Hasankeyf is an ancient town and district located along the Tigris River in the Batman Province in Kurdistan. It was declared a natural conservation area in 1981.
Much of the city and its archeological sites are at risk of being flooded with the completion of the Ilisu Dam.
Hasankeyf is an ancient city, and has been identified with the Ilanṣura of the Mari Tablet (c. 1800 BC). The Romans had built the Cephe fortress on the site and the city became the Kiphas fortress and a bishopric under the Byzantine Empire. It was conquered by the Arabs, in ca. 640, renamed Hisn Kayf. In the 12th century, the city was successively captured by the Artukids as their capital. During this period, Hasankeyf’s golden age, the Artukids and Ayyubids built the Old Tigris Bridge, the Small Palace and the Great Palace. The infrastructure, location and significance of the city helped increase trade and made Hasankeyf a staging post on the Silk Road. The Ayyubids (descendants of Saladin) captured the city in 1232 and built the mosques that made Hasankeyf an important Islamic center.
The city was captured and sacked by the Mongols in 1260. Following the Ottoman ascendancy established by Selim I in the region in the early 16th century, the city became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1515, during Sultan Süleyman I’s campaign of Irakeyn (the two Iraqs, e.g. Arabian and Persian) in 1534, at the same time as Diyarbakır, Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.
The current population of Hasankeyf is predominantly Kurdish, and Arabs also had a presence in the town. Its Syriac Christian population was almost entirely annihilated during the Seyfo genocide in the First World War.
Hasankeyf is rich in history throughout the ages and aside from the sites below, thousands of caves exist in the cliffs that surround the city. Many of the caves are multi-storied and water-supplied. Churches and mosques were also carved into the cliffs and numerous ancient cemeteries exist throughout the area as well.
- The Old Tigris Bridge – Built in 1116 by the Artuqid Sultan Fahrettin Karaaslan, it replaced an older bridge. The bridge over the Tigris River is considered to be the largest from the Medieval Period. Support for the bridge was built with wood in case the bridge had to be removed in order to prevent an attack. Because of this, two piles and some foundation work are all that exist of the bridge today.
- The Citadel – This structure sits 100m above the Tigris River, overlooking Hasankeyf. The Citadel has likely been used as a dwelling place for centuries
- Small Palace – This palace was built by the Ayyubids and overlooks Hasankeyf as it sits on a cliff.
- Ulu (Big) Mosque – With no inscriptions remaining, it is not exactly known when and by whom the mosque was built. However, it is thought that it dates from the period of the Ayyubids who have subsequently restored the mosque in the years 1327, 1394 and 1396.
- Great Palace – The palace was built by the Artukids; it occupies an area of 2,350 m² 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 – This cube-shaped tomb lies west of the new bridge in Hasankeyf and it the tomb of Imam Abdullah. Abdullah was the grandson of Cafer-i Tayyar, uncle of the prophet Mohammad. The tomb is dated to the 14th century and 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 opposite Hasankeyf on the Tigris River. Zeynel Bey was the son of Uzun Hassan ruler of the Akkoyunlu Dynasty which ruled over Hasankeyf in the 15th century. Zeynel Bey died in battle in 1473, and was buried in this circular brick mausoleum glazed with navy blue and turquoise tiles built by architect Pir Hasan. The building resembles in its archtectural style mausoleums in Central Asia.
Ilisu Dam Impact
With its history that spans nine civilizations, the archaeological and religious significance of Hasankeyf is considerable. Some of the city’s historical treasures will be inundated if construction of the Ilısu Dam is completed. These include the ornate mosques, Islamic tombs and cave churches.
The threat of the Ilisu Dam project prompted the World Monuments Fund to list the city on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world. It is hoped that this listing will create more awareness of the project and prompt the Ilisu Consortium to develop alternate plans that are more sympathetic to this site of exceptional historical and cultural significance.
In December 2008 export credit insurers in Austria, Germany and Switzerland announced suspending their support for the project amid concern about its environmental and cultural impact and gave the Turkish government 180 days to meet standards set by the World Bank.