Strabo's testimony:

The Asklepieion lies around 3,5 km South West of Kos town, in a place where the gradual height increase of the ground (90,­1 m, above sea level) is substantially important. Our knowledge about the Askle­pieion and its surroundings comes from three sources:

  • Literary (ancient writers' texts).
  • Archaeological (inscriptions and other finds).
  • Toponymic (names of places).

Strabo (67 BC - 23 AD), who was the main geo­grapher of ancient times, provided us with lucid information about this monument. He specifically wrote in his "Geographika" (XIV, 657):

    "The sacred Asklepieion lies in the suburbs of the town and is full of votive offerings, among which is the "Antigonos" painting by Apelles. There was, also, the famous painting "Anadyomene Aphrodite", which is now in Rome, dedicated by Augustus Caesar to his father. It is said that the Romans let 100 talents off the taxes, paid by the people, for this painting. It is, also, said that Hippo­crates, by thoroughly studying the votive plaques (at the Asclepieion), learned a lot about ways of curing diseases ..."

Strabo provides us with three important pieces of information:
  • The first one is about the position of the Asklepieion.

  • The second one is about the decoration of the Asklepieion with magnificent paintings such as "One-eyed Antigonos" and "Anadyomene Aphro­dite" painted by Apelles, a famous painter of Ancient times.
    This piece of infor­mation confirms a previous description of these pain­tings by the Koan poet Herondas (3rd cent. BC), writer of the mimes.

  • And, finally, the third piece of information is about the relation between Hippo­crates and the Asklepieion, the records of which he studied to practice his healing methods, as it was said.

  The discovery of the Asklepieion:

The Asklepieion of Kos remained buried for about 1350 years after the dest­ructive earthquake in AD 554/551, described by Agathias Scholastikos".
It was discovered by the Ger­man archaeologist Rudolf Herzog (1871-1953), with the significant help of Iakobos Zarraftis (1845-1933) - a fine scholar of antiquity - on October 9th, 1902.

The reason for the archaeological excavations was the publication, in 1891, of an Egyptian papy­rus with Herondas' "mimes", the fourth of which thoro­ughly describes the sculptures and paintings of the Asklepios' temple in the famous Asklepieion.

W.R. Paton, an English archaeo­logist first came to Kos, sent by the Berlin Academy, to trace the exact position of the Asklepieion.

He was later followed by Rudolf Herzog, a German doctor of Literature, who came to Kos to conduct preliminary excavations in places near Kos town. Paton, by tho­roughly studying the name­places of the area where the delapidated church of "Our Lady of the grove" was standing, claimed that this was probably the position of the Asklepieion.
Zarraftis, Herzog's assistant, agreed with Paton and conducted a preliminary excavation in that area which resulted in the discovery of the Asklepieion.

Herzog used the stratigraphy technique of excavation till 1905, that is, the gradual unearthing of the ground in layers by using delicate instruments, to discover various objects of the Hellenistic as well as the Post-hellenistic and Ro­man periods.

It is not known whether he condu­cted further excavations in this area to find remains of the classical or any other periods.

In 1928 Luciano Laurenzi, an Italian archa­eologist, started excava­tions in the lowest level towards the east side of the first terrace (andiron) and managed, in 1930, to find the Roman Thermes (baths), only a part of which had been discovered by Herzog. Later, in 1938, Greek craftsmen started restoration works, with the help of Italian archaeolo­gists, architects and topo­graphers, which were stop­ped in 1940 due to the war. The Roman Baths. The materials used for the restoration were marble and tuffstone and the architectural structure chosen resembled the Italian architectural style.

