Sailing the southeast islands of Greece and the western coast of Turkey reminds me a bit of sailing the Virgin Islands. The next harbor is only a few hours away. Start your day with coffee in hand and you can be at the next stop for lunch. And during the busy season, you have to start early to get a spot along the quay of the next harbor before they fill up. Like Christmas shopping at the mall on Thanksgiving Friday, be early or park in the remote lot. John and Coralia have gotten so good at backing their forty foot long, twenty-four foot wide catamaran into tight spots along the harbor bulkheads of Europe that they make it look easy. It’s not. They just keep the stress of squeezing between two other boats, with inches on each side, in check. If it were my husband and I, lightning bolts would be flying the likes of which Zeus never knew. But, squeezing boats in, is what the Kos harbor master does. He directs boats into spots that are so small you know they’ll never fit, yet like mythical magic, poof…they do.
In Kos we were directed to a spot along the ancient walls of Neratzia Castle. It took only one look at the walls for us to realize it was built in layers that mark the island’s historic periods, one layer of ruins at a time. The newest rulers would build up the protecting walls with material that they must have considered inconsequential rubble. Today, we consider the carved pillars and stones they used as fillers an important part of the island’s and the world’s ancient history to be preserved in museums, but back then all was free game. So, those pillars toppled by earthquakes or war, and the broken tributes to gods and heroes, can be seen incorporated as the building stones used by the newest conquerors of the city.
We examined these ancient walls like one would the cavernous sides of the Grand Canyon, dissecting its history. The bottom layers of the city’s protecting wall consisted of square cut blocks dating back to 300 BC In 1300 AD, the walls were then reinforced, made deeper and higher by the Knights of St. John while they used the city as a base during the crusades. The knights used whatever they could find to make the walls impregnable and during this process, they buried some of this island’s ancient story probably forever.
When we walked along the castle walls and through its arched doorways, we wondered how this great city could ever have been breached. But their history is long and crowded. A thin line separating mythology from fact. No matter what society we come from and how far back in history we go, humans have been looking for the answer to the same question: where did we come from. In Greece, answer were found in Mythology, or the battle of the gods over control of humans. We apparently need someone or something to dominate us. Kos’s history dates back to 4,000 BC, and their mythical history starts with the battle of the Titans, and Poseidon throwing chucks of the island at his enemy forming other smaller islands nearby. The first king was Triaps and the island was named after his daughter Coas. Kos sent 30 ships to fight in the Battle of Troy around 1090 BC. When Hercules was returning to his home after that war, he became shipwrecked on Kos, he married the king’s daughter and thus came the family of Hercleans. Hippocrates, born in 440 BC, is said to be from this family and the plane tree (at least its underlying roots) under which
Hippocrates taught medicine is still standing today, enshrined in a park just outside the fort’s gates. Archaeologists are now telling us that they have found evidence that the battle of Troy was a real battle. Does that mean that Greek mythology is not mythical? What about Zeus, Hercules, Poseidon and the rest of the gods, did they really exist? Were they part of the now extinct super race that built Stonehenge and the ancient cities in South America buried under the Amazon jungle or maybe the pyramids that were built in 14,000BC. Touring ancient ruins really makes you wonder.
Today, the island of Kos is filled with beauty. The Old Town buildings house shops for tourist trinkets and the Street of Bars is lined with tables and chairs. This is all wrapped around the archaeological dig of the Agora or market, with its towering pillars and ruins of old Kos. A short walk down a cypress lined road with their heavy pungent smell hanging in the hot humid air brings you to the remains of the Roman Odein or theatre. So complete are these ruins that it’s easy to imagine the seats filled with white robed patrons and orators at center stage. Most of the existing buildings in Kos were built by the Knights of St. John in the 1400’s. But after a catastrophic earthquake in 1933, German and Italian archaeologist were given permission to help rebuild and it gave them the opportunity to excavate intensively, uncovering sites that were buried for thousands of years. When we headed back to town from the Odein, we wandered down the ancient race track that runs through more ruins. There we found carved pillars connected by long lintels that surrounded the gymnasium and baths where plumbing made from clay pipes is still visible. These sites add to the amazements of Kos. We can never thank our friends, John and Coralia, for giving us this opportunity to see this part of the world. They are in our hearts forever.