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Spring of Vourina
The ridge of Mount Horomedon, with its peak of Dikaios, dominates the eastern half of the island, from which it rises clear to its summit of 843m. The rough track along its ridge offers some of the finest views in the Dodecanese—south to Cnidos, Nisyros and Tilos, east to Bodrum and mainland Turkey, north to Pserimos, Kalymnos and Leros, and west out even as far as distant Levitha and Amorgos. The southern slopes are exposed and arid, while the northern slopes are still partly forested with pine and cypress, and are particularly rich in water. In the 17th century, a visiting French Jesuit from Smyrna, Fr. Jacques-Paul Babin, commented: ‘here are woods of cypress trees of a great many years’ standing, and the Turks are so well pleased with them that they will not suffer them to be cut down.’ Today they are an important refuge for birds, both raptors—Bonelli’s eagle, Long-legged buzzard, Peregrine and Kestrel—and scrub and woodland species, such as the Blue rock-thrush and Blackeared wheatear; the Black woodpecker may also be seen this far south—its fierce ‘drumming’ often heard, long before the dark profile is seen. This is also home to many species of orchids: Ophrys calypsus, -candica, -cornuta, -heldreichii, and -mammosa, as well as the rare Cephalanthera epipactioides. Easiest of all to spot are the spur-thighed tortoises (Testudo graeca), with their noticeably rectangular shells and spurs on each thigh. A substantial population in this area means that they are constant companions on any walks here.
The labyrinth of tracks that traverse these slopes are best reached by leaving the main town on the road, just west of the Casa Romana on Grigoriou V Street, which heads south alongside the ruined Ottoman aqueduct through Ambavris. After (2.5km), a fork to the left leads to the Panaghia Tsoukalaria (1km) in a delightful wooded setting. Though the surrounding buildings here are early twentieth century, the church itself by the spring (and therefore dedicated to the Zoodochos Pigi, or ‘Fount of Life’), is older (?18th century), as the floor and patch of painting on the north wall show. The church’s altar is made of a fluted, pagan altar.
The right fork at the junction climbs steeply and soon becomes an un made track. The two most important sources of water on the mountain, both of which were used in Antiquity at the Asklepieion, can be reached by this route.
First, the Kokkino Nero source—so-called (‘Red water’) because of its high iron content. (Take first track left, before asphalt ends; after 400 m, an outcrop of large triangular rocks is visible on the hillside to right, just before the track crosses the gorge of a seasonal torrent. On the hill, well above the rocks are the remains of the Spring House.) The spring fed an Ottoman aqueduct whose pipes can be followed back a few hundred metres from the ruined Spring House to the water source, amongst the trees.
Second, the Spring of Vourina, a much more vigorous source of water which still furnishes the city of Kos today. (Returning to the asphalt once again, continue uphill, fol lowing what becomes a dust track as it climbs out of the trees and passes the minuscule chapel of Aghios Mamas. Keep left at the chapel, continue to climb and take the first sizeable track available to the right. From here always keep to the right as the track curves through pine trees and then levels out, heading west. Eventually the track traverses a wide, open area: uphill to the left is visible a stand of poplars: the spring is above this. In all, c. 3.3km beyond Aghios Mamas.) Vourina is the ancient spring, Bourina, mentioned by the 3rd century bc poet, Theocritus in line 6 of his Seventh Idyll, the ‘Harvest Feast’—perhaps his most famous and successful Bucolic poem, which is set in an idealised Coan landscape.
‘¦ from the rock The Fount Bourina sprang, whereby a grove Rose at the side, that elms and poplars wove With green leaves in a shady roofing pleached.
Only a few poplars remain today: but remarkably—al though any external monument has now gone—the interior of the ancient fount-house, built into the hillside, is still perfectly preserved. A 30m passageway (c. 0.90 x 2.0m) lined with dressed blocks of limestone leads into the main spring chamber, which is cylindrical with a tall, bee-hive cupola—all constructed from neatly cut blocks which would suggest a late Hellenistic date. Scratched in the walls of the interior chamber are graffiti, many of which are ancient. An entrance further up the hill marks a small window which looks into the beehive chamber from on top. The water still rises with considerable force: its taste is delicious and particularly soft.
Kos Island is part of the Dodecanese Island group
The northeastern slopes of Mt. Horomedon and the spring of Vourina