The Italian archaeologist Luigi Morricone, who completed the excavations in the Thermes in 1937/38, discovered, near the Asklepieion, a bunch of Mycenaean weapons as well as some small mycenaean and geometric pots, pro­bably from graves, which show the occupation of the area in earlier periods"

  The worship of Asklepios on Kos:

We've got two versions of the worship of Asklepios, the God of Medicine, in Kos. According to Pausani­as (Lakon. III. 23,6) this worship was brought to Kos by Dorian settlers coming from Epidaurus", whereas according to Herondas (mimes II, lines 95-98 and IV, lines 1-4) Asklepios' worship was brought to Kos from Trikke, in Thessaly. Ancient inscriptions state that the Asklepios' worship began in the second half of the 4th centrury BC following the Apollo worship which had begun in the 5th century BC. These inscriptions refer to a temple dedicated to "Apollo Kyparissios" (cypress-tree). These cypress-trees made up the "Holy Grove" which surrounded the temple. People weren't allowed to cut these trees down because it was believed that such an act would show great disrespect to God Apollo. This religious taboo lasted for over four centuries", An inscription of the 5th or 4th century BC reads: "Paean in the woods", Paean is related to Apollo or Asklepios. Also, the name of Asklepios is found on Koan inscriptions, either on its own or with the na­mes of Hygieia and Epione. According to a Koan myth, Epione, being Asklepios' wife and Heracles' daug­hter," connected the family trees of the Asklepiads and the Heraclids, who were the supreme families of the island. The Asklepiads (priests - physicians), who were ­according to his biographers - ancestors of Hippo­crates (460-370 BC) pro­bably came to Kos from Epidaurus or Trikke via the Knidos peninsula. AsklepiosTrikke, a town in Thessaly, is more possible, though, because Hippocrates" spent the last years of his life in Thessaly and died there and the Asklepiads kept pointing out their relation to "Thessaly", All the doctors of the island, from the early 4th century BC, were members of the "Asklepiads Society". There was, also, the "Koan and Knidian Asklepiads Society": The name of Asklepios is found on lists of offerings of the 3rd century BC befo­re the name of Apollo "Kyparissios" whereas only the name "Kyparissus" remained on Koan ins­criptions of the 2nd century BC. "Kyparissiotes" must have inhabited the area of the Asklepieion during the 3rd century AD. A series of coins of the 4th century AD shows that the temple existed, probably as a hospital, till late antiquity. Byzantine emperor Theodosios II's decrees, as well as the earthquake in 469 - during Leo I's reign­caused its decline and probably its conversion into a Christian temple during the 5th century AD. A devastating earthquake in 554/551 - during emperor Justinian's reign - comple­tely destroyed the temple, which led to its desertion".


As the years went by and due to constant geological changes, it was covered with alluvium.
The area around the great Asklepios' temple - on the top andiron (terrace) - was inhabited by Christians who made a cemetery and - in the early 13th century - established a church called "Our Lady of the grove", thus creating the name-place of the area. This church belonged to the Patmos Monastery" and its remains were the only ones saved till the beginning of this century when the Askle­pieion was excavated by archaeologists.
Between the 14th and 16th centuries, remains of the Asklepieion were used as building materials by the St. John Knights. In the 18th century the whole area was turned into an orchard by the Ottomans, which was also deserted in the 19th cen­tury.

  Description of finds and restoration works:

The Asklepieion finds date back in the 4th century BC and they mostly belong to the Hellenistic and Post ­hellenistic periods. There are no finds belonging to earlier periods and this claim is based on the fact that the Asklepieion is divided into three successive terraces (andira) which is an Oriental ele­ment adapted by Greek architects who were influ­enced by Alexander the Great's conquests". The architectural formation of the Asklepieion was com­pleted in four building phases:
- The first phase, dating back in the first half of the 3rd century BC, was just an artificial formation of the natural levels of the ground, which preserved the natural beauty ofthe landscape ",
- The second phase dates back in the first half of the 2nd century BC when all the buildings of Kos town were restored or recon­structed",
- The third phase dates back in the 1st century AD and the fourth one between the 2nd and 3rd century AD, intensely influenced by the Post - Hellenistic and Ro­man architecture".
Despite this influence, though, the Asklepieion retained its close con­nection to the natural surroundings and kept its placidity and balance of texture combined with the brightness and motion of style, which made it one of the most magnificent monuments of this kind and a real sight for sore eyes!

