Location And History Of Hasankeyf

Hasankeyf is a historical site which is 37 km far from the Batman Province in Southern Anatolia. It was founded on rocky cliffs along the banks of the Tigris River on the southern skirts of the Raman mountains. It was called “Hısnı Keyfa” in Arabic and Syriac, which means “the City of Caves” or “the City of Rocks” due to thousands of dwellings carved into the rocks. The name “Cepha” (Kefa) and “Hısn-ı Keyfa” referred in historical documents was changed to “Hasankeyf” during the last period of the Ottoman Empire.

Hısn-ı Keyfa (City of Rocks)

By whom, and when it was founded are uncertain. The cave paintings in the Gunfe Valley indicate that the region was shaped during the ancient times. The first information about the site comes from the Byzantine records referring to it as “Cepha”. The Syriac Bishopry was represented by Hasankeyf at the Council in 451 AD. It is already known that the site had been used as a military base by the Roman Empire during the 2nd century AD. The archaeological excavations have revealed several architectural and decorative elements.

Hasankeyf became annexed to the Islamic state first in 640 during the reign of Caliph Umar. According to a local belief, Imam Abdullah, the son of Cafer-i Tayyar, which was a relative of Prophet Muhammed fell a martyr here in 651, and a mauseloum and a zawiyah (a small Islamic monastery) were built in his name in following centuries. During the Islamic period, the city remained under the administration of Umayyads, Abbasids, Hamdanids and Marwanids, respectively. Sökmen, a descendant of Artuq who was one of the commanders of Alpaslan, sultan of the Seljuk Empire founded a state in 1101 which was called the “Artuqid Principality of Hısn-ı Keyfa”. Hasankeyf served as the capital city of Artuqid Beyliks of “Hısn-ı Keyfa” and “Amida” (present Diyarbakır) for 130 years.

In 1232, the Ayyubid Sultan el-Melikü’l Kamil (Al-Kamil) conquered the city, and terminated the hegemony of Artuqid dynasty, and left the Emirate of Hasankeyf to his son el-Melikü’s Salih. Hasankeyf was destroyed to a great extent due to looting and destruction during the Mongolian invasion in 1260, and it never resumed its former glory. Ayyubids continued their existence after the Mongolian invasion as being subjected to them.

Er-Rızk Mosque
Er-Rızk Mosque

After remaining under the control of Akkoyunlu (White Sheep Turkomans) dynasty for a short while (1461-1482), Hasankeyf often changed hands during the struggles between Karakoyunlu (Black Sheep Turkomans) and Mardin Beys, and then submitted to the Ottoman rule in 1517. Hasankeyf was administered as a township and sanjak attached to the Diyarbekir Beylerbeyliği (a form of governorship) within the Ottoman administration system. Historical sources refer to it as a rich city with 1700 residences and a population of 9500 people at the end of the 16th century. The change in historic trade route passing through Hasankeyf after the 17th century had a substantial impact on the city so that it became a subdistrict of Midyat in 1867. In 1926, Hasankeyf was attached to the District of Gercüş, and then attached to Batman as a district in 1990 when Batman became a province center.

Cultural Assembly of Hasankeyf

Many architectural works were built during various periods in Hasankeyf, however most of them did not survive to the present day due to earthquakes, wars and negligence. Unfortunately, those which survived are in ruins. Among the major remains are human-made cave dwellings considered to be around 4500 in number that made Hasankeyf so popular. The citadel was built on a 135 m high monolith rock that rises above the banks of the Tigris River. Known as the “Upper City” with its city walls and magnificent gates, it was in use until 1970s.

The main gate and city walls of the citadel and the main body of the Great Palace are from the Roman Period. The works from the Artuqid Period that gives a second identity to the city are also only in ruins. Those remains from the Artuqid Period include original building of the Ulu Mosque; the Tigris-Hasankeyf Bridge, which was the largest bridge with the widest arch span during the Middle Age; two madrasahs (theological school), a caravanserai and a hammam located on the banks of the Tigris River in a group of buildings called “Zeynel Bey Külliyesi (Islamic Social Complex)” named after a tomb that were all uncovered during the 2004-2005 campaign; a section of the Great Palace, pavillons in the Salihiye Gardens, and an aqueduct system supplying water to the citadel.

The present landscape of Hasankeyf has been established by the works from the Ayyubid Period including Sultan Süleyman Mosque (1407), Er-Rızk Mosque (1409), Koç Mosque, Kızlar (Ayyûbid) Mosque, Yamaç Complex, Small Palace, part of the Great Palace, three castle gates and the Tomb and Zawiya (Islamic monastery) of İmam Abdullah. The tomb which was built for Zeynel Bey, the son of Uzun Hassan of Akkoyunlu Dynasty represents a unique example in Anatolia, which has become a symbol of Hasankeyf. A madrasah and a caravanserai were added to the Zeynel Bey Social Complex during the Ottoman Period, and previously built foundation buildings were repaired as well as construction of a bazaar and a covered bazaar in the Lower City.

Excavation and Surveys in Hasankeyf

The Hasankeyf Ruins have been registered as a 1st degree protected archaeological site in 1981, and the excavations were initiated in 1986 by the Directorate of Mardin Museum under the supervision of Prof.Dr. M. Oluş ARIK. The excavations which were held for a period of time due to terrorism in the region and restricted allowance were resumed with an extended scope in 1991 under the “Research, Excavation and Rescue Project in Hasankeyf Historical and Archaeological Site” by the support of the GAP Regional Development Agency. The works continued as excavations in the social complexes around the Sultan Süleyman and Koç Mosques, at the center of the Lower City and kilns and as soundings in the Mardinike and Yamaç Quarters and near the Zeynel Bey Tomb. Furthermore, Dr. Peter SCHNEIDER and his team performed excavations in the Er-Rızk Mosque between 2001 and 2003, unearthing part of the sanctuary.

In 2004, the excavations and surveys at Hasankeyf were transferred to Prof.Dr. Abdüsselam ULUÇAM under a new protocol within the framework of a “Long-Term Action Plan” intended to be completed by 2012 during the construction of the Ilısu Dam with an excavation permit by a cabinet decree. Afterwards, the protocol has been extended until the end of 2014.

The excavations are carried out from March 15th to December 15th depending on the climate conditions and expropriations.