Quick Facts: Kos
||Many excellent choices
||Many excellent choices
Kos is the third largest
island of the Dodecanese with a population of 27,000. Its land mass
is 290 sq. km. Its coastline is 112 km. Kos lies 201 nautical
miles from Piraeus. Kos has official customs and yacht facilities.
Kos has plenty of
water and is very green. The roads are good and so are the beaches. The island is lush with flowers and orchards. The climate is very good all year around.
In antiquity, Kos
had a population of over 165,000 and was a major trading port and
later a religious center of the Byzantine Empire. There was a strong Turkish influence and a couple of centuries of rule by the Knights of St John. There are many antiquities
and monuments on Kos.
There are lots of large self contained, resort-style hotels, filled in August with English,
Swedish and German package tourists. The aftermath of the 1993 earthquake
resulted in much new and charmless construction. The
castle, some surviving Italian built structures and the two minarets
manage to add character. One good thing about the quake was the revelation of
several Greek and Roman ancient sites smack in the center of
holiday Babylon. The interior of the island is relatively untouched,
but its coasts near the many sandy coves are becoming over-built. Inland it resembles parts of California: golden hills, vineyards, groves, and grazing animals. Lots of lettuce is grown here. There are also many watermelon fields.
The only problems with Kos are the hordes of tourists, touts, neon,
loud night clubs and drunken revelers. You can even get a tattoo!
Kos Town looks magical
as you sail in, with its imposing Castle of the Knights, palm trees
and the smell of jasmine wafting over the waters. Kos Town is the capital and main port. You can see Turkey
on the horizon. The city has a water treatment plant and the
waters are clean. The streets have been made one-way to try and ease
congestion. The monuments are being restored to lure more tourists,
oops, I mean preserve them for future generations.
the main square, a block back from the harbor, has been declared a
no-car zone. Within the square is the Archeology Museum, (Tues-Sun,
8:30-3, fee) housed in an Italian art-deco building modeled after
a Roman house. The prize exhibit is a 4th Century BC statue of an island
son, none other than Hippocrates, father of modern medicine.
The museum also displays
fine mosaics, statuettes and geometric Roman era ceramics. Also within
the Square is the18th Century Defterdar Mosque, still used by the 50
Muslim families living mostly in near by Platani town. It's not
open to the public. The city's market is also located here as is the entrance
to the Ancient Agora through the Porta tou Forou or "door
of the taxes" covered with exquisite bougainvillea vines. The ancient Agora consists of a series of ruins, many revealed after the 1993 quake including the ancient harbor,
a Temple to Aphrodite and a 5th Century Christian Basilica. On the northern
end of the Agora is the huge, 53 ft in diameter Hippocrates' Plane Tree and nearby fountain. Its estimated to be 700 years old, but obviously Hippocrates never lectured
under its boughs as they would have you believe. Most Greeks believe the
shade of the plane tree to be the best. So apparently did the Turks
for they built the fountain just below. The fountain was made using a handy sarcophagus for a basin
and is meant to water the faithful as they emerge from the Mosque of the Loggia just above.
The Castle of the Knights of St. John
off Platea Platanou (plane tree square), a stone bridge carries one over
the former moat to the entrance of the Castle of the Knights of St John (Tu-Sun, 8:30-3). This
combined with the castle across the strait in Bodrum comprised the outer
defenses for the island of Rhodes. After the 1495 earthquake the Grand
Master d'Aubusson rebuilt the walls and further fortified them with
an outer enceinte. He unfortunately demolished or borrowed heavily from
the Agora and other ancient structures to do so. The masonry is a mixture
of various stones with ancient inscriptions and the knights' coats of
arms. Within the castle's antiquarium are many ancient pieces from around
Kos has several
archeological sites in the Seraglio Quarter some of which were
revealed after the earthquake of '93. The Hellenistic Altar
of Dionysus, the ruins of the Central Baths and Vourina Spring and
the Casa Romana (Tues-Sun, 8:30-3, fee) which has nice mosaics
and offers a good idea of the opulence and spaciousness of wealthy homes
of the period.
