Originally entered through a tetrastyle pedimented gateway, or Propyleion, which stood at the initial flight of open steps, the First Terrace was an enclosed area, bounded on three sides by a continuous colonnaded stoa, with its fourth side formed by the retaining wall of the Middle Terrace straight ahead, whose niches would have been peopled with statuary and running fountains of water. The area thus enclosed provided lodging for patients, and constituted the principal work-place of the practitioners, who were neither solely priests nor doctors, but a hybrid of the two which has no real equivalent today. It was in this area that the fruit of continual observation of patients and the transmission of experience from elder to younger practitioner accumulated and took the form of the body of knowledge enshrined in the corpus of Hippocratic Writings.
The column bases of the portico, or stoa, of the First Terrace are visible, with the outlines of spacious rooms behind. The sanctuary must have been able to accommodate a considerable number of people. To the right of the central staircase ahead is a niche with a pedestal in white marble, on which stood a statue of Nero as Asklepios: a legible inscription be low refers to the person who dedicated it, [Gaius Stertinius] Xenophon, a 1st century ad physician from Cos who practised successfully in the Imperial court at Rome, and who appears also to have endowed a medical library at this sanctuary. Further to the right, slightly projecting from the line of the wall, are three arched niches with thermal water pools at ground level for the therapeutic waters. As can be seen from above on the edge of the Second Terrace, these form a separate, self-contained block, which stands in an inset in the retaining-wall, creating a separate storage tank for the waters which spouted below. Still further to the right is a rectangular ablutions sink, and an area of lavatories added in the 3rd century ad beyond the corner of the stoa.
To the left of the central stairs, the third niche houses a fountain surmounted by an eroded relief of Pan playing the syrinx. The wall all along here has been extensively restored and rebuilt: the two despoiled and headless statues at the far left-hand end of it give little impression of the wall’s original effect when peopled with the fine dedicatory sculptures mentioned by Strabo and Pliny.
The whole of the terrace’s eastern end is dominated by the massive ruins of a later addition to the site—the Roman thermal baths of the 3rd century ad. Small areas of mosaic floor are still in evidence, as well as the revetment in Proconnesian marble and coloured plaster, which covered the ungainly rubble and cement walls. The largest chambers— the frigidarium and tepidarium—had plunge-pools of water, sunk into the apsidal spaces at their sides, in which the bases of fountains are still visible: these chambers were vaulted to a considerable height. Some of the best-preserved plaster work, with its deep red colour and decoration, is visible in the lower chamber below and outside the north wall of the baths.
A path around the back from here leads to the Antiquarium building put up by the Italian archaeologists to the east of the whole complex, which is currently empty and being restored. From this path the three protruding apses of an Early Christian church, which was built inside the baths in the 5th or 6th century, can be seen in the eastern perimeter of the buildings: some commentators refer to this as the ‘Panaghia tou Alsous’, which is the name normally given to the later mediaeval chapel built over the pronaos of the Temple of Asklepios on the Upper Terrace (see below).
Kos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
Asklepieion. First terrace.