The Dodecanese Islands
The island of Kos has been inhabited since 4th millennium BCE by Neolithic peoples as the findings of tombs and in caves have revealed, but Kos was first colonised by Carians and settled by a group of Minoan Cretans around 1600 BCE. However when the Minoan civilisation was destroyed the Mycenaeans took over the island, and in the 11th century BCE the Dorians arrived from Epidaurus, bringing the worship Apollo, Aphrodite, and Asclepios. During the 7th and 6th centuries Kos, like all Greek colonies embraced democracy.
By the end of the 6th century BCE the Persian expansion encompassed Kos relatively peacefully, until the reign of Queen Artemisia when the Koans where subdued. Fortunately, following the Persians defeat at Salamis, the Persians departed by 475 BCE. It was during this period that the Koans struck their first coinage, an idea that came from the Lycidians.
Then followed a turbulent time with Spartan invasion and the earthquake in 459 BCE. The capital Astypalaia which had been established at the south of the island, where Hippocrates the physician, the father of modern medicine, was born around 450 BCE, was destroyed during the Peloponnesian War.
During the Hellenistic period the new capital of Kos Town was founded in 366 BCE, when many of its monuments were built including the Agora, Stadium, Gymnasium, Odeum and temples to Hercules, Dionysus and the twin sanctuary of Aphrodites. The island quickly regained its position as a leading maritime centre, and its sanctuary of Asclepios made it a leading destination of the ancient world.
By 336 BCE Kos became part of a united Greece when Alexander the Great arrived. When he died in 323 Kos passed to his general Ptolemy who ruled Egypt as pharaoh, his son Ptolomy II was born on the island and enjoyed the Greek aspects. On the rise of the Roman Empire Kos became part of the Province of Asia, and during the Byzantine era Kos became a Bishopric and many 5th and 6th century CE Xtian basilicas were built. In the Roman period the richly decorated Nympyanaen, Casa Romana (renovated villa) and the many houses with ornate mosaics were built, demonstrates the luxury in which the citizens lived.
From the 11th century Kos changed hands regularly, with Saracens, Venetians, Byzantines, Genovese and Catalonians being amongst the islands rulers. In 1304 CE the Genovese sold Kos and the island of Rhodes to the order of the Saint John’s Knights of Jerusalem, whose Grand Master arrived in 1315 to rule for 208 years until the Turkish army conquered Rhodes and Kos in 1523.
Rhodes and Kos both suffered from heavy taxation under the Turks, and when the Greeks revolted in 1821 the Turks retaliated by hanging many of the notable people on the island, including 92 hung under Hippocrates famous tree. The Turks are also said to have decapitated 900 Xtians for refusing to change their religion.
In 1912 the Italians “liberated” Kos from the Turks only to repress the islanders themselves, their collapse in 1943 left the Germans in charge, before being defeated by the British. Following the end of World War II in 1948 the Greek people finally became united and for the first time ever the Greek flag could be raised on the island.
The town of Kos now is a vibrant tourist destination, much given over to bikes of the motorised and push varieties especially on the pavements, but if you are prepared to walk on the roads all is fine! Its chequered history has left a jigsaw of historic sites lying under the town, reduced by successive earthquakes and the normal pillaging of stone that has taken place by builders over the ages. This has resulted in many buildings having older pieces in them. The complete removal of art work mainly to the Grand Masters Palace in Rhodes during the Knights jurisdiction has also depleted the sites.
It was in fact an earthquake in 1933 that devastated much of the housing in the town that allowed excavation work to be carried out by the Italian invaders and subsequently Germans. Unfortunately, although this has revealed much of what was hidden, many art treasures were taken to Rome and Berlin from the sites leaving mere shells of history without the items which show their beauty and purpose.
On every street and bit of spare land in the town is ancient stonework, and to a layman it appears that a vast amount of further excavation is necessary which will probably never be carried out, but there are several impressive sights to be seen including the imposing Knights Castle, the Odeum, the reconstructed Roman Villa, the cool Nymphanaen, the mystical Asclepion (2 miles away), and the ruined town's houses with fine mosaics, plus of course the Hippocrates connection to the sanctuary and town. In all it is a place where you will not see everything at first glance a serious searching is needed to get the complete picture of the past!
A Back Street
The City Walls
The "Tax" Gate?
The Templar House
Greek Orthodox Church
Mosque in the Market Square
The Turkish Mainland from Kos