Alternative Names

Ḥiṣn Kayfā; Ḥasankayf; Heskîf

MMM Documentation Dates
Spring 2015
Site Type
Citadels and Cities
Hasankeyf (Turkey)
Batman Province (Turkey)

    and Imam Abdullah Mausoleum)

    Lower Town (Zeynel Bey Tomb

    General Views of Hasankeyf (Interior)

    General Views of Hasankeyf (Exterior)

    General Views of Hasankeyf (Interior)

    Great Palace

    Küçük Saray (Small Palace)

    Stone Bridge Ruins