Excavations commence on the 1,800-year-old ancient port of Soli Pompeiopolis

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Türkiye started excavations to unearth the ancient port of Soli Pompeiopolis, one of the most important and largest ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Initiated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Türkiye, excavations at the Soli Pompeiopolis Ancient Port will be conducted under the direction of Prof. Dr. Remzi Yağcı, Head of the Department of Museology, Faculty of Letters at Dokuz Eylül University. Dating from the second century, the 1,800-year-old Soli Pompeiopolis Ancient Port is in Mersin, in southern Türkiye. The excavations are expected to last about two months.

The first stage of the excavations aims to uncover the breakwaters of the port. The project’s final stage is expected to unearth the connection of the port with the colonnaded street.

Noting that the area was one of the largest ports in the Eastern Mediterranean, Prof. Dr. Remzi Yağcı, said, “This is the port of the city founded by the great Pompeius. Soli Pompeiopolis was a large city and the port is an indicator of significant economic activity. While most of the area is still buried, it was one of the most active ports in the Roman Empire. The site has long been in our program and now the work has commenced.

“This is a majestic port”

Explaining that the excavation team is currently working on the western breakwater, Prof. Dr. Yağcı said, “An area of 160 meters in length is now visible. The total visible length of the port is 320 meters. The distance between the two breakwaters is 180 meters; and here there are hydraulic concretes used in large ports. A survey of all Roman ports showed that Pompeiopolis and a port in Italy had similar proportions. The port features a solid two-storey structure. A version of the structure can be seen on a coin minted on the 249th anniversary of the foundation of the city. Statues at the mouth of the breakwaters indicate that this was indeed a magnificent port. Of course, the port’s unveiling is not a medium-term but a long-term project.”

Emphasizing that the port was fully completed in the second century, Prof. Dr. Yağcı said, “The port was fully activated almost two thousand years ago. It is important to connect the port with the colonnaded street. Since the area was filled with sand, almost three-quarters of the harbour is currently covered with sand. In this case, we want to show the public that this is a port by first revealing the breakwaters.”

History of the Ancient City of Soli Pompeiopolis

According to historical sources, Soli was a port city founded by the Rhodians. Like other Anatolian cities, Soli later came under Persian rule, although it was a relatively autonomous city that had the authority to issue its own money. When Alexander the Great defeated the Persians in 333 BC, the region came under Hellenistic domination.

After Alexander’s death, and under the rule of his commander Seleucus, the city experienced its peak period. As the power of the Hellenes diminished, the city was exposed to pirate attacks. In 67 BC, the Roman general Pompeius defeated the pirates and revived the city with various arrangements.

The Roman Emperor Hadrianus visited the city in 130 and provided financial support for construction of the port. During the Byzantine period, the Ancient City of Soli became a diocese centre that stood out with its religious aspect. The city was abandoned due to the great Cilician earthquake in 525. Subsequently, alluvial deposits carried by the Lyparis Stream covered the former city.

The writings of 19th century European travellers in Mersin also note the existence of a theatre, a necropolis and a bath.