Although the eastern part of the Mediterranean coast of Turkey is abundant in ruins of ancient cities, most of them are not very impressive remains of former settlements and places of worship, in the form of modest portions of city walls, partially collapsed Byzantine churches and buildings overgrown by weeds. Of course, there are some glorious exceptions or spectacular remains of ancient civilizations, which certainly include Olba, Diocaesarea and Elaiussa-Sebaste. The photos of these sites appear in the folders that promote Mersin province, and it is not surprising that their existence is widely known. Meanwhile, on the land belonging to the agglomeration of Mersin one can also find very interesting, and what's more - photogenic ruins of the ancient city of Pompeiopolis. Their existence is a very pleasant surprise, especially since the coast in the vicinity of Mersin is quite tightly enclosed by the housing estates that make very unpleasant impression of a concrete wall obscuring the view of the sea.
The beginnings of settlement in Mersin area date back at least to the Neolithic times, as evidenced by the remains of human activity discovered on the mound of Yumuktepe. Another mound, discovered near Pompeiopolis, was hiding ceramics dating back to the half of the second millennium BC. The researchers speculate that the settlement called Ellipra existed here, and it could have been the harbor city of Kizzuwatna kingdom, under the influence of Hittites.
Greek settlers came to the area about 700 BC from the island of Rhodes, and founded their colony which they called Soli. Over time, this village grew to a significant city and became the capital of the province at a time when the Persians ruled Asia Minor. During this period, Soli was minting its own coins, which indicates a high degree of autonomy of the city.
Later, the city was controlled the Athenians, and then - by the troops of Alexander the Great. In Hellenistic times, under the rule of the Seleucid dynasty, Soli continued to grow and prosper. among the notable people born in Soli it is worth to mention Aratus, the renowned poet (ca. 315 - 245 BC), who was also the author of the work Phaenomena (Appearances), This book, giving the introduction to the constellations, achieved the status of the ancient astronomy textbook. Also Chrysippus (279-207 BC) - Stoic philosopher and thinker - was, most likely, born in Soli, although some sources indicate the nearby city of Tarsus.
When the state of the Seleucids gradually lost its importance at the turn of the second and first centuries BC, Soli went through a difficult period. The cities located on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean witnesses the growing threat posed by the Parthians and the Arabs. In 83 BC Antioch (Antakya) requested the assistance of the king of Armenia - Tigranes, who conquered Syria and this stretch of coast. During the introduction of the new order by Tigranes the city of Soli was plundered and its inhabitants were resettled to Eastern Anatolia.
The revival of the city came with the arrival of the Roman general Pompey to Asia Minor in 68 BC. He used Soli as his naval base during the campaign against the Cilician pirates. After the victory over the pirates Pompey pardoned and settled many of them in Soli. From this moment the city was known as Pompeiopolis, in honor of the great leader.
The city was then surrounded by new defensive walls and many public buildings and roads were built. In 130 AD the province of Cilicia was visited the emperor Hadrian, who donated money for the expansion of the port in Pompeiopolis. When, in 260 AD, the Persians again tried to conquer the city, its residents successfully defended their settlement. The seaport played a significant role in the development of Pompeiopolis as an important source of income for its residents. In the Byzantine period the city gained the rank of a bishopric.
However, nothing lasts forever - in 525 AD Pompeiopolis was completely destroyed by a powerful earthquake and never regained its former importance. In later times, these areas were dominated by the Umayyad Caliphate, Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, the crusaders, Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, Ramanids and, ultimately, by the Ottoman Empire.
In the early twentieth century there was only a small village, known as Mezitoğlu, north of the ruins of the ancient city. In 1968 the settlement was granted city rights, and has since figured in official documents as Mezitli. In recent years, with the growth of Mersin, many nearby towns, including Mezitli, have been incorporated into the boundaries of the agglomeration of this city. The area of the ancient Soli/Pompeiopolis is now knows an Viranşehir - literally meaning the 'Ruined City'.
Not much is left from the once important port city, but fortunately 41 columns along its main road, that led from the northern gate of the city to the port, are still standing. As many as 33 of these columns have retained their capitals, and additionally, those standing on the southern side have additional bases on which the statues of Roman emperors and local dignitaries once stood.
Unfortunately, this area is now surrounded by a high fence, that enables taking photos, but effectively prevents any closer inspection of the ruins. In July 2013, the head of archaeological research carried out in Pompeiopolis, Professor Remzi Yağcı, announced that the archaeopark will be created here very soon. Its aim will be to attract tourists and show them the city's past from the Neolithic times through the Hellenistic period, to the Roman times. However, since that promising announcement not much has changed in Soli/Pompeiopolis. During our visit in the autumn 2014, we were not able to see any progress in the implementation of this plan.
Apart from the impressive colonnade, one can find the remnants of other ancient buildings, including parts of the harbor wall, in the district of Mezitli. Inquisitive seekers of the traces of ancient civilizations can also find a mound of Soli (36.744975, 34.542250) that is all that remains from a local settlement dated to the second millennium BC
Many of the finds from the area of Soli/Pompeiopolis, including seals and weapons from the Middle Bronze Age, are now in the collections of Berlin State Museums.
By car: Pompeiopolis ruins are located right on the Mediterranean coast, close to the route D400, leading from the west to the east of Turkey. Just before you reach Mersin from the western direction this route splits into a modern highway E90, also acting as Mersin ring road and the road D400 leading through the center of the agglomeration that, in this city is called Gazi Mustafa Kemal Bulvarı. To get to Pompeiopolis you should keep to the latter road, then turn off it south into Viranşehir street that after about 1.2 km leads to the historic colonnaded street.
By public transport: buses to Viranşehir depart from the center of Mersin, with a stop (36.793451, 34.625324) near the House of Atatürk (tr. Atatürk's House).