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History of Kos

The island of Kos has a long eventful history that led to a reputation second only to Rhodes. Following the discovery of some prehistoric tombs, the history of Kos can be traced back to pre-historical times, about 3000 years before Christ, with successive settlements of the Phoenicians and the Achaeans. In ancient times it was the homeland of the Carians who gave the island the name of Caria. Homer mentions in his Iliad that Kos took part in the Trojan War with a force of 30 sailing ships.
This period of Kos history was followed by the domination of the island by the Dorians and Kos, along with Rhodes, Knidos and Halicarnassus, now Bodrum in Turkey, became part of the Dorian alliance of Esapolis.
The most important and influential part of the history of Kos, however, came during the Hellenistic period when, in 366BC, the ancient city with its Agora, Theatre of Music, Gymnasium, Altars of Dionysus and the Acropolis and its many marble shrines and monuments were constructed. This development went hand in hand with the development of a prosperous trade in olive oil, fruit, wine, perfumes, silk and wool and its port was one of the most important trading ports in the Dodecanese. This trade led to a culturally rich population, many of whom lived in luxury, evidence of which can still be seen today in the remains of the Roman House and Spa with its opulent mosaics and decoration.

Several hundreds of years passed in this way until the island was conquered for a short while by the Venetians and Genoese. In 1314 AD Kos became part of the Kingdom of the Knights of St. John, the governors of which were chosen by the Council of the Knights of St. John in Rhodes. A new fortress, similar to that found in Rhodes, was constructed to protect the port of Kos. Building materials for this castle were taken from the ancient town Asklepieion and a new city developed on the foundations of the ancient one. Evidence of this was discovered after an earthquake in 1933 when the remains of the ancient city were uncovered. During these medieval times many attempts had been made by the Turks to take control of the important island and port of Kos but, due to the fortifications erected in Kos Town and elsewhere on the island, the Knights managed to drive them back. Eventually, however, in 1523, the Turks were successful in their mission and thus begun the long reign of the Ottoman Empire. During this Turkish domination the island became the second city of the Dodecanese with many Turkish inhabitants. Evidence of this occupation can be seen today in the many mosques and minarets that still exist in Kos Town. Many centuries of insurrection and rebellion followed as the Greeks struggled to live under the Turkish yoke. This reached a climax in the 19th century and in 1821 Kos took part in a Greek uprising against the Turks. The Turkish response was fierce with 90 Greek citizens executed by hanging from the historic Plane tree of Hippocrates and, according to a contemporary French writer of the time, the execution of some 900 Greek patriots.

This Turkish occupation lasted for some 390 years, ending in 1912 following the Italo-Turkish War. The Italians then took over the administration of Kos which, at the time was supported by the general population of Kos who saw the Italians as liberators. Unfortunately, due to the occurrence of the First World War, the Italians consolidated their hold on the Dodecanese islands and the islanders again felt under siege by a foreign occupation. For a twenty year period between 1923 and 1943 the Fascist government of Italy began a system of 'Italianization' of the Greek population in the Dodecanese which included Kos. This had implications on the education system, the religious institutions and the economy. The intention of this programme was to indoctrinate the population of Kos according to the laws and rules of the Italian Fascist government. On the positive side, the Italian occupation led to an improved infrastructure and administrative system which had been largely neglected under the Ottoman rule. In 1933 there was an earthquake which destroyed many of the buildings that had been constructed by the Italians as well as much of the medieval city of Kos Town. This earthquake uncovered remains of ancient Kos and the Italian administration used this natural disaster to create many new neighbourhoods and the renovation of old buildings.

With the outbreak of the Second World War many inhabitants of Kos left to fight against the German army and Kos had a leading role as part of the Dodecanese Campaign, the so-called Battle of Kos. After the Italians surrendered in 1943 the domination of Italians in Kos came to an end. The Italian army in Kos were helped by the British to resist the German army who saw Kos as having an important strategic position. Unfortunately, Anglo - Italian resistance was inadequate and on 3rd October 1943, as part of Operation Polar Bear, the German forces overwhelmed the AnglobItalian forces and by the next day, 4th October 1943, had fully occupied the island. Thousands of British and Italian soldiers were captured and hundreds of Italian Officers of the 10th Infantry Regiment " Queen" were executed as traitors. This massacre has been named the 'massacre of Kos'. The Germans remained in Kos until the end of the War in 1945 wherein the British took control freeing the people from their trials and suffering under fascism and Nazism. Kos remained a British protectorate for the next two years until finally unifying with Greece in 1948.