Roman Ruins of Soli

The origins of Soli can be traced back to an Assyrian (700 BC) tribute list where it is referred to as Si-il-lu. It is also known that in 580 BC, King Philokypros moved his capital from Aepia to Si-il-lu on the advice of his mentor Solon, and renamed the town after the Athenian philosopher. In 498 BC along with most of the other city kingdoms of Cyprus, Soli rose against its Persian masters and was then captured at the end of the war.

Soli became a prosperous city during the Roman period, but by the 4th century its harbour was already silted up and the copper mines closed then destroyed by Arab raids in the 7th century. On the acropolis, which occupied the top of the hill high above the theatre, there was a royal palace similar to the one of Vouni, thought to date from a slightly later period. In addition to silver and gold jewellery of the Hellenistic period, excavations have revealed a marble statue of Aphrodite from the 1st century BC and a frieze representing the war of the Amazons from the 2nd century BC (Cyprus Museum). The so-called Fugger sarcophagus in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna is also thought to have come from the necropolis of Soli. Excavations have also unearthed some Hellenistic ruins such as the remains of a colonnaded paved street which leads to an agora with a marble monumental fountain. Excavations have shown that a settlement was established here as early as the 11th century BC, probably owing to the existence of a good water supply, fertile soil, a protected harbour, the nearby copper deposits and timber to smelt the copper.

Soli is known as the place where St. Mark received his baptism and where St. Auxibius, a Roman who fled the city in the 1st century, was its first bishop. The basilica was one of the earliest of its kind in Cyprus, with its first church thought to have been built in the second half of the 4th century. Although it was extended in the 5th and 6th centuries, it was then destroyed by the Arab raids in the 7th century. The church has three entrances; there is a fountain in the courtyard and it is ringed with two rows of twelve columns, whose bases you can still see today. As you enter, you will discover an exciting array of floor-mosaics featuring animals and geometric shapes (tesserae and opus sectile mosaics -pavements made from small coloured stone tiles), which once covered the entire floor of the church. A large part of these have survived to the present day, including four small dolphins in the floor of the nave.

The Roman theatre of Soli occupies the site of the original Greek theatre on the northern slope of a hill overlooking the sea below. The present theatre dates from the end of the 2nd or the beginning of the 3rd century AD and has a capacity of some 4,000 spectators. Its stage building consisted of two stories covered with marble paneling and decorated with statues, whilst its semi-circular auditorium was partly cut into the rock, and access to it and the orchestra was gained through two side entrances. The last surviving seats were carried to Port Said in the 19th century and used to rebuild the quaysides, but the theatre is now halfway towards being fully restored. A temple dedicated to Isis and Aphrodite has also been discovered on a hill to the west of the theatre. The famous torso of the Aphrodite of Soli discovered here can be found in the Cyprus Museum.