Farther west by the Catholic Church on Grioriou St. is
the Roman Odeon (theater). Just opposite are the Western Excavations which reveal a mix of historical periods. There are massive Hellenistic walls built around the Acropolis, now studded with
a minaret. There's a gym with 17 restored Doric pillars. Opposite are the marble paved main streets of Roman
Kos lined with ruined ancient domiciles, especially the House of Europa. The ancient stadium is a block
Beaches near Kos Town
There are two
beaches near town, both very clean but overcrowded.
city bus goes to the less crowded beach at Lampi at the northern
tip of Kos and Psalidi (3km) to the south. The bus also goes to Aghios Fokas (8km), just
where the south coast begins. Or get your own scooter and head to the more remote Embros Therma (13km),
due south of Kos town where the hot springs make the water a few degrees
warmer and the HOT volcanic sand is dark gray. (picture left)
Four km west
of Kos Town and reachable by city bus, lies the Asklipion (Tu-Sun,
8:30-3, fee), discovered by the German archeologist Herzog (not
to be confused with Werner Herzog, the film director, who made Signs
of Life on Kos in 1966).
The archeologist Herzog followed
the description of ancient Roman historian Strabo and discovered
this very important Sanctuary of the Healer Asklepios in 1902. Certain restorations
have been undertaken by various parties including the Italians while in
control of Kos. You can see signs of restoration on the re-erected columns. In fact 95% of these columns are not original.
Asklepios was the Healing God
of the ancient Hellenic world and was served not by priestesses but by a initiated
group of Priest Doctors called the Asklepedia, of which Hippocrates was a member.
This group kept its inner working secret, but its basic tenants were that
good clean water, plenty of fresh air and a pleasing environment without stress
would go far in curing disease. Their symbol was the same twining snake used
today by modern western medicine. Snakes were considered sacred intermediaries
between the living and the dead because they were often found in cemetery
holes. They had a taste for the mice used regularly for grave offerings. The
fact that rodents carried fleas and that fleas carry diseases like plague
may have had something to do with it, too. Most common individuals' houses
had a sacred hearth and accompanying hearth snake which lived in a special little
hole. Snakes were also believed to instinctively search out hallucinatory
and healing herbs which were also part of the therapy along with dream visitations
of the healing God himself.
The Asklipion is on a hillside an consists of
a series of terraces and a grand stair. On the lowest level are Roman baths. The next level had baths and the medical school. On this level, too, was the sacred spring to the god Pan. The next terrace is the Altar of Asklepios. At the top was the Doric Temple of Asklepios, which, of course, had the best view.
Just up the road is the modern International Hippocrates Foundation. On the way back to Kos Town, you can see Platani, the main Turkish settlement.
Kos at one time had
a large Turkish minority but with the tensions over Cyprus, many have
left the island. About 50 Muslim families remain on Kos and they mostly
reside in Platani along with a Greek minority. Everyone
seems to get along just fine but the good news is the Turkish restaurants
that await visitors.
The final spot of interest on the way back to Kos Town is the Jewish Cemetery, right off the road in a pine grove.
Beaches of the North Coast
is flat in the NE and has a decent beach at Tagaki pictured far left
although as you can see it gets crowded. Nearby are the salt marshes
of Alikies where in spring numerous flamingoes and other migratory
birds stop in. The protected loggerhead turtles also use the sandy
spots for their egg laying. Marmari village has a good size
sandy beach and is where to catch the water taxi to Pserimos Islet.
It also has a horseback riding center, Tel: 41783. Further along
the coast is quieter Mastichari with its nice beach and the port
Kos has a mostly
mountainous central backbone. From Kos Town take the road west to see some wonderful
views and arrive at the village of Zipari with its two ruined Byzantine
basilicas. The road then passes through woods to a couple of white washed
villages: Asfendiou and Zia with well kept gardens, ground
water and walnut groves. These villages are on the tourist bus routes and
can become inundated with just one bus load. Kos' highest peak Mt.
Dikaios Christos at 846m is a 3 hour hike.