The staircase with the parts of the original stairs. The three successive terraces (andira) of the Asklepieion are joined together with restored marble staircases (parts of the ancient stairs can be seen).
After we climb on the 23 steps of the 1 st monumental staircase, which is 13, 15 metres wide, we reach the Propylaea and the 1 st huge rectangular terrace".
There used to be a colonnade of the 3rd century BC on three sides of this terrace. The foundations of this colon­nade and the base of the columns as well as the clay pipes of a water reservoir can still be seen. Behind the colonnade we can see the foundations of the rooms where patients, visitors, athletes and pilgrims used to stay during the "Minor and Great Asklepieian Games of Kosi, which were held from the middle of the 3rd century BC. The fontain with the stone statue 		of Pan holding the Syrinx.
There is a retaining wall with niches on the south side of the terrace. These niches, which were restored with tuffstone, were occupied by statues such as the headless ones of Asklepios and Hygieia. There is a fountain on one of the niches. The water goes to a tank and from there, through a small water ­canal, to the fields surrounding the Asklepi­eion. There is a stone statue of Pan, holding a syrinx, above the fountain. This ancient fountain, the water of which runs even today, contributes to the authen­ticity of the monument.

The base of the statue of the Koan physician Gaius Stertinius Xenophon. There is a niche, to the right of the big staircase leading to the 2nd terrace, holding the base of a statue with an inscription referring to the famous Koan phy­sician Gaius Stertinius Xenophon (l st cent. AD) who lived in the courts of emperor Claudius, was an Asklepiad priest and was honoured by Koans as a benefactor of his country. There is a little water springing from this base. This water must have been used for hydrotherapy. Herzog called this part of the Asklepieion, which was considered to be a votive offering to Asklepios, Hygieia and Epione, "The little temple of Xeno­phon". It is, also, said that Xenophon founded a library in the Asklepieion.
To the west of this little temple are two fountain bathtubs, which were, also, used for hydrotherapy. Finally, there is a small Vespasiani (toilets) at the SW end of the colonnade.

The Roman Baths. On the east side of the 1st terrace are the "Ther­mes", remains of baths of the 3rd century AD. The Thermes is a big building with long arched halls. The thick walls were made of small stones and asbestos. Also, there are traces of painted plaster on these walls. The pools, which have marble floors, and the heated rooms can still be seen. According to L. Laurenzi these baths were made of materials taken from a hellenistic building which might have been standing in the very same place".

The Aphrodite's premises. To the left of the 1st terrace entrance and along the outer wall are five underground rooms with no windows which were called "Aphrodite's premises" by Zarraftis. These rooms were decorated with a lot of bird paintings and contained various votive statuettes. It has been hypothesised that there was a temple to Aphrodite on the same spot, holding the famous statue by Praxiteles".

We climb to the second (middle) terrace on a restored marble staircase with 30 steps, which is 9,70 metres wide. In the middle of the 2nd terrace are the remains of an Altar dated to the 3rd century BC. It was a rectangular marble creation with sculptural decoration. This altar constituted the "kernel" of the whole building synthe­sis of the first formation of the Asklepieion. The altar was reached up a slope from the west, thus making it easier for people to carry the sacrificial animals. There was a small colonna­de around it, and next to this were the famous sculptures by the sons of Praxiteles", A lot of clay votive offerings were found there during the excavat­ions".

