Further afield

Three other monuments of interest which lie off the route of this itinerary deserve mention. One block inland from the Harbour Baths (see below) west of the port, and opposite no. 19 Veriopoulou Street, stand the interesting remains of an Ottoman well-house—a large apsidal structure with a wide, free-standing arch in front, which spans a circular area beneath. This area was trodden by a mule that turned a draught mechanism suspended from the arch: the water drawn up thus, passed into the large, plastered cistern to the side and thence into an irrigation system for the gardens in the area—perhaps for the culti vation of Cos lettuces. Various ancient fragments, including a Doric capital, are incorporated into the structures.
   In the south of the town between the Odeion and the Casa Romana, Anapavseos Street leads south to the Catholic cemetery and church of Agnus Dei by Armando Bernabiti (1935–37): the vertical effect of its dramatically elongated entrance gate is further enhanced by the crowding cypress trees around it. Behind this church is the remarkable, domed baptistery of Aghios Ioannis– of the late 5th–early 6th century, once attached to a large Early Christian Basilica whose remains now lie under the surrounding cemetery. (The interior is open only ir regularly at c. 7 am, sometimes on Saturday evenings, and for funerals.) The building’s importance lies in the fact that this is one of only two Early Christian baptisteries in Greece to have survived, complete, into the present day: its interior feels every bit as ancient as it is. The rectangular exterior with a shallow cupola surrounded by undulating forms and reversed semi-domes, is intriguing; but it gives no sense of the unified interior, where eight columns—three still with their ancient Ionic capitals— define a well-proportioned cylindrical area, with receding spaces and conches in the perimeter. The floor is now paved with marble slabs: the original baptismal pool in the centre was filled in when the building became a funerary church possibly as early as the 11th century. Vestiges of 13th and 14th century wall-paintings are perceptible in some of the conches. A door in the north side would have communicated with the main basilica church which once stood in the area now occupied by the cemetery to the north.
   The next road (50m east) which turns off south from Grigori­ou V Street, leads out into the pleasant suburb of Ambavri­s. There are a number of old, stone houses along this street, and the road is lined to the east side by the running arches of the Ottoman aqueduct which brought water from the springs of Mt. Horomedon into the town.

On the form of early baptisteries
This early example of a baptistery building on Kos has the form of an ancient heroon or martyrion—a circular type of pagan mausoleum used for honouring heroes or fallen warriors. Such buildings were circular, with the sarcophagus of the hero or martyr in the centre, and an ambulatory all around it for the devotions of the visitor. It was from this kind of building that the design of the Christian baptistery emerged. The symbolism was important: only by symbolically ‘dying’ could the neophyte be re-born by baptism. And the witnesses to this ‘resurrection’ through water, stood around in the ambulatory. Here at Aghios Ioannis there is a domed roof, supported by eight columns de fining seven lobes and conches in the building plus the door of exit: the building is also referred to as the ‘Epta Bemata’ or ‘Seven Steps’ on account of these seven lateral areas. Seven was an important number in early numerology, symbolising the totality of the cosmos, created by Divine Will in seven days; it was also the sum of four (things worldly—elements, seasons, point of the compass, etc.) and three (things unworldly and of mystical power, such as the Trinity). Here, the baptism of a neophyte took place in the centre, beneath the domed roof (the ‘firmament’), and surrounded by the seven spaces and conches that symbolised the totality of the existing world: he or she entered the baptismal water from one side, left from the opposite side, and proceeded to exit the baptistery through the doorway in the eighth side, into a new spiritual world which superseded the old order symbolized in the seven. Baptisteries and baptismal fonts very commonly have eight sides—whether in Kos, or Florence, or Aix la-Chappelle, or in the local parish church around the corner.

 

Kos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
Mediaeval, Ottoman, Italian and Modern Kos. Further afield.


Random information you might what to know about Kos Island
Giant Ficus magnoliae trees
Ancient port baths

 

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