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The Solea Valley Irrigation System

The Solea valley is at the northern slopes of the Troodos Mountains, the main range of Cyprus. It is run by the Karyotis river, 28 km in length. The valley lies between elevations of 1800m to the sea and has a catchment area of 90 km2  

A peculiarity of the geology makes the river one of two with substantial summer flows. While the bulk of the Troodos Mountains consists of diabase, a rock that only contains water in fissures, the peak of the mountain is gabro which is permeable and acts as an aquifer slowly delivering its water in the summer dry months. Both types of rock are of igneous origin, originally forming part of the ocean floor and forced up by the collision of the African and the Eurasian Plate.

This peculiarity has enabled the valley to sustain irrigated agriculture throughout the year and villages sprang along it from the copper age at least (3000 BC). Copper has been mined at the lava formations not far from the sea (Fokasa mine at Skouriotissa area), up until the last century.

The name Solea derives from the ancient town of “Soli” near the coast. Today there are 11 villages in the government controlled area with a total population of 4.788 inhabitants (2001 census). The population is declining as is the case of most Cypriot rural areas remote from towns and due to the closure of the copper mine.

The valley is narrow higher up and widens further down. Terraces have been made going back to the Byzantine period. The river channel is quite narrow, three to four meters wide and composed of pebbles. The valley is intensively cultivated with fruit trees, vines, nuts, and at its lower parts with olives and citrus. In the past cotton was grown and mulberries for silk production. The surrounding mountains are partly forested.

The average flow of the river is about 10 million cm, and is considerably lower than four decades ago due to climate change. There exist 7 water mills in the valley (out of two dozen in the old times) of which two are in working order.  

Amongst the scores of churches found in the Solea valley dating between 1000 and 1800 AD, the valley boasts two medieval churches in the Galata village which have been designated by UNESCO as world heritage monuments.