The Western Excavations

This large open area to the south and west of the original acropolis hill is reached by taking Iphai­stou Street uphill from the southwest corner of the square outside the museum. Although Diagoras Square, at the top of the street, occupies the only area which has been uninterruptedly inhabited since the 3rd millennium bc, the excavations below and around the hill display remains from the first five centuries ad only. The alleyway and steps by the minaret which leave Diagoras to the south, descend to Grigori­ou V Street, where, just to the right, are more steps which lead into the excavated area.
   The broad, paved line of the ancient Decumanus, the city’s main east–west artery is immediately visible, run ning parallel to, and below, the existing road. Extravagantly broad (10.5m), endowed with wide sidewalks, backed by rows of shops behind, and with a slightly arched surface for drainage, the street’s importance attracted many of the finest residences, which provide the principal interest here. These lie just to the south, below the visible remains of the Hellenistic retaining wall on the hill behind. Both of the two houses here preserve areas of painting and floor mosaics in good condition, and yield ed much of the sculpture which is now in the museum. To the left, the 2nd century ad House of the Europa Mosaic– is a typical wealthy residence built around a spacious colonnaded peristyle, with a four-lobe water-fountain, once decorated in coloured marbles, in the centre of its paved court. The unusually complete mosaic of the abduction of Europa is to the left; its brilliant colours can be momentarily revived by a splash of water. It depicts a scene from an ever-popular myth in which Europa, daughter of the king of Sidon, became the object of desire of Zeus, who transformed himself into a magnificent white bull, mesmerised the young princess, and carried her off on his back across the sea to Crete, where beside a spring near Gortyn, he fathered children of her.
   To the east of the atrium is a curious narrow room with painted walls, a meticulous drainage system, and a series of interconnected decantation pools for liquids. The house adjacent to the east also possesses fine areas of mosaic floor and decorated walls.
   Two hundred metres further west is the important junction where the Decumanus meets the north–south Cardo street. Much narrower and hemmed in by the construction of later buildings, its immaculately paved course is nonetheless clear and visible to the north, as it heads into an area of public buildings mostly dedicated to sport and recreation. Terracotta water-pipes are visible running down its west side: above, along the same side, are the ruins of large Roman Thermae, parts of which were later converted into an Early Christian church complex after the earthquake of 469 ad, creating a complicated superimposition of buildings and uses. Recognisable (from south to north) are: the baptistery of the South Church, whose marble-clad font with steps descending from east and west, is visible a few metres to the south of the re-erected doorway, with its magnificent marble door frame. This was an entry into the South Church which occupied the area of the caldarium chamber of the Roman baths, whose single remaining vault dominates the sky-line. The beautiful mosaic floor, which the church would have inherited from the baths, has collapsed at the edges revealing the hypocaust system for heating below. From the second, North Church, which occupied an area 25m to the north, vestiges of mosaic flooring and an apse to the east have survived.
   In the 3rd century ad, two important structures which related to the baths flanked them to left and right. The 30m long swimming-pool, with stepped lobes at either end, occupies the area behind a colonnade to the left. Seventeen of the original 81 Doric columns in this colonnade have been re-erected: they formed the support for a roofed area known as the xystos Dromos, where athletic competitions and training could take place during inclement weather. This building was the eastern extremity of a very large Gymnasium which extended under the modern buildings to the north and west, and included the city’s stadium. Flanking the baths to the other side, and bordering on the Cardo, is the large, four-square edifice of the Public Foricae– or lavatories, which were initially referred to as a ‘Nymphaeum’ when they were uncovered—perhaps out of an exaggerated sense of propriety. These were substantially restored by the Italian archaeologists in the 1930s from their elements which were found nearby in a buried lime furnace, where they had been destined to be reduced to mortar. The scale of the building as it is now (best seen through the window on the south side, since it is not generally open), gives a vivid sense of the civil munificence of the Late Hellenistic and Roman world—something which disappeared with the demise of the Roman Empire. This building served only a basic public necessity: but it is decked out nonetheless with Ionic capitals, marble revetment, and abstract and figurative mosaics in the central floor. Every functional aspect was carefully designed: the main drainage channel around the perimeter was flushed continually with water; and the two pouring cascades from the high spouts above the basins on the west side, cooled and circulated the air, while their welcome sound would have drowned out any less desirable noises.
   The northern extremity of the excavations is closed and traversed by the vestibule of a large public building, whose floor is decorated with magnificent mosaics– of the 3rd century ad. Once again, the full range of colour can only be appreciated by splashing water over the floor: a running border with scenes of exotic animals and performers surrounds a central panel (left) of Paris in judgement of the three jealous goddesses, framed above and below by other divinities. Such impressive mosaics are a reminder of the many more which were found here in Kos and which were shipped out in quantities during the 1930s to furnish the floors of the residence of the Italian Viceroy in the Palace of the Grand Masters in Rhodes .


Kos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
Ancient Cos. The Western excavations.

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