visit Kos Greece to explore Hippocrates Asklepeion Hospital

Kos, Greece: Hippocrates' Hospital at Asklepeion

I am in Kos' central plateia enjoying the shade of an ancient, gnarled tree, its wide spreading branches propped up by pieces of aged marble. It is said to be 500 years old, a distant offshoot of the original tree where Hippocrates used to sit. Underneath is a purification fountain made from an antique sarcophagus, used by the Byzantine Turks to wash themselves before entering the mosque which was built in the same square opposite.

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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.

visit Kos Greece to explore Hippocrates Asklepeion Hospital
The Asklepeion was built after Hippocrates' death but students came here to learn his methods of healing. Hippocrates' fame resulted from a collection of 80 medical works known as The Hippocratic Corpus which challenged the methods of physicians who used magic and oracles to treat diseases. Hippocrates who was born in 460 BC, and died in 357 BC) believed that disease had natural causes and could be studied and possibly cured according to the workings of nature. At Kos, patients underwent positive treatment as taught to physicians by Hippocrates. The Hippocratic Oath is the most important of all his writings and established him as the leading medical inspiration of all ages.

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.

If You Go

AIR: Daily flights from Athens.
FERRY: Kos is connected with all the islands of the Dodecanese and the ports of Thessaloniki and Pireaus.
Ferry/International: Daily sailings in summer to Bodrum, Turkey
Accommodations: There are pensions and hotels near the port. Camping Kos is 3 kms east of the town.
The Asklepeion: The little tram goes from the main square by the port. Frequent buses run to the site but it's pleasant to cycle or walk there.

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Ruth Kozak has been a historical fiction writer since her teens and a travel journalist for more than 15 years. She also instructs classes on travel writing, creative and novel writing and memoirs. She has travelled extensively, often solo and always on a budget. Her travels inspired her to create a travel ezine

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 26, 2016

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