The Altar. The Altar, as it is pre­served today, replaced a smaller one of the 4th century BC, specifically of 350-330 BC, and it was dedicated to the gods Helios, Hemera, Machaon (son of Asklepios) and "Ekata".
Another restoration of the altar, copying the pattern of the Great Zeus altar in "Pergamon", was done during the 2nd century BC.
To the west of the altar is the first small Asklepios temple (300-250 BC). It is in the Ionian style and its pedestal measures 15,07 by 8,78 metres. The Altar. The two restored columns of the east side have ancient drums, the edges of which have been destroyed. In the cella of this temple, apart from the statues of Asklepios and Hygieia, was a rectangular opening lined with marble slabs: this was used as a "treasury" and patients and visitors would drop their offerings into it. It might have, also, been used as a "bank" by rich people of the time. This treasury was established, according to Schazmann's estima­tions, around 300-270 BC.

Beside the temple, to the west of it, is a building with two rooms, which is in the Doric style. This was the "Abaton", a "sacred house" to which entry was not per­mitted, where the sacred spring rose.

The Exedra. The foundations of a semi-circular "platform", the Exedra, presumably used for outdoor meetings of the priests, lie to the south of the altar and in front of a restored, with tuffstone, curvilinear wall of the post ­hellenistic period. The niches of this wall were occupied by votive sculp­tures. "Antigonos" and "Aphrodite Anadyomene", works of Apelles, might have been standing in two of these niches",

To the east of the altar are the remains of another temple, built in the 2nd century AD, dedicated to Apollo. The Apollo Tempel in the Corinthian 		style. The seven co­lumns, which were recon­structed during the Italian occupation, are in the Corinthian style. Only two tIuted drums of the columns remind of an ancient temple. In front of the temple are some bulky pieces of the roof eaves which have drainpipes decorated with clay masks. The foundations of a building belonging to the Hellenistic period were found a little further to the east of the temple. This building might have been used as a "club".

The monumental stairca­se to the third terrace has 60 steps, with a break in the middle. The monumental stairca­se to the 		third terrace. There are retaining walls, made of tuffstone, on both sides of the staircase. The third terrace was added to the Asklepieion in the early 2nd century BC in order to offer hospitality to the numerous patients and visitors who used to come to Kos, especially after the Panhellenic acknowledge­ment of the right of immunity as well as the enforcement of truce during the "Minor and Great Asklepieian Games' (music contests and athletic games), which were first held in 242 BC.
There is a colonnade around three of its sides with rooms only in the east and west sides. These rooms were built in the 2nd century AD replacing older timbered constructions.

View from the third terrace.

In the middle of the terrace, is the great peripteral temple of Asklepios built in the Doric style in the 2nd century BC. This temple is bigger than the one of the 2nd terrace. It is 33,28 metres long and 18,79 metres wide".
In the ancient times, it could be seen by those approaching Kos by sea.
The Great temple of Asklepios domi­nated the whole Asklepiei­on! Unfortunately, View of the Tempel of Asklepios at the third terrace. only the quay walls and the marble floor are preserved today.
On the east side there is a large marble plaque and a column capital on which a cross and the byzantine letters IC. XC Jesus Christ) have been carved. View of the rooms and the Asklepios tempel on the third terrace. This was the altar of the Christian Church "Our Lady of the grove".
The remarkable features of this temple are its floor and the size of a column drum made of white mar­ble", which is in the north side and its perimeter is 3,90 metres.

In the middle of the south side of the colonnade is a staircase leading to the sacred grove where, accor­ding to Pausanias", nobody was allowed to be born or die.
The cutting of the cypress-trees was, also, forbidden", as ancient ins­criptions state". It is known that the sacrilegious se­nator Poplius Turullius (31 BC), one of Julius Ceasar's assassins, was sentenced to death because he had cut trees to build ships for the Roman Fleet.

The cypress - grove and the pine wood, surrounding the Asklepieion today, were planted after the unification of the island with Greece. The clay pipes of a water ­reservoir can also be seen on the same terrace. The water of this reservoir used to come from springs lying in the Asklepieion area as well as from other springs that were 2 km away such as the Soulu (or St Soulas) spring, from which luke­warm mineral water was flowing, and the Kokki­nonero spring, with cold crystal - clear water gush­ing out.

