There was no mistaking that it was Sunday because from quite early church bells were ringing in a monotonous and tuneless sort of way to call the faithful to the early morning services in the various churches nearby.
This was to be our last day in Kos and we had one last ancient site to visit – the Askelepieion, an ancient medical centre or hospital about four kilometres or so out of the city and dating from the third century BC and built to honour the god of health and medicine Asklepios shortly after the death of the physician Hippocrates.
After overnight research there were one or two more Fascist Italianate buildings to find as we walked to the harbour side and wandered through the back streets looking for ever more and more obscure buildings many of which were now no longer used for their original purpose and lacking the grandeur or the appeal of the main civic buildings we abandoned the quest quite quickly and made our way to the bus stop for the mid morning bus to the Askelepieion.
Next to cruising the second holiday form of holiday transport that I hate most of all are those annoying tourist trains which are now an irritating feature of almost everywhere you go. I have vowed never to go on one so was horrified to discover that the bus to the site was not a regular vehicle at all but one of these gaudily painted eye-sores which look so out of place (except perhaps at Disneyland). Unfortunately it was the only sensible way to get to the Askelepieion because walking was out of the question and I wasn’t paying for a taxi so I had to climb down of my snooty pedestal, abandon my lofty principles and jump aboard the train.
It took about twenty minutes to reach the site and we paid the modest entry fee and went inside to see the ruins of the once grand hospital where modern methods of medicine were developed and where treatment was a three stage process of incubation and diagnosis, treatment and recovery and then convalescence.
Rather like the Ancient Agoras in the town there wasn’t a great deal standing and what there was certainly not original because once again it had been dismantled and recycled and try as hard as I could to imagine what it may have looked like it was hopeless because all I could see were toppled columns, ruined temples and fractured and splintered stones. I used to lament such destruction but here I realised that if I wanted to see it I could always go again to the Knights Castle because they used the very stones that are now missing to construct the fortress. My view now is that this really doesn’t matter, it is like a child playing with building bricks, it builds, dismantles and builds again using the same bricks but in a different architectural style.
Temporarily this form of recycling is mostly at an end now thanks to UNESCOand a greater shared global appreciation of World Heritage and for the time being never again will a historically or culturally valuable site suffer the indignity of being wilfully dismantled to build something new and eventually therefore the World will be cluttered up with wholly new construction.
Then and now…
To make the site make more sense for visitors the Italians, when they excavated the site, thoughtfully restored some of the steps and the columns in the same way that they had rebuilt the Acropolis at Lindos and the Street of the Knights in Rhodes.
I used to think this was rather a shame as well but am now persuaded by Henry Miller who wrote of the the reconstruction and interpretation of the Minoan Palace at Knossos on Crete: “There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration. I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact. However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know. I am grateful to him for what he did…” Substitute Italians for Arthur Evans and he could easily have been talking about the Askelepieion on Kos.
An hour was quite long enough to examine the site in a superficial tourist sort of way and after we had walked around all three levels and through the ruined temples and buildings we returned to the car park and waited to be taken back to Kos on the pretend train.
The rest of the day just slipped away as we repeated the activities of the previous day, prepared lunch, enjoyed the sun on the balcony went for a swim to cool down and then walked back into Kos where the lights around the harbour and from the boats made the whole place sparkle like an extravagant chandelier and with the sound of the sea and the smell of the cooking we made our way into the back streets and after inspecting and rejecting a few taverna menus we found our inevitable way back to what had already become our favourite Kos restaurant.