Bırkleyn Cave

(Birkleyn Mağarası or Büyük Mağarası according to the street sign)

/ By Josh

Cost: Free

Great for: Nature, Swimming, Caves, History

NOTE: While I would love to recommend that everyone who passes by here stop and visit this truly amazing place of natural beauty and historical significance I can’t do that at this point. The situation in the area is far too volatile for me to say that it’s safe for tourists to come and explore. While talking with some locals they said quite explicitly that if we went up there we could be shot. A few days later while we were passing by again I spotted the stairs that apparently lead up to a relief and inscription in the stone. Deciding to ask for permission at the army road block about a kilometre away, I was told absolutely not as the area was far too dangerous. I sincerely hope that someday I will be able take this warning down and that there will be real peace in this region of Turkey. In the meantime pray for peace and stay safe!

Birkleyn Cave Lice Diyarbakir Turkey
The Tigris river flowing out from below Birkleyn Cave


Unfortunately information about this place is spotty and, as mentioned above, we were restricted in how much we could explore. However, as far as I have been able to find out Bırkleyn Cave was considered to be the source of the Tigris River by the Assyrian kings who conquered this region and left behind a number of inscriptions and reliefs, the oldest of which are over 3000 years old!

Birkleyn Cave Lice Diyarbakir Turkey
Some excavations in the mouth of the cave

However, the local farmers that we spoke with said that there were inscriptions from Alexander the Great. Whether this is a mistake or there are different inscriptions left by different peoples is unclear though all the inscriptions I have been able to find were cuneiform and so none of these ones could be from Alexander the Great. As always, if you have any clear or reliable information on this site let us know!

Subscribe to The Art of Wayfaring

While this spot may be called Bırkleyn Cave there are a good number of other reasons to visit this spot.  There are three main parts. The first that you will probably come to is the river itself. The lower part of the river is set in a lush valley full of frogs, turtles, snakes, and fresh water crabs. This is a great place for a picnic. If you need drinking water there is a spring that is in the river itself (you can drink from the source of one of history’s greatest rivers). The spring is in a low cleft on the left side just in the mouth of the canyon. While you can’t really see the water flowing out you can feel the icy cold water and the current as it issues out and mingles with the main channel of the river. Following the river up the canyon a short ways you will get to a point where the river passes through a massive cave. Apparently in this section of tunnel there is an Assyrian inscription or relief.

The second reason to come here is for the massive upper cave. The mouth of the cave is about 80 feet wide and even slightly taller. A few hundred metres in and the tunnel branches into two separate galleries that apparently go on for a great distance. In the mouth of the cave, on the right hand side as you go in there is another Assyrian inscription. Much of the first portion of this cave is full of excavation pits apparently dug by treasure hunters, so watch your step!

Birkleyn Cave Lice Diyarbakir Turkey
The cave can be seen on the lower left with stairs running up in the right side of this image

Finally, there is a long staircase cut into the cliff side on the side of the road leading to another relief and inscription.

How To Get There

Rental Car

The river and caves are just below the town of Abalı along the Bingöl – Diyarbakır road. To access the caves stop near the river and follow it upstream into the mouth of the canyon from which you can access the spring, the upper, and the lower caves. To get to the rock-cut stair get out at the hairpin bend in the road below Abalı; you can see the stairs from the road and the relief should be at the top. Private car is definitely the easiest way to get here though the bus that runs from Diyarbakır to Bingöl can also stop here.

For more about car rental and driving in Turkey make sure to read our full drivers guide.

Where To Stay

There are no good places to stay in the immediate area that we know of. There are hotels in the town of Genç which is one hour to the north in Bingöl. The city of Diyarbakır also has many hotels and places to stay and is also about an hour away. The closest option is Lice which is 20 minutes to the East but, while there is probably a hotel there, I can’t be sure that it is still open.

If the political climate were to change and become completely safe this would be an awesome place to camp, in the meantime I would strongly recommend that you don’t camp here.

Other Tips

Do as the locals do and sink your food in the spring as a cooler and see if you can get your watermelon to burst!


Thinking of visiting Bırkleyn Cave? Take a look at what else is in the region!

Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.