Finally, on the third and last terrace are traces of a temple (temenos) belonging to the Hellenistic period. It was discovered on the top of the hill, to the south of the 3rd terrace, by Morricone just before the German occupation".

Unfortunately, the Askle­pieion was plundered and even set on fire. The knights of St John converted it into a quarry. They removed building materials and used them for the construction of the Fortress. It is said that both Muslim mosques of Kos, the one in Eleftherias square and the "Loggia mosque", were made of marble and stones taken from the Asklepieion. Two lime-kilns, found by Herzog in niches of the retaining wall near the exedra ("platform"), contri­buted to its destruction. However, there are some remarkable finds such as:

  1. The head of a famous statue, depicting Alexander the Great on horseback, and a part of the horse's leg made of fine white marble. Also, a series of ancient coins, which were sent to the Constantinople muse­um, as well as a great number of coins (of the 4th century AD) that have never been on display till today. These coins show that the Asklepieion continued exi­sting till late antiquity".

  2. Apart' from four inscriptions, honouring two Koan judges and two doctors", another 13 hono­rary inscriptions were found in the Asklepieion showing the Panhellenic acknowledgement of the right of immunity and the enforcement of truce (after 260 BC), during the celebra­tions of the "Minor Askle­pieian Games', which were held annually at first, and the "Great Asklepieian Games', which were held every five years with sacrifices, music contests and athletic games honou­ring Asklepios. Leaders such as Ptolemy II Philadelphos, Ziailas king of Bithynia, Gelon, the son of tyrant Hieron II, Ptolemy III Euergetes as well as towns such as Lakedaimon, Messina, Thelpousa, Elis, Aigeira, Homolion, Thebes, Megara, Kassandreia, Amphipo­lis, Philippi, Ainos, Maro­neia, Kios, lasos, Arsinoe, Neapolis, Elea are all nentioned in these ins­criptions".

  3. An instrument case, a small pot and 24 surgery instruments which were found under a huge rock and which eventually beca­me parts of private collec­tions. Most of these instru­ments, two of which were made of silver and the rest of brass, are mentioned in the Hippocratic Collection (CORPUS HIPPOCRATI­CUM) and show that this sacred place was also an infinnary 46.

In the year 1936, the Italians constructed, to the east of the Thermes, a small building, with a pavillion and a decorative swim­ming-pool, for the storage and protection of the Asklepieion inscriptions.

There are parts of the Asklepieion that have not been excavated yet.
I. Zarraftis (The Asklepieion of Kos, Athens 1912, p. 43) claims that:

  • The Stadium, where the "Great Asklepie­an Games" were held and which might be lying under the big square.
  • The Theatre, which might be lying in the west wing of the Asklepieion have not been found yet".
He also, claims that if the whole east wing had been excavated, remains of the sun-infirmary and air-infirmary might have come to light. Finally, the fact that the plaques on which patients used to write their names, sicknes­ses and medicines were not found seems quite noteworthy to him",


The unique as well as awesome architecture of this "famous and full of votive offerings" monument", the Panhellenic brilliancy of which has always been related to the Medical School of Hippocrates, and his descendants, and the unimpeded development of its natural surroundings, combined with the clarity of the insular sunlight, give the area a rare sense of mildness and nobility. This is what the thousands of visitors - pilgrims believe as they face it climbing slowly its 113 wide steps. And this is why the Asklepieion of Kos can and has to be proclamed as a Monument of Universal Cultural Heritage.

From the "Special Edition" of "The Asklepieion of Kos" - By Vassilis S. Hatzivassiliou KOS 2000.

The Re-enactment of the Oath of Hippocrates is performed occasionally in the second terrace of Asklepieion.

Information map of the Asklepieion.

General view of the 1st terrace.

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