Endangered Site: The City of Hasankeyf, Turkey


We first heard about it from 2 travelers when we were crossing Syrian – Turkish border. They told us we should see it soon, because it might disappear in few years because of the Ilisu Dam Project.

We had no idea what was waiting for us, but were excited to see it. We were still few days ride away from it.

It was close to sunset time when we were arriving to the village, surrounded with hundreds of caves all around. (Some were on the banks of the river, some high up in the mountains).

We passed the small shops and restaurants and came to the bridge crossing the river, now big and strong because of the rain. The site from the bridge took our breath away.

A small village by Tigris River, on the road between Batman and Midiyat has much history.

The ancient city of Hasankeyf, may be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, some 12,000 years old.

The city is built on and around the banks of river Tigris in southeastern Turkey near the borders of Iraq and Syria.

Hasankeyf and its surrounding limestone cliffs are home to an estimated 8000 human-made caves, 300 medieval monuments and a unique canyon ecosystem.

Below: The minaret of El Rizk Mosque from the 14th century which has remained intact. Built by Ayyubid Sultan Suleyman.

Above: view of the old staircase, chai shop and the first gate from the Ayyubian period, 13th century.

It was believed to be charmed because it has a snake and a scorpion on its wall.

Below: the second gate on the way to the citadel

Above: The view of the river,citadel and the center of town

More than 20 cultures have left their mark at Hasankeyf.

The first settlers probably lived along the Tigris in caves carved into the rock cliffs. (The ancient Assyrian name for the place was Castrum Kefa, meaning “castle of the rock.”)

The Romans built a fortress there circa A.D. 300 to patrol their empire’s eastern border with Persia and monitor the transport of crops and livestock.

In the fifth century A.D., the city became the Byzantine bishopric of Cephe; it was conquered in A.D. 640 by the Arabs, who called it Hisn Kayfa, or “rock fortress.”

Hasankeyf would next be successively ruled by the Turkish Artukid dynasty, the Ayyubids (a clan of Kurdish chieftains) and the Mongols, who conquered the region in 1260.

Below: Hamam

Above: View of Tigris river and the great Ulu Mosque

Above: Great Ulu Mosque – Built by the Ayyubids in 1325 A.D. over the remains of a church.

Above: Great Ulu Mosque

Below: Inside of Great Ulu Mosque

Above: The view of river Tigris and the surroundings

Above: part of graveyard

Below: grave stone

Above: The view from the new bridge; the ruins of an impressive old bridge, the minaret of the El Rizk mosque and behind, the rocks on which the citadel or Kale – and the ruins of an old city is situated.

Hasankeyf emerged as an important commercial center along the Silk Road during the early Middle Ages.

Marco Polo likely passed over its once-majestic stone, brick and wooden bridge, built around 1116 (only two massive stone piers and one arch remain).

In 1515, the city was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and has since remained a part of modern Turkey.

Unfortunately this beautiful open museum along with rich archaeological artifacts still buried beneath it, is endangered to be drowned by the waters of another artificial lake.

Despite widespread protests from local authorities, archaeologists, architects, preservationists and environmental groups, the massive hydroelectric Ilisu Dam is expected to be completed in 2013. The reservoir created by the dam will flood the site’s caves and most of its structures.

One thought on “Endangered Site: The City of Hasankeyf, Turkey

  1. After you told us, we also went to Hasankeyf. Truly worth visiting, such a beautiful site! So much to see, so nice people. I loved the area where people in ancient times constructed carves and by time houses were built in between. Everything is still used, people there really worship their heritage. We slept right next to the Tigris and had a wonderful time. If only politicians wouldn’t destroy that! It’s a shame!

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