“Cruising the Dodecanese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ last scheduled cruise in Greece in 2017. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog. 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.
Kos is where this cruise started a week ago, and indeed where the vast majority of our guided gulet cruises in Greece start and end. It is a place with which we feel very familiar, where we have friends and where we are able to show our guests some truly great archaeology.
So, we were pleased to return to Kos, as planned, and to be able to tour the modern city, constructed by the Italian authorities then in control of the Dodecanese following the devastating earthquake of 1933, and criss-crossed with archaeological parks that reveal parts of the ancient city, founded in 336 BC and thriving until Late Roman or Early Byzantine times. The morning was spent exploring Kos Town and its antiquities, followed by a superb seafood lunch at one of my all-time favourite restaurants and a pleasant cruise to the uninhabited island of Yali – but that is a different story.
The morning’s tour included parts of the city’s ancient agora, but focused more strongly on the recently reopened Archaeological Museum – another surprisingly rich collection – and especially on its branch at the “Casa Romana” – the Roman House.
The Casa Romana is a gem and should be better known. It is a 2nd or 3rd century AD residence, probably belonging to one of the wealthiest families of Kos at the time, maybe engaged in commerce, or government, or both. The Italian archaeologists who excavated it found it so well preserved that they decided to reconstruct most of the building. As a result, it is a site where we can appreciate the volumes and spaces of a Roman high-class house much better than at most sites in Greece – if you like Roman houses and you have already been to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ephesus and maybe Xanten, this is a place you should see at some point.
There is much to learn here. The use of open courtyard spaces to bring light and air into the structure is clear and can be experienced in situ (our image shows the largest, the peristyle). The visitor can also enter most of the series of ornate reception and dining rooms that reflect on the lifestyle and social structure of Roman cities. Equally clear is the separate and more private nature of the house’s residential part.
There is also much to admire, from bottom to top. The Casa Romana preserves multiple fine mosaic floors, with marine and animal motifs, as well as some fantastic examples of opus sectile, marble inlay flooring. The walls are decorated with frescoes here and there, including some human figures as well as plant motifs and trompe l’oeil architecture, but more frequently they bear beautiful marble cladding, part of which survives. Two of the three courtyard spaces are decorated with elaborate columns, including all three orders: Doric, Ionian and Corinthian.
To add to this already wonderful combination, the Greek Archaeological Service has spent much effort on creating little gardens in the open areas and on decorating the rooms with artefacts, such as small sculptures, vases and so on. All of them are arranged in a meaningful and contextual style and accompanied by highly informative text panels that elucidate Roman domestic life.
It is not surprising that I, as an archaeologist-guide, would enjoy such a place. But what really underlines the value of the Casa Romana for me is the observation of my guests’ facial expressions on visiting it, moving from interest via fascination and amazement to sheer joy.
So much for Kos. Tomorrow will bring other joys…