A spectacular ruin, and small modern town, on the banks of the Tigris River in south-east Turkey. The ancient city was built on a high, rocky bluff at a curve in the river. From the ruin, you can see up and down the river valley for many kilometers. While the vegetation is mostly low and scrubby, and there's nothing in particular to gaze at, it's an incredibly peaceful place, with an incredible feeling of space.

There are a scattering of intact buildings, including a marketplace and some beautiful domed tombs. Most of the housing for the common folk was created by carving into the relatively soft rock itself, so the the hill is pockmarked with a warren of caverns and tunnels. All this digging made for lots of well-hidden holes to fall in if you get too distracted by the views. Some of the caves nearest the modern town are used by the locals as goat pens.

Down by the Tigris there are columns from a massive old bridge; the modern one was built about fifty meters downstream. The beach is also a popular with the locals, who wash their cars by driving them into the water. I enjoyed wading in this famous, but somewhat filthy, river. Hasankeyf seems to be a popular picnic destination for folks from Diyarbakir.

Sadly, Hasankeyf may be doomed. The Turkish government, with the financial support of several wealthy nations, is planning to build the massive Ilisu Dam across the Tigris just downstream of Hasankeyf. The site will be inundated by the dam's reservoir. Dam proponents say it will lead to much-needed economic development in the area and good times for all, but critics point out that it will displace thousands of people, destroy productive farmland, flood historic sites, and generally be a disaster for the region. Syria and Iraq are strongly opposed to the project, arguing that Turkey will be taking more than their fair share of water from the Tigris.

What is now Hasankeyf was probably founded by the Romans. The area passed into Byzantine hands, then to the Arabs, who named it Hisn Kayfa. In the twelfth century the Artukids made it their capital, until the Mongols took it from them. Finally, in the fifteenth century, the Ottomans gained control of the area.

To get to Hasankeyf from Diyarbakir, first take a bus to the ugly refinery town of Batman, where you can change to a local minibus. Coming from Mardin or Sanliurfa, change buses in Midyat, an atmospheric little town in itself. Buses run reasonably often in the morning and early afternoon, but dry up by dusk.

If you're ever passing through the area, don't miss Hasankeyf; it's unforgettable, and its days are numbered.


Sources:
  • Save Hasankeyf: Ilisu Dam Project Campaign, www.savehasankeyf.org, accessed Feb. 8, 2002.
  • Ayliffe, Dubin, and Gawthrop, The Rough Guide to Turkey. London: Rough Guides Ltd, 2000.
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