Hasankeyf : Before the waters may come.
Hasankeyf Travel Blog› entry 208 of 268 › view all entries
Once grand, but now unassuming little Hasankeyf is a real treasure. And like all good treasures in tales of old, there’s still a chance it will one day soon be buried. Submerged to be precise. For many years now it has laboured under the threat of the controversial Ilisu Dam Project - a European funded (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) project that would dam the Tigris river basin and flood an area of approximately 300 - 400 kilometres square. This dam is part of a vast ongoing Turkish Government project referred to as GAP (Güneygogu Abadolu Projesi or the Southeastern Anatolia Project) undertaken with a view to the long term economic development of this, Turkeys poorest region. As always in these situations. Tough choices.
The Ilisu dam projects critics state (with great credibility - there are often common sense consequences to such projects) that 37 villages and upwards of 70,000 people (predominantly Kurdish) would be displaced, 200 sites of archaeological importance destroyed as well as an eco-system containing endangered species of flora and fauna. Political tensions over control of water resources (the real 21st Century wars-to-watch-out-for) would also ratchet up with non-consulted downstream neighbours Iraq and Syria. Hasankeyf, home to known human habitation for anything up to 15,000 years would cease to exist. Up to date information on the viability and progress of the project is tricky to come by although the most recent news I found was positive (for anti-dammers anyway) as three further European banks withdrew their export credit guarantee support for the project in July of this year.
Having arrived early on a bus connection via the gigglesomely titled Batman I have headed straight down to the banks of the Tigris river. At this point and time of year a shallow, gentle flow. On a handy tip from some former travel chums I’m bypassing Hasankeyf’s sole accommodation option ( The Hasankeyf Motel, 20TL/ £8) in favour of adopting a ‘Lost Sheep’ pretence and hoping to wangle a free sleep at one of the several makeshift wooden strut, leaf and branch roofed fish restaurants that flank the Tigris’s banks. Most are clearly not open for business.
I stroll over and introduce myself to the first establishment with any sign of life. I ask if çay’s a possibility and practically invite myself to breakfast with these guys. We can’t exchange a single word of mutual comprehension but I’m soon enough chowing on their eggs, toms, cucumber and sugared pastry. ’You speak Kurdish?’ ’Nope. Me Ingleterre.’ Chomp munch chomp. You get the idea. A little bit of the charades school of body language, some pointing and a highly accurate ’ifIdosaysomyself’ sketch of a sleeping person and (I think?) I have a bed for the night.
Hasankeyf offers a real palm full of pretty little vistas from its various vantage points, high and low. Stood in town, below the Tigris glitters away, the leafy roofs of my ’hotel’ and its kind strung along one shore. Stood in the river a telling reminder of the wealth and importance that this vital trading crossroads once possessed, a single remaining arch and two large leg struts of Eski Köprüsü, the ’Old Bridge’. As the mind attempts a reconstruction from the evidence available it is clear it must have been a fairly mighty structure. The modern day Tigris Bridge set behind its ruins a metallic minnow by comparison. Lift your eyes to the cliff faces at almost any point in town and you will espy many of the cliff-cut cave dwellings of Hasankeyf’s oldest evidenced inhabitants, the Ayyubids, Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians.
Crossing the Tigris Bridge I skirt and abandoned mosque that’s been requisitioned for a homestead. Husband and wife audible within. 200 yards further on, the most incongruous sight of the day. Ranged besides the tarmac road a static army of plaster cast garden ornaments and stuffed sheep. Large ducks and geese with gaudily painted red bills and feet. Mock Grecian or Romanesque statuary. Nymphs and Goddesses for sale. And I’m thinking ’of all the businesses in all of the Turkey what on Earth or how on earth is this bizarre little enterprise surviving here?!’ I introduce myself to the two boys (neither of whom can be older than 9 or 10) who seem to be running the operation today.
A little further out and several hundred yards from the roadside I veer off and vault a lowish stone wall (gates locked) to visit the lonely Zeynal Bey Complex. Mostly just a broken floor plan of indistinguishable ruins of old madrassas (Islamic seminaries) you come here to cast your eyes upon the still standing mausoleum of Zeynal Bey the son of a 15th Century king of the region. In its elegance and simplicity of design I find this one of the most charming items of the vast carpet of reliquary spread across Turkey’s lands that I will set my eyes on. A single cylinder brick and tile patterned structure, it is apparently the last example of its kind.
Many of the blue and turquoise outer decorative tiles sit still lustrous atop a weaving of patterned brickwork that has itself cracked and fallen away in places. Earthquake damage. Grass tufts that must bloom quite prettily in spring rest upon its domed roof. Its various marks of decay quite beautiful I feel. Stood all alone out here like a finely worked Faberge egg dropped by its owner and forgotten in the sands.
I stroll down to the Tigris out of the dust, straw stubble cracking underfoot and approach the green grass fringe of the river.
The rest of my time is spent illicitly leaping walls into archaeological sites. I wouldn’t normally but it’s easy and all seem locked for no apparent reason. From the notable localised littering it’s clear the sites are at greater risk from a few hobo locals rather than tourists. This includes the grounds of the Suleyman Mosque. I even consider a climb up the top-damaged minaret but think better of this incursion. Some kids graft themselves on to me here and whilst amusing company to begin, soon turn into the usual ‘munny munny munny’ four foot broken records I’ve been getting used to in Eastern Turkey. I even have to shout at them to desist at one point… which as you can imagine was about as effective as spraying gasoline on a bush fire.
Finally, early evening after some of the intense heat has passed, I head up the cliff side cobbled paths to the ‘Kale’, the cliff top ruined town and two small ‘palaces’ of former times ( built by the Ayyubids in 14th Century). The old rock cut residences of civilisations past lie here, slumbering in the wind-swept gold bed of grass that furnishes their resting place. Some beautiful views of the Tigris valley below and the cliffs about. A large cemetery site apparently housing graves dating from the 5th to the early 20th Century AD. Although I’d made a mental note to keep my eyes to the ground, stepping back for that ‘perfect photo composition’ at one point, only an innocuous rustle of grass draws my eyes to my feet preventing me from a further half back-step drop of indeterminate depth (10 metres or so?) down a shadowy cistern hole in the hill floor.
My evening under the stars is most pleasant indeed. Having clambered back down to river level. I sit in the last evening rays of light, embedded in luxurious cushions with my book, some rare celebratory Cokes (yes ‘treats’ are small and often few and far between on the Budget Trail) and the serene babble of the Tigris. She’s not deep here. The locals have crossed Her waist deep back and forth all day. Several men stand in the sunset waters, silhouettes now wading in liquid gold. Casting their wedding veils for the fish. A perfect dinner of fresh caught and cooked fish for me. The bones just lifting with ease away from the soft pink flesh.
Although information on the below websites may not always be that up to date I put them here if you’re interested :