Hasankeyf is a small village located along the banks of the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey.
It has been settled for perhaps as long as three millennia, though most cliff dwellings are around 2,000 years old. It was perhaps inhabited first by Assyrians and/or Urartians, and then most certainly by successive Roman, Byzantine, Turkic, and Arabic dynasties.
The unfortunate thing about Hasankeyf is that it is slated to be inundated upon the completion of a dam project that has been in the works for a couple decades now.
Hasankeyf is far from the rest of Turkey, but one can easily reach the city of Batman by bus or rail, and then cover the remaining hour or so of travel by minibuses (dolmuş) offered by Hasankeyf town council (Hasankeyf Belediyesi). It costs 3 TL/person. It's also possible to reach Hasankeyf by taking Batman-Midyat-Mardin minibuses.
Hasankeyf is rich in history throughout the ages. The main archaeological highlight of Hasankeyf is the citadel on the very top of the town, overlooking the river. Considering how extensive these ruins are, an entire day (or two) could easily be spent exploring.
The grand days of Hasankeyf are long gone, so most sights are in a state of disrepair, or even partially ruined (which is made worse as the much needed funds for renovation are blocked due to the dam project), although all are intact—and beautiful—enough as to allow you to imagine what they were like back in the day.
- Old bridge. Built in 1116 by Artuqid ruler Fahrettin Karaaslan as a replacement of an older bridge, the bridge spanning the Tigris River is considered to be the largest from the Medieval Period. Passageway of the bridge was made of wood so that it could be removed in case of an attack, and as a result, only two piers and some foundation work are all that exist of the bridge today. The funny thing about the bridge is, the intact watchtower of the bridge on the opposite bank now serves as a room of an adjacent house built later, complete with a small wooden door on what was the main gate, opening to part of the passageway, which in turn serves as the balcony!
- Citadel (signposted Kale at the main highway through the town). This structure sits 100m above the Tigris River, overlooking Hasankeyf, with impressive views over the old town and the river. The citadel has likely been used as a dwelling place for centuries. Upon entering the castle area, you will be advised (both by guides and signs) that a guide is necessary to visit the castle. This is not true, and if you just walk past the guides will lose interest. The troop of men clearing rubbish all seem to speak a little English and are more than happy to show you secret places. Admission 3 TL pp.
- Small Palace. This palace was built by the Ayyubids and overlooks Hasankeyf as it sits on a cliff.
- Ulu Mosque (Ulu Camii, literally "Great Mosque"). Built by the Ayyubids in 1325, on the top of a church's remains.
- Great Palace. The palace was built by the Artuqids and has an associated rectangular tower that may have been a watchtower.
- El Rizk Mosque. The Mosque was built in 1409 by the Ayyubid Sultan Süleyman and stands on the bank of the Tigris River. The mosque also has a minaret that has remained intact.
- Süleyman Mosque. This mosque was built by Sultan Süleyman and is all but destroyed except for a minaret. Süleyman's grave is missing from the site as well.
- Koc Mosque. The mosque is located east of the Süleyman Mosque and was likely built by the Ayyubids.
- Kizlar Mosque. Located east of the Koc Mosque, the Kizlar Mosque was also likely from the Ayyubid period as well. The section of the structure which is used as a mosque today was a mausoleum in the past, containing grave remnants.
- Imam Abdullah Tomb. The tomb lies west of the new bridge in Hasankeyf and it the tomb of Imam Abdullah. Abdullah was the grandson of Jafar at-Tayyar, uncle of the prophet Mohammad. An epitaph on the tomb states that the tomb was restored in the Ayyubid period.
- Zeynel Bey Mausoleum. Named after Zeynel Bey, this mausoleum is on the less-built opposite (northern) banks of the river (and as such easily distinguishable from the surroundings), with its outside covered with charming blue mosaics of geometrical designs and calligraphy, although somewhat worn out. Bey was the son of Uzun Hassan, the ruler of the Akkoyunlu Dynasty which ruled over Hasankeyf in the 15th century.
Aside from the spectacular heritage sites, thousands of caves exist in the cliffs that surround the city with old shepherd paths through narrow side canyons and along the tops of towering limestone cliffs. Many of the caves are multi-storied and water-supplied. Until the 1970s many families still lived in the ancient cliff dwellings (signposted Mağaralar) along the river, but now there aren't more than a few inhabitants. Churches and mosques were also carved into the cliffs and numerous ancient cemeteries exist throughout the area as well.
The great thing about Hasankeyf is that the lack of Western tourists — and pretty much anyone at all — really makes you feel that you're pretty off-the-beaten track. Find a local guide to take you on some of the trails carved into the rock with beautiful views of the valley.
There are a couple of places to eat in town, offering typical Turkish fare and good prices.
A glass of Turkish tea costs 0.50 TL at the open-air village coffeehouse by the new (highway) bridge.
As far as sleeping options are concerned, there are two hotels along the river and the prices are reasonable but not as cheap as other similar quality hotels in this region of the country.
- Hasankeyf Motel (just east of modern highway bridge), ☎ +90 488 381-20-05. The rooms are clean and some even have small balconies overlooking the Tigris River. Shared bathrooms and one Turkish toilet.
- Hasbahçe Hasankeyf, ☎ +90 488 381-26-74. Newly opened guesthouse with wireless internet access. Serves a delicious Turkish breakfast of fresh bread, homemade fig jam, feta cheese, olives and eggs. Spacious shower room available as well as bathroom with Turkish and European style toilet. You might have to ask for a sheet to cover yourself. It is not automatically provided.
It's also possible—and legal according to military polices at the checkpoint on the road from Mardin—to wild camp on the banks of Tigris. The northern bank (the one on which the village is not located) seems to be more discreet, quiter, greener (like a finely mown patch of lawn), and has better views (of the ruins). If it's weekend, to avoid some (excessive) attention, just wait for the evening to arrive, so the local daytrippers from Batman leaves the place, to erect your tent. Also take usual precautions against scorpions — don't leave your tents and bags un-zipped, check your footwear before wearing them, don't remove rocks, and don't wander out of grass/humid areas at night.
If you go for a meal at one of the restaurants on stilts on the southern bank you are allowed to spend the night on the comfortable mattresses with the soothing sound of the river. (Inform yourself about meal prices before you order. Menus are not necessarily available.) Toilet facilities are scarce, though. There seems to be only one mobile Turkish toilet serving the several restaurants down there.
While you will see locals taking a dip in the river in summer, it is better to be on the safe side and save your eagerness for somewhere else. The riverbed is deeper and the current is stronger than they appear in the first glance, and indeed a number of lives is lost to the river every year in this very place.
Dolmuşes to Batman to north and Midyat to south leave every hour on the half hour. 5 TL to Batman, 8 TL to Midyat.