Next to the ancient Agora of Kos, opposite the fortress of Neratzia, is where you will find one of the oldest trees in Kos: the plane tree of Hippocrates. This historical tree is visited by thousands of people every year due to a story that became a legend.
According to the legend, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used to sit under this tree and teach his students. This happened more than two thousand years ago, but the tree we photographed in Kos can’t be more than 500 years old due to life expectancy. Making it, obviously, not the one where Hippocrates used to sit under its shadow. Still, this tree can be a descendant of the original tree. But we might never know for sure.
We visited Kos and the Tree of Hippocrates during our cruise with Running on Waves in the summer of 2021. We spent a day in Kos, and this tree was the first place we wanted to visit in town due to its history and the lasting importance of Hippocrates as the father of medicine.
Kos has a long history, but its most famous resident was born on the island around 460BC. Hippocrates of Kos, also known as Hippocrates II, is called the Father of Medicine due to his contributions to the field. You might recognize his name from the Hippocratic Oath, an ethics oath that used to be taken by physicians across the globe.
During his time, most people taught of diseases as punishment from the gods. But Hippocrates dismissed this concept. He was the one that started the systemic categorization of diseases, the use of prognosis and clinical observation. This changed medicine completely in Classical Greece and led it to become a distinct discipline and establish it as a profession.
The Tree of Hippocrates is a tree of the Platanus Orientalis species, and its trunk measures almost 5 meters in width with a perimeter that stretches over 12 meters. The years have left the tree trunk contaminated by fungi, and insects have eaten larges pieces of the trunk, making it almost completely hollowed out. The sapwood layer has a maximum thickness of 15 cm.
Because of all these problems, the authorities in Kos have taken some measures to preserve this critical tree. As the tree decayed, some of its branches threatened to break off due to wind and their own weight. To help with this, back in 1975, they built a metal railing to help the tree support itself and keep people at a proper distance. You can easily see them in the pictures that we took there.
In 1985, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development placed the Tree of Hippocrates under protection as a natural monument.
The tree can be found in the middle of a square called Platía Platanoú, surrounded by a short wall. On the north side of this wall, you can see an ancient sarcophagus converted into a fountain during the Ottoman Empire control of the island. An Arab inscription on the casket calls this water the Water of Hippocrates, and you can still drink it today as we did on the hot day we were in Kos.
On the south side of the wall, you could see another Ottoman fountain house with seven columns, but it collapsed during an earthquake back in 2017. If you search for pictures of the trees, you can see photos of how it used to look like before.
Several branches of the Tree of Hippocrates have been planted worldwide, from seeds or cuttings from the tree. One of them was given by the island of Kos to the National Library of Medicine in the United States. And there are lots of institutions, medical schools and libraries that have or claim to have trees that originated from the original plane tree in Kos, and you can find a list of all these places on Wikipedia.
Two pieces of trivia about the Tree of Hippocrates that we discovered during our research for this article.
The first one is that Hippocrates of Kos wasn’t the only one that used the tree as a space for teaching. Paul the Apostle also taught there. Commonly known as Saint Paul, he was a Christian apostle who spread the teachings of Jesus in the first century after his death. He is considered to be one of the most influential figures in the Apostolic Age.
The second thing is that, during the Greeks struggle for freedom and independence from the Ottoman Empire between 1821 and 1829, dozens of people were hung from the Tree of Hippocrates as punishment.
The Tree of Hippocrates is located in the middle of a square called Platía Platanoú, the plane tree square. In front of the Loggia Mosque and opposite the fortress of Neratzia, a few meters from the sea.
You can find it easily by following the map below.
The Plane Tree of Hippocrates in Kos
Kos 853 00, Greece
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