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Archaeological Sites of Kos Town

The Roman villa of Casa Romana

Amidst the neon mayhem of Kos Town nightclubs, music bars and tavernas are some of the most notable and best-preserved archaeological sites to be found in the Greek Islands.

Tiger mosaic Casa Romana
Odeon was built in the second century
Agora next to Kos Town habour

It may seem a little late in the day to some but Kos island authorities are now committed to making the sites even more attractive to holiday visitors with curbs on traffic and walking trails to link all the major monuments.

Not that there isn't a lot to see already with most of the best excavation sights within an easy walking distance of Kos Town centre. There are three major zones to explore in the centre, to the west and in the east.

The major earthquake in 1933 unearthed many finds and both German and Italian archaeologists carried out extensive excavations in the following years.

Western Zone

The western site is the biggest and boasts many antiquities. Lots escaped the pillaging of stone by the Knights of St John to build Neratzia Castle. Top of the list is the Hellenistic Gymnasium called the Xystos after the practice of athletes smearing their bodies with olive oil then washing it off 'xisoun' after the races. A row of 17 restored columns on the road leading to the Xystos makes for an impressive introduction.

A paved road (Decumanus Maximus) bisects the site, intersecting another road, the Cardo, where the ruined remains of houses have several good mosaics. The House of the Europa is the best example with its 3rd-century mosaic floor depicting a nude Europa.

Several fine mosaics are also found in the 3rd-century Nymphaion. Once thought to be a sanctuary it was in fact a somewhat luxurious public urinal.

Opposite the Xystos is the well preserved and reconstructed Roman Odeon, built in the 2nd century from the ground up, there being no natural amphitheatre for it. Nine marble rows that have been restored with another five granite rows above for the less wealthy spectators.

Central Zone

The best site in the central excavation zone is the Casa Romana, a 3rd-century Roman villa built on the ruins of a Hellenistic house, and full of the most extraordinary mosaics, wall painting and reliefs.

The huge villa has 36 rooms and three atriums or internal courtyards. Exquisite mosaics of a tiger attacking a deer, dolphins and sea nymphs along with wall paintings of Roman soldier and noblemen were discovered here.

The ruins of the Central Thermes lie outside Casa Romana, with an altar to Dionysos. Unfortunately, many treasures of the central zone were removed by the Knights of St John to decorate the castle while others are found in the Archaeological Museum of Kos.

Eastern Zone

The area around the medieval harbour and the ancient Agora are the excavations that are included in the eastern zone. Sections of a Hellenistic wall some 2.5 meters high and up to 8 metres thick can be seen.

An impressive 50 metre-long colonnade that dates from the 3rd century B.C. The Romans restored much of the colonnade which was later covered by an early Christian basilica.

A small temple, possibly dedicated to Hercules, has some mosaic floors and there are several temples and sanctuaries dotted about the site, most of them well signposted.

The Agora, or market, was built right next to the harbour to facilitate sea trade and it has an impressive stairway leading up from the road to a large courtyard. Also in the harbour area is the Thermes baths made up of a circular hall with porticoes and also the ruins of an ancient Stadium.

Holiday visitors to the historic Kos sites certainly have plenty to see with around 30 major monuments sited in a relatively small area with many smaller sites along the back streets of the town, often poorly marked and with relatively difficult access.

Kos Town authorities now plan to put that right with plans for an 'Open Archaeological and Historical Park' deliberately designed to attract more visitors to the island.

Schemes include summer season curbs on car and motorbike traffic on several major roads that thread through the sites and the provision of easier access for walkers and those on pedal cycles.

Other proposals include re-siting the Kos bus station, creating new car parks and new information notices posted at strategic sites throughout Kos town.

Other ideas include the expansion of the Kos yacht marina and a new cruise ship pier to provide direct easy walking access to the major archaeological sites for visitors arriving at Kos island on cruise ships.