rd century b.C. At the eastern part of the arcade there was the complex of the Roman Thermae (Baths), built during the 3rd century A.D. Three of the rooms of the baths had arches at the narrow sides and they were decorated with frescos on the walls and had mosaic pavements, partly preserved and visible today.

The second terrace is supported by a supporting wall and it is decorated with niches for statues, with fountains of marble and big water cisterns. Western to the staircase leading to the second terrace, at a niche with a temple-like façade, you will see the base of a statue where it is inscribed the name of the Koan Gaius Sertinius Xenophon, the doctor of the Roman emperors Tiberius, Claudius and Nero. It is in this area that you will find the older building of the sanctuary, the altar of Aesculapius, dated in the mid 4th century b.C. The rich decoration of the altar, attributed to the sons of the famous ancient sculptor Praxiteles, is only partly preserved today.

Only the base of Aesculapius’ statue stands today, along with some parts of the Ionian style temple and a pit known as «thesaurus» (the treasury of the temple), as inscriptions indicate.

There was also a Corinthian peripteral temple, dated in the Roman period (2nd century A.D.), dedicated to Apollo.

At the third terrace there was a big Doric peripteral temple of Aesculapius, dated in the 2nd century b.C., along with a Π-shaped arcade with rooms for the visitors and patients.

Western to the arcade are found the public lavatories (Wespasiana), dated in the 1st century A.D.

Western to the altar there was also a two-part building with a Doric antechamber with four columns, which, according to archaeologists, perhaps served to house the priests of the god.

Finally, there was an arcade housing the votive offerings, a semi-circular podium for the placement of the statues and a fountain made of marble.

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