The Kephalos Peninsula
Almost a separate island by rights, the southwestern peninsula of Kos has its own water sources, its own mountain peaks rising from the sea to 427m, and its own character and history. Evidence of the earliest habitation on the island comes from this promontory; and Strabo mentions a city in this area named Astypalaia which was, he says, the ‘ancient (i.e. Archaic period) capital’ of the island.
The modern village of Kephalos (35km from Kos) straddles a windswept bluff overlooking the long procession of the island eastwards to the peak of Dikaios. There are also clear sightlines to Kalymnos and Nisyros, and for this reason the Knights of Rhodes built a castle here sometime before 1420—the year in which it is first mentioned in sources. The ruins of its high walls visible today may represent only a part of a larger complex, the rest of which has been swept away since 1505, when the Knights abandoned the outpost in favour of their larger castles at Antimachia and Kos. The existing walls are in fact only a thin sheathing of the natural, solid outcrop of sandstone which formed the base of the castle: this means that, inside the enceinte, the ground-level is curiously almost at the height of the top of the walls. The fortress originally must have risen beyond this level, to what would have appeared from outside to be a remarkable height. The other summit of the village is occupied by the Papavassilis windmill. North of Kephalos, a left branch in the road leads into an area of stone-walled houses and cultivated enclosures fed by the springs at Milies: the main road north continues (3.5km) down to the coast, where it drops steeply to the natural harbour of Limionas.
One kilometre south of Kephalos on the road which heads towards the mountains, and c. 50m to the east of the road, can be seen the profile of the remarkable little church of the Panaghia Palatiani, on an eminence with views of the Bay of Kephalos below. This roofless and col lapsing church occupies the site of—and is constructed out of the remains of—a Hellenistic Temple to Demeter, with the podium of the pagan building still clearly visible beneath the southeast corner. (Its stone is of the same warm-red colour observed above in the North Basilica at Aghios Stephanos.) Many ancient stones and fragments lie within and around, and the terracing and decorative elements of its sanctuary or neighbouring buildings can be seen below.
The temple to Demeter did not stand alone here, but must have been on the edge of the ancient city of Astypalaia, whose overgrown remains, known locally as Palatia, lie in the pine-woods further to the west. (Continue along the road a further 600–700m: 20m before a junction with water-fountain, where the road splits for Aghios Theologos, an unsigned metal gate on the east side of the road leads into the trees.) Just below the road is a small, ancient theatre: the bases of the proscenium columns, and a couple of rows of marble seats are visible. Ten metres further to the west is a small Doric temple, di-style in antis, oriented due east, and constructed in the large, clear masonry typical of the late Classical period: the marble blocks are eroded and lichen-covered, yet still preserve their fine finishing. The city stretched up behind to the watershed above, which looks out also to the west: the platform of another temple (this time oriented north–south) and column fragments, can be seen here, just above the level of the modern road. Ancient Astypalaia must also have stretched on below the theatre—down the fertile and protected slope to the east, incorporating the harbour at Kamari as its port. The position has those panoramic qualities and natural beauty so favoured by the Ancients in their choice of sites.
Beyond the junction at Palatia, the right fork leads down (4.5km), through beautiful and undisturbed landscape, to the west coast at the church of Aghios Theologos. The (main) left branch continues south. A track off to the left after 1800m, leads towards the summit of Mount Zini: on its southern slopes is the cave of Aspripetra. (A path signed with red, then green, marks on rocks, leaves from the middle of the split in the road 600m down the track from the previous junction: 25 minutes walk.) The cave is small in proportion to its historic importance. First excavated by Italian archaeologists in 1922, it yielded finds and artefacts from the late Neolithic, Mycenaean and Geometric periods, as well as evidence that Pan and the Nymphs were venerated here in Hellenistic and Roman times. The finds point to the existence of a peak sanctuary in the area; the name of the mountain, ‘Zini’, could be cognate with ‘Zeus’, suggesting the dedication and the site of such a sanctuary on the summit above.
The continuation of the principal road leads into a wild and open landscape to the monastery of Aghios Ioannis Thymianos and beyond (a further 5km of track) to the remote church of Aghios Mamas. Much of the original 19th century structure of Aghios Ioannis has decayed and been replaced by more modest, recent buildings. A spring here feeds a monumental plane-tree. There are limitless views to the south and west, and into the sun which sets over Astypalaia—the distant island of Astypalaia, that is, not the ancient city just visited, which strangely bore the identical name.
Kos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
The Kephalos Peninslula.