“Cruising to the Cyclades” is Peter Sommer Travels’ first cruise in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year’s precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese and this year’s in the Peloponnese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
Our cruise has reached its penultimate destination: the old harbour of Kos. On our image, you can see the Aegean Clipper in all its beauty, distinguished by the fine curved lines and the tall masts that are the hallmark of a Bodrum-built gulet, moored among other boats in the old harbour of Kos.
We started the day off Giali, at anchor next to the Sunworld 9, another beautiful gulet with another Peter Sommer Travels’ group on another trip (we are on the Cruising to the Cyclades itinerary, they are on Cruising the Aegean: from Kos to Patmos). After I wrote my post yesterday, we even met, exchanging greetings and views between guests and guides. It is lovely to say hi to friends in a remote spot of the Aegean Sea!
After a little stroll on Giali, showing our guests some remnants of unexplored ancient presence, we made our way to Kos. Kos is the second-largest of the Dodecanese islands, and it is a place of immense archaeological interest. I have written about Kos Town and its open archaeological areas before, but that’s for tomorrow. Today, we visited the Roman House or Casa Romana, a reconstructed Roman dwelling of very high quality. Then, we went to the island’s most famous ancient site, the Asklepieion, or Sanctuary of Asklepios, a shrine to the god of healing, of special importance in the island that was the birthplace of Hippocrates, priest to Asklepios and – due to his writings – father of medicine. There are grand terraces there, and ruins of temples, and an altar and other remains that make it possible to understand how an ancient Greek sanctuary functioned. We enjoyed the site and its views very much, and also its fine epigraphic exhibit, dedicated to inscriptions found there.
Kos is best-known as a venue for mass tourism, attractive for its sandy beaches and its affordable hotels. That’s all good: Kos is a place where many people have a good time each summer, a time of rest and enjoyment away from their daily life, a time of relaxation, swimming or bathing, of nice food and easy-going evenings with a drink or two. It is a place known for easy pleasure and great hospitality.
For us, however, there is much more: Kos is a place of great historic interest and depth, and Kos town is a site where a very wealthy ancient city (Kos was on a major trade route of antiquity), and a very unusual modern one (Kos Town was redesigned by Italian architects in the 1930s), and everything that went in between (a Byzantine, Crusader and Ottoman history), are visible side-by-side in the one place. For example, our gulet, from which I am writing now, is moored in the old harbour that was the main mooring for boats here since the city’s foundation in 366 BC. It is also next to the castle built by the Knights of Saint John in the 14th and 15th centuries. During that time, these islands were briefly on a unique and distinct historic trajectory, forming the domain of the Knights Hospitallers, ruled from Rhodes and controlling most of the Dodecanese. It is an amazing feeling to be tied up next to those stupendous medieval walls, and the castle is a splendid site to see, but currently closed due to damage by the 2017 earthquake. That, too, is part of the reality of travelling here, and we are waiting to take our guests inside the castle as soon as we are permitted to. I promise a blog post about the castle itself once it becomes accessible again.
Moored in the old harbour of Kos, we share a space with the long-gone ships of Late Classical Greece that once were tied up here, with the Roman traders that came through, with the Byzantine fleets that brought grain (and perhaps Christianity) from Egypt to Constantinople, with the sea-going vessels of the Knights of Saint John, whose castle we still shelter by, with the Ottoman fleets that used the place as a base for raids in the Aegean, with the Italian naval vessels that tried to make the region their own, and with turbulent changes of flag that happened here in the 1940s, from Italian to German to Greek. Even from the boat, we can see the walls, minarets, public buildings and public squares that underline and bear out that history,
Tomorrow, we will explore more of the antiquities in Kos Town, before returning to Bodrum in Turkey for the final night of our cruise.