Perched on top of a hill on the edge of the River Tigris is the fortress that gave Hasankeyf its name, which derives from Hisn Kayfa (حصن كيفا or "Fortress of the Rock" in Arabic and Syriac). The site is known to have been inhabited for several millennia and was the original fortified town before construction spread to the lower banks of the river. The (Eastern) Romans rebuilt the fortress around 363 AD (then known as Castrum Cephe or Kiphas) to defend against Sassanid invasions, and it continued to be used thereafter by the Arabs and subsequent conquerors. Nowadays, most of it lies in ruins, but it contains some important preserved structures, including the Small Palace, the Great Mosque of Hasankeyf, and the Great Palace. When I visited Hasankeyf in December 2012, the Fortress had been closed since August 2012, deemed unsafe due to the risk of falling rock. Unfortunately, this meant that we were unable to visit it, even though I could see several people up there (they might have reached it by car from above, but my travel companions and I could not spare the time for an unscheduled adventure). One glimmer of hope for Hasankeyf: the Fortress lies above the level the water is expected to reach when (if) the dam is completed downstream, so I hope to be able to return for a visit either way.
The magnificent bridge of Hasankeyf lies in ruins below the Citadel as a reminder of the importance of this settlement in a different era. Countless Silk Road caravans have crossed this very bridge since its construction in 1116 AD by the Artukid Sultan Fakhreddine Karaaslan. Only two central piers and the two ends remain today, but their alignment makes it easy to imagine the path of the bridge in its heyday. Most of the structure was made of stone, but the middle part consisted of a retractable wooden arch that would have been removed in times of threat to isolate the city from the opposite bank of the River Tigris. Sadly, if the dam project were completed, the Hasankeyf Bridge would disappear...
Dating from the Ayyubid period (14th century), this square, domed mausoleum (known as "Imam Abdullah Zaviyesi" in Turkish) is said to contain the tomb of a certain Imam Abdullah. He was venerated because of his relationship to the Prophet Muhammad; he was the son of Ja'far ibn Abi-Talib, the cousin of the Prophet and brother of Ali. Abdullah died around 680 AD, several centuries before the Ayyubid dynasty came to power, and is also said to be buried in Medina, thus the claim that this is his tomb is a bit uncertain. The mausoleum's original carved wooden doors are said to have been moved to the Diyarbakir Museum. The structure lies on the northern bank of the Tigris.
Commissioned by the Ayyubid ruler of Hisn Kayfa Mujiruddin Muhammed in 1325 AD, the Grand Mosque is located within the Citadel of Hasankeyf. It was in fact a reconstruction of an older moque, which in turn had been built over the ruins of a church (as the Christian population dwindled over the centuries and likely could not sustain all of the churches). Although I never visited the mosque, I was able to take the attached photo using a good zooming lens from the opposite bank of the River Tigris.
One of two tall cylindrical minarets in Hasankeyf, that of el-Rizk Mosque stands close to the landing of the Old Hasankeyf Bridge. It was part of a mosque built in 1409 by the Ayyubid Sultan Suleyman but it is the only survivor from the original structure - the mosque building was rebuilt in later periods. The minaret is divided into multiple tiers, each with its own set of elegant decorations consisting of geometric motifs and blind arches, and is topped by a ribbed dome. Storks seem to like the minaret's strategic location, judging by the nest on top of the dome. The beautiful minaret is graced with stunning backdrops for photos: the River Tigris, the Citadel, or the town of Hasankeyf itself - you get to choose! It is said that when (if) the dam project is completed, the water level will cover two thirds of the minaret...
Thousands of these manmade caves dot the cliffs and hills that surround Hasankeyf and the River Tigris. They were carved over several millennia and as early as 10,000 years ago - archaeologists believe - and used as dwellings, which would make Hasankeyf one of a handful of the world's longest continuously inhabited settlements (along with Damascus, Aleppo, Byblos, and Jericho). They continued to be used as homes as recently as a few decades ago when the Turkish government pressured the remaining residents to move into town. These caves are inextricably part of the history and culture of Hasankeyf, for example, when the Mongols invaded the region and destroyed the city, the residents survived by hiding in them. Many of the caves have yet to be excavated and may contained objects of archaeological importance. Sadly for humanity, most of the 4,000+ caves will be submerged by the waters of the Tigris when (if) the dam project is completed.
One of the most prominent and visible structures in the Citadel, the Small Palace dominates the view over the Tigris and Hasankeyf. It was built by the Ayyubid ruler Mujiruddin Muhammed in 1328 AD on the northeastern corner of the Citadel mount. As was typical in the Mediaeval period in these lands, the façade is decorated with twin lion sculptures.
Known as Küçük Kale in Turkish (i.e., the Small Fort), this structure lies on top of a rock formation east of the Fort of Hasankeyf. It is thought to have been built in the 12th century as coin mint by the Artukids and it continued to be used by the Ayyubids.
Located within the Citadel of Hasankeyf, the Grand Palace (referred to in Turkish as Büyük Saray) was built by the Artukid dynasty in the 12th century. It lies in ruins, but is recognisable by the half-standing tower. I was unable to visit the palace, but managed to take the attached photos from below.
The new, modern Hasankeyf is now complete. It was built on higher ground on the left bank of the river Tigris and is ready to be populated by the locals who will have to watch their ancestral home gradually flood once the dam project is complete. This is a loss for all of humanity and more so for the locals. I certainly would want to watch this in action if Hasankeyf were my hometown.
This was a bit outside of Hasankeyf but an easy 15-20 minute walk. It's from the 15th century and looks more like it belongs in Central Asia than Anatolia. After visiting the tomb you can walk behind it and go down to the banks of the Tigris for an interesting perspective of Hasankeyf and the ruins of the bridge.
The heart of Hasanyekf. It's a somewhat small area but still easy enough to get lost in. Quite a few families still lived there, at least when I visited, and there are ruins of mosques and other buildings among the narrow alleys and homes.
Visiting the tomb of Zynel Bey, you'll definitely cross the new bridge of the town. The concrete bridge has two posts standing on the water of the Tigris river and two more on both ends.
Standing on top of the bridge commands a great view of the old bridge, the citadel and the cave dwellings carved along the low maountains.
From the ruined Suleymaniye and Koc Mosque complex, you’ll see a newer mosque still in service.
It says on the entrance “Eyyubi Camii, Y. Tarihi H. 808”. When you get inside the mosque – which I did – you’ll be amazed by the amount of blue and red colored tiles, perhaps Iznik tiles, decorating all the interior walls of the mosque except for the ceilings.
The people are entering on the smaller prayer room and I enetered the bigger hall, I'm not sure though if I did the right thing?
I find it beautiful although it’s not as huge as other mosques in big cities, but the colorful ceramic tiles on all the walls are striking.
Since I was staying at the Hasankeyf Hasbahce, I walked down along the road to the river bank. It was early before noon so I ordered tea at the restaurants lining the river bank and had a chat with the guy manning the restaurant.
In front of the restaurant on the other side is a long rock mountain carved with several caves, on the far left sides are houses in varying colors plus the new bridge. The place was quiet and relaxing. Those cave in front must have been inhabited during the old past as most of them are carefully caved out of the rock mountain.
One of those group of holes on the mountain is the Magara Kilisesi or Cave Church, the ones near the village with colourful houses on top.