Kos The Asclepeion

Asklepion ancient site Kos, Dodecanese, Greece ©Clairy Moustafellou/IML Image Group Asklepion ancient site
Kos, Dodecanese, Greece
©Clairy Moustafellou/IML Image Group Asklepion ancient site
Kos, Dodecanese, Greece
©Clairy Moustafellou/IML Image Group

It is the most important tourist attraction of the island and one of the most important archaeological destinations in Greece.

The most famous among the 300 known Asclepeions of the ancient world were the one of Trikki in Thessaly, where the worship of Asclepius started, the one of Epidaurus in Argolis and the one of Kos. The reputation of the Asclepeion of Kos reached its peak ever since Hippocrates, the leading physician of antiquity and founder of modern medicine, started teaching and treating patients there. The place where medicine left its magical and religious origins behind and was based purely on science for the very first time is located 4km northwest of the town of Kos on a hill that is filled with pines and cypresses.

The site was discovered by Iakovos Zarraftis and the first systematic excavations were initiated by the German archaeologist R. Herzsog in 1902. During the 1930s the Italian administration of the island implemented an extensive restoration program that gave the site its current layout. The Asclepeion stretches from the north to the south and is divided in three levels (terraces) that are separated by retaining walls. The levels are connected with imposing marble steps.


There used to be a Doric order arcade on three of the four sides of the first terrace with rooms and ancillary spaces. Many of those were used for diagnosing and treating illnesses and for the accommodation of patients and students of the School of Hippocrates. The toilets that were built in the 1st century AD were located at the western end of the arcade, whereas a Roman baths compound was discovered at its eastern end. Only fragments of murals and mosaics have been preserved.

There is a row of arched alcoves on the south side of the terrace dating back to the Roman times. There used to be statues of deities, wall founts with thermal waters and water tanks in their cavities. A depiction of Pan with water running from a spring right under his goat legs still exists today in one of them.

Two springs provided water to the Asclepeion. One with ferruginous water located southwest of the site in “Kokkinonero” and another one (called “Vourina”) that still provides water to the site today and is located at the southeast. Water was continually flowing in the marble gutters at the side of the arcade creating a constantly cool atmosphere.


A marble staircase leads to the middle level of the site. There used to be buildings related to worship on this level. A big altar dedicated to Asclepius used to be at the center opposite the entrance. Some ruins to the right pinpoint the former location of the Ionic temple of Asclepius. South of the temple there was a Doric order building. It either housed the priests (Asclepiads) or was used as an “avaton”, namely a place where patients underwent the process of “enkoimesis” (entering a dream-like state) in order for Asclepius to show them in their dream how to get rid of their illness. There is a semicircular statue pedestal, a wall fount and a Peripteros of the 2nd century AD dedicated to Apollo at the east.


60 imposing steps lead to the great Doric order temple of Asclepius that is located at the most prominent position of the third terrace. The dimensions of the temple were 34m by 18m and it had 104 columns. It was similar to the temple of Asclepius in Epidaurus from an architectural point of view. The vestibule was converted into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary during the early Christian times. There was a Doric order arcade on the southern, western and eastern side of the terrace with rooms that were used for accommodation purposes.


The Asclepeion used to house many art treasures such as the frescoes of “Antigonus “and “Venus Anadyomene” that were created by Apelles, a renowned painter of ancient Greece, but, unfortunately, do not exist today. According to Strabo, the ancient Greek geographer, that visited the Asclepeion in the 1st century BC it was “a very illustrious shrine filled with oblations …”


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