Doctors don’t have to look further than Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, for the beginnings of their profession. He’s credited as the first person to believe that diseases occurred naturally and not as punishment from the gods, thus separating medicine from religious practices. He brought a strict professionalism to the practice of medicine and is thought to have developed the Hippocratic Oath, which new doctors worldwide take to uphold medical standards.
Hippocrates was thought to have learned his trade at his birthplace, the island of Kos, from his father and grandfather. The Asklepeion of Kos, the most important archaeological site on the island, was one of many healing sanctuaries in ancient Greece dedicated to the god Asklepios. The priests at these temples usually prescribed a trip to the baths or a gymnasium for a cure, and sometimes used substances like opium to induce trances in the patients. Non-venomous snakes were also often used in the healing process along with dogs.
I visited the Asklepeion of Kos on my day trip to the island. It’s located about 4km from Kos Town. It’s easily accessible via the blue tourist train that leaves from the bus terminal near the castle (click here for more info). The ride on the train cost me €4 round trip while admission to the Asklepeion cost me another €4 (as of October 2012). Bring water and snacks with you from Kos because the concession booth at the Asklepeion is way overpriced! Once I finished with my visit, I waited for the tourist train and headed back to Kos Town.
When I entered the site of the Asklepeion, located in a peaceful and quiet forested area, I could immediately feel the power of the earth. It was quite a strange feeling. Apart from a few tourists, I could only hear the wind whistling between the tall cypress trees.
The first terrace, a wide open space containing the foundations of a few structures, was the entrance to the complex.
The structure to the left contained Roman baths dating from the 1st century. Directly ahead was the propylaea with several steps to the next level of the terrace.
After climbing the steps, the retaining wall and the Temple of Xenophon are visible. The retaining wall has niches where fountains and statues were once held. The Temple of Xenophon was built by a rich doctor from Kos, Gaius Stertinius Xenophon, who was also the personal physician of Roman Emperor Claudius.
The second terrace holds the most interesting structures of the complex.
To the right is an Ionic temple with two columns standing, dating from the 4th century BC. This temple held offerings from sick pilgrims.
The foundations of a home for priests sits next to the Ionic temple.
The altar was built in the 4th century BC and is the oldest structure of the complex. It was rebuilt in the 2nd century BC.
The final structure on the second terrace is a semicircular meeting area called the Exedra.
On the third terrace sits a Doric temple dedicated to Asklepios. It was built in the 2nd century BC. It was the largest temple of the complex.
Finally, a stoa in the shape of the Greek letter Π surrounded the Doric temple. Patient rooms were located off the stoa.
From this level there are excellent views of Kos and the coast of Turkey.