Hasankeyf is a small town located about half an hour away from the city of Batman. Built on the banks of the Tigris river, this small community boasts an impressive history. Hasankeyf has been continually inhabited for almost a thousand years, and evidence of this can be found all over town. From a 14th century castle perched high atop a mountain, to mausoleums dating more than six hundred years old, there are more things to see in Hasankeyf than its size suggests.
Unfortunately, the Turkish government plans to totally inundate Hasankeyf as part of a dam-building project. In order to build the Ilisu Dam, the government has began moving historical monuments from Hasankeyf to higher grounds, now known as New Hasankeyf. However, many of the historical artefacts cannot be moved, such as palaces and homes carved from the surrounding cliffs and hills. As such, all of these would forever be flooded as soon as the dam goes into operation. As of 2017, the inundation process has begun, with many homes already abandoned and historical sites permanently closed. Here are some of the last glimpses of the enchanting town of Hasankeyf:
The first thing that struck me as I arrived in Hasankeyf was the centuries-old bridge that crossed the Tigris river. Located just besides the new, modern bridge, the ancient bridge was a great comparison between old and new. Although most of the bridge has vanished beneath the mighty Tigris river, the strong foundations remain testament of the quality of construction hundreds of years ago.
As I walked through the single-alley market towards the ancient palace, the minaret of a 700-year old mosque stood clearly in view. The lonely minaret reflected the mood of the people there: solemn, sad and resigned. When I was there, there were few tourists and many of the market stalls were shuttered. Unlike the usual Turkish market where you would constantly be pestered and touted, this one was actually silent. The shop owners stared at me as I walked past their stalls, and one even invited me for tea instead of selling it. It seemed as if everyone was just waiting for D-day, the day that Hasankeyf is no more.
The sprawling ancient palace carved out of a hill was sadly cordoned off. From afar you could see holes carved into the rock, trails leading from one level to another and beautiful staircases. On the top of the cliff were rooms built from stone. It would have been amazing to explore these caves and rooms, and I would have imagined how beautiful the interior might be, but this was impossible. For now, this ancient palace can only be seen from afar, of course until the day it is flooded by the Ilisu Dam.
As I wandered through the almost-dead town, one man who owned a non-functional restaurant invited me to see his cave home. It was designed in a typical Ottoman fashion, with a large living room surrounded by comfy cushion seats. It was cool to see how a cave home looked from the inside, after seeing hundreds, if not thousands of holes all over the cliffs surrounding Hasankeyf. For this visit, the man did not ask for anything. As I left, he smiled and thanked me for visiting…
The beauty of Hasankeyf lies in its uncountable cave homes. A long row of them was carved from a cliff just on the banks of the Tigris river. From across the river, you could enjoy a panoramic view of these magnificent cave homes. Sometimes I wondered how people used to enter and leave their homes, considering that there were no stairs and that the river was right beneath them. Also, why would people in the past choose to build their homes in such awkward places? These were questions that bugged me while I was exploring Hasankeyf, and still bug me today.
Hasankeyf was a beautiful town overflowing with history. Having been continuously inhabited for almost a thousand years, it is extremely saddening to hear that Hasankeyf will soon be gone. Hasankeyf is not the first ancient town to drown with Turkey’s ambitious damming projects. Nearby in the province of Sanliurfa, the town of Halfeti was also drowned in the 1990s as a result of a damming project. I am glad that I had a last glimpse of the history-rich town of Hasankeyf, and I hope that many more will be able to see it through photos and videos that never fade with time.
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