Nobody knows just how far back the history of human settlement goes in this place though some estimates put the first human settlers arriving some 10-12,000 years ago. All the cliffs and valleys in the area are pocked with natural and man-made caves making this particular site along the Tigris River a prime spot for settlement.
While little is known of Hasankeyf’s history in the BC era it appears to have reached its zenith as a Roman and Byzantine frontier fortress continuing for centuries as a strategic bastion with its position atop the cliff-banks of the Tigris River.
Despite the incredible historical and cultural richness of Hasankeyf it is slated to be destroyed. A massive dam has been built and when it begins operation the vast majority of Hasankeyf will be lost under the waters of the Tigris. Exactly when this will happen the authorities aren’t saying. The situation was summed up well if bleakly when we asked one man his name and he responded by saying “Hasankeyfsiz” which is a Turkish wordplay that means both “Hasan without joy” and “without Hasankeyf” at the same time. If you are able to visit this place before it disappears make sure you take the opportunity.
(There is a chance of getting special permission if you can speak to the right people at the tourism board)
The main castle, its monumental gates, the greater and lesser palaces, and the great mosque are all perched atop a 100 metre cliff over the river and look down on the current town. Many of Hasankeyf’s greatest attractions are here in what was a museum above where the flood waters will reach. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns this has been closed to visitors. To make the best of this climb the hill next to it to the ruined church where you will get the best possible view. Entry is 2TL though the kids may drive a hard bargain trying to sell you a pigeon.
While only the minaret remains of this 600-year-old structure it is a marvelous piece of engineering and Ayyubid architecture. The ornate calligraphy and reliefs are topped with a stork’s nest. Look for it near the foot of the bridge towards the castle.
Sultan Süleyman Küliyesi
(Sultan Suleyman Mosque complex)
This site is free to view but closed to entry.
A Byzantine church converted into a mosque by Ayyubid Sultan Suleyman in 1407 the complex is now mostly in ruins though a number of the domes stand and the minaret is in fine condition other than its missing top. The complex is backed by cliffs full of caves and cave houses as well as many other ruined structures on the eastern side of the historic town.
Life here has changed little over the years and for all the visitors that have passed through here the village is very authentic with only a small portion selling tourist trinkets. The town slowly seems to give way to ruins with little to no distinction between abandoned and inhabited neighborhoods. Make sure to take some time to explore this wonderful place.
Zeynel Bey Türbesi
(Mausoleum of Zeynel Bey)
This Mausoleum is a true historical rarity. It is the only structure of its kind in Anatolia built in a true Central Asian style and the only remaining structure built by the Akkoyunlus. This mausoleum was built in the mid 1400’s for the son of Akkoyunlu Ruler Hasan Uzun’s son who died fighting the Ottomans. The geometrical blue tile work on the exterior is calligraphy showing the names of various Islamic figures. In order to save this structure from the floodwaters it has been moved to the new town where fake ruins are being built around it in mimicry of the mausoleum’s original site.
View of South bank caves and cliff stairs
View of South bank caves and cliff stairs
From the original site of the mausoleum of Zeynel Bey, near the old hamam, there is a great view of the cliffs with its many caves and zig-zagging stairs. The spot also gives a glimpse of the original fortress and some of the cliff edge buildings.
Cave Houses and Church
To the east of the bridge on the north bank there are a large number of caves and cave homes overlooking the river. Some of these appear to be in use by squatters or as stables and much of it is open to be explored. There is also a cave church with numerous crosses carved into the walls. Throughout the area of Hasankeyf there is believed to be over 5000 caves in total.
Spanning the Tigris and connecting the historic village with the north bank was the massive stone bridge of Hasankeyf. While there were certainly previous bridges crossing the river at Hasankeyf, the current structure was built by the Artuqids around 1100 AD and later destroyed by the Mongols. The bridge at Hasankeyf was one of the largest of its time and testament to the importance and wealth of the city. Confusingly, there are restoration efforts going into strengthening the remaining pieces before they disappear underwater.
How To Get There
Hasankeyf is on the Batman – Mardin road and so whether you go by personal car or public transit you’ll pass by either Batman or Midyat. If public transit you can take a coach bus to either Batman or Midyat then continue by a smaller regional bus or minibus.
Where To Stay
There are a number of boutique hotels in Hasankeyf though no larger hotels that I am aware of. Midyat and Batman are both larger centers with plenty of accommodation options, both about half an hour away.
Before going to visit Hasankeyf check the news to make sure that it’s not gone yet.
Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.