The Asclepeion is perhaps one of Kos’s most famous landmarks. No visit to this island in the Dodecanese would be complete without a trip to this fascinating site. Not only is the history of this tourist attraction interesting, but the views from the top are spectacular too! With the ticket price only being a matter of Euros, this site is well worth a visit.
A visit to the Asclepeion can easily be combined with a trip to Zia, a small mountainside village around 10km further inland. Alternatively, spend the day in Kos Town brushing up on your knowledge of Hippocrates and Aristotle.
Where is the Asclepeion?
Located less than 4km from Kos Town, the Asclepeion is easy to visit on a day trip from the city. Head south-west out of town, through the suburb of Platani until you start to see signs for the Asclepeion. Similar to the UK, Kos has tourist attraction signs which make the Asclepeion simple to find. As the Asclepeion is not far from Kos Town is can be reached by car, bus, moped or even pedal bike. When you see a cypress-lined road you’ll know you’re on the right track.
The site of the Ascelepeion was chosen for its natural beauty. As a place of healing, it was important to choose a location with clean air. Also required were tranquil views and hot springs which were also surrounded by trees and flora.
The history of the Asclepeion
Ancient Greece was thought to have over 300 Asclepias in total. These were also known as healing temples. Named after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. Pilgrims flocked to these temples in order to be cured of their illnesses and ailments. Originally, the treatments at these temples were conducted by the on-site priests. However, as the years went on, the healing processes took on a more medical approach. Hippocrates, the physician known as ‘the father of modern medicine’ is said to have received his medical training at the Asclepeion in Kos. In Kos Town, you can visit the statue of Hippocrates and even the tree where he sat with his fellow scholars.
It is thought the Asclepeion in Kos was built around the 4th Century BC. Various elements were then added over the course of the next few hundred years.
The ruins of the Asclepeion in Kos were discovered at the start of the 20th Century by German archaeologist and historian of medicine, Rudolf Herzog. Between the years of 1902 and 1904 he uncovered several more architectural structures. Some years later, the site was researched further by Italian archaeologists. Certain parts of the Asclepeion site have now been restored to what is thought to be their original state. It is currently maintained by the Italian Archaeological School of Athens.
Exploring the Ascelepeion
The site of the Asclepeion in Kos is built over three-tiered terraces so there are a number of stairs to climb in order to explore the whole area. On each mound, there is a mix of columns, temple ruins, statues and altars to discover. It is fascinating to learn about the medical practices that went on in this historical site and there are guidebooks and signs to inform you as you walk around.
Get Ready For Lots of Climbing
Head up the first flight of 24 stairs to the lower terrace which contains a stoa (a group of columns) in the shape of the Greek letter Pi. This is a rectangular horseshoe shape with three sides. Originally this would have been a majestic building but now only a few columns remain. Along with the stoa, this tier features ruins of healing rooms and thermal baths. The baths would have been used for hydrotherapy and the water from the spring of Vournika is thought to contain salts, magnesium, and minerals that are good for healing remedies.
Further up another large staircase on the second tier is a stoa with some fully restored columns. Although now a selection of scant fragments, perhaps the main feature of this terrace is the Hellenistic altar of Asclepius. This is what would today be called the ‘operating table’ of this healing temple. There is also the temple of Asclepius and a Corinthian temple dedicated to Apollo, the father of Asclepius.
Lastly, on the top level, up the final flight of 60 stairs lies the remains of a third stoa and the Dorian temple of Asclepius which dates from the 2nd Century BC. This would have originally been surrounded by over 100 columns. In the early Christian years, the temple on this third tier was changed to a church called Panagia Tarsou (The Virgin of the Grove). Only one marble column from the original temple was preserved as part of the renovation.
The panoramic vistas from the top of the Asclepeion not only offer fantastic views over the whole site, but on clear days also stretch as far as the Asia Minor coastline! This allows for a great sense of perspective of Kos’ location as well as the natural beauty of the island.
Best time to visit?
The sanctuary site of the Asclepeion can be visited year-round but there are reduced opening times during the low season. These are the months of November to May. Of course, the blue skies of summer make a wonderful backdrop for photography. Alternatively, the clear skies allow you to witness the sprawling landscape that stretches to the coast. As there is not a lot of shade across the site, it is advisable to visit during the morning or later in the afternoon in summer. This will allow you to avoid walking around for long periods in the heat of the day.
We’d generally recommend around 1.5-2 hours to explore the site. But, of course, you are more than welcome to stay longer to discover the ruins in more depth.