From Asfendiou the road cuts
cross country to Lagoudi and then to Amaniou and the turn to
Old Pyli. Old Pyli was the Byzantine capitol of Kos, now a ghost town camouflaged
rather cleverly in the rocks. The modern village of Pyli is below and a farming
center. Further west is the 14th Century Castle of Antimacheia (or anti-war)
built by the knights as a prison for some of its rowdier members. Below it is
the large village of modern Antimacheia, which is near the airport. Plaka above the airport has a nice picnic ground and panoramic sunsets.
Beaches on the south coast
Kardamena was a small fishing village, now very commercialized
but it still has a nice sandy beach. It's quite long and the farther you
walk the more secluded it becomes. It culminates at secluded Chelona
Beach a favorite haunt of Chelona's or sea turtles.
Kefalos Bay and its town Kefalos (pop. 1200) are extremely commercialized. The bus will take you there from Kos Town (43km) and to the several
beaches, of which Paradise Beach is the most popular. Camel and Magic Beaches are less congested and
to either side. Both can be reached on foot from Paradise Beach, or
by Kefalos bus. The southwestern waters are cooler yet calmer than those
along the northern shore; and, apart from Kardamena and Kefalos
Bay, the beaches on this side of the island are less tourist-filled.
For wind surfers, the extreme southwestern tip of the island, on the
Kefalos peninsula near Ayios Theologos has steady winds.
Here (left) is the lovely
beach of Antimacheia on the southern shore of Kos. And right, wind surfers
taking a break at Aghios Theologos.
Drinking and Dining
In Kos Town, avoid the waterfront at all costs–it will cost a lot and for sub-standard food, too. Anywhere a tout
tries to get you to eat is a bad sign. The best restaurant in town is
by the Western Excavations at 3 Diagora Sq. Also good is The Anatolia Hamam, Tel:
28323, located in a restored Turkish bath and with a garden. The food
is slightly eastern but excellent.
By the beach try Miramare for
decent food at normal prices. Kouros on George Papandreaou St.
is fancy with a low-light garden setting. For a place where the Greeks
eat try Antonis on Koutarys St. Behind the Hotel try Anna on Meg. Alexandros
Kos is touristy everywhere and Platani is no exception
but Taverna Arap is an exception with great food. Also in Platani, a good taverna with a peaceful
setting may be found down the hill on the way to Psalidi near the Ramira
Beach Hotel: Syntrivani. Turkish food is similar to Greek food
but Turkish table service far superior.
Ancestral memories and
vague myths about Apocalyptic clashes between Giants and Titans hint about
the great upheavals of Kos. The history of Kos goes
back more than 3,500 years. Fossils found on Kos show that at one time the
island was part of a vast mainland, The Aegean Continent. In
prehistoric times the Phoenicians, Cretans, Leleges, Kareans etc. inhabited
Kos island. In the 15th century B.C. the Achaeans, after establishing themselves
on the mainland, spread out to the Aegean islands including Kos.
According to some historians
the present name Kos is taken either from Koon, the name of the daughter of
the King Triopa, or, according to other scholars from the shape of the crab
depicted on one side of the ancient coins of Kos. In antiquity the island
had several different names: Kynnis, after the Giant Kynnas, Meropis after
Meropas the pre-historic King of Kos. Karis, which means shrimp from
the shape of the island, the island of Macars which means Isle of Blissful
Men, due to the happiness and prosperity of the islanders.
According to Homer, Kos
took part in the Trojan war (1194 B.C.) with a fleet of thirty ships, but
after the fall of Troy the Asklepeades fled and were shipwrecked on the shores
of Kos where they introduced the worshipping of Asklepeios the Savior.
In the 11th century B.C.
the southern parts of Asia Minor and many Aegean islands, including Kos, were
colonized by the Dorians. In the 6th, century B.C. Kos flourished and became
a power to be reckoned with; so much that in 700 B.C. Kos along with the cities
of Knidos and Halikarnassos founded the Dorian Hexapolis (the union of six
cities). This was a religious, economic and political alliance with a common
center of worship dedicated to Triopian Apollo, and situated opposite Kos
At the end of the 6th. century
B.C. the Persian King Darios occupied many Greek cities in Asia Minor including
Kos. After the defeat of the Persian garrisons at Salamis, the Koans expelled
the Persians and with the Athenian Federation, governed from the island of
In the middle of the 5th.
century B.C. Hippocrates, the famous physician was born. During the Peloponnesian
war (431-404 B.C.) the Koans remained allies with the Athenians and supported
the democratic governments. The wars between the Athenians and the Spartans
nearly ruined them both.
In 332 B.C. Kos was occupied
for a short time by the Persian General Memmon, who was born on the island
of Rhodes. He was deposed by the Generals of Alexander the Great the same
year. During the Mithridatis wars (85 B.C.) Kos assisted Rome. After Kos was
liberated from Mithridatis the island became part of the Eastern province
of the Roman Empire. Although Kos had autonomy, a privilege bestowed on the
people, because of the Asklepieion, the island did not avoid the tragic looting
of the libraries and art treasures.
St. Paul visited the island
and preached Christianity with success. With the reign of Constantine the
Great and the establishment of Constantinople, Kos became part of the Byzantine
Empire, and was repeatedly attacked by Persians - Saracens - Arabs and Crusaders.
In 1306 Vignoli the Venetian
Admiral of Byzantium, who was also the Governor of the Dodecanese, sold Kos
and the other islands to the Knights of St. John who had been forced out of
Jerusalem. They ruled for two hundred years.
In 1464 the Turks, even though they had 156 ships and 18,000 soldiers, failed
to conquer Kos. In 1523 the Sultan Suleiman through an act of treason managed to take Rhodes.
Because of a treaty with Suleiman the Knights were free to leave the islands
safely - abandoning the people of Kos to the mercy of the Turks. The Turkish
occupation lasted three hundred and ninety years and the Greek culture was
preserved only through the secret teachings of language and history in grottos,
monasteries and hidden schools. Persecution and killings by the Turks became
almost an everyday occurrence.
In 1912, Italy being at
war with Turkey, occupied Kos and the other Dodecanese islands. The Italians
were welcomed as liberators but as it turned out the Greeks ended up under
Fascist rule. In 1943 the Germans took over occupied Kos after Italy’s surrender,
and March 7th 1948 Kos and the rest of the Dodecanese islands were finally
reunited with Greece.
This is a
nice island if you go OFF season and even then there is very little
of traditional Greece. Instead you'll find tourist-trap cafes, restaurants,
bars, and souvenir shops.
The Complete Details
- By Air to Kos: Olympic flies 2 to 3 times a day from Athens and twice a week from Rhodes.
- Charters arrive from the UK and other European cities.
- The airport is 26 km from Kos town.
- By Ferry: From Piraeus, 2 to 3 Ferries a day.
- Kos is connected to Rhodes twice a day, and with varying frequency to: Amorgos, Ikaria, Kastellorizo,
Astypalea, Nisyros, Telos, Patmos, Kalymnos, Syros, Leros, Mykonos, Paros, Agathonisi and Symi.
- One can also cross to Bodrum, Turkey. US citizens must
buy a visa for €100 to enter Turkey payable at border.
Europeans pay less and some nationals, such as Greeks, nothing.
- Kos Olympic Airlines: Tel: 28331
- Kos Airport, Tel: 51255
- Kos Port Authority, Tel: 26594
- Kos City Bus, Tel: 26276
- Kos KTEL Island Bus: 22292
- Kos Radio Cab, Tel: 23333 / 27777
- Kos Archeology Museum, Tel: 28326
- Kos Temple of Asklipion, Tel: 28763
- Kos Municipal Tourist Office, Tel: 26585 / 28724
- Kos Greek Gov. Tourist Office EOT, Tel: 28710
- Kos Tourist Police, Tel: 26666
- Kos Regular Police 22222
- Kos British Consulate, Tel: 26203
- Kos Post Code 85300
- Kos Castle, Tel: 28326
- Kos Marmari Riding Center, Tel: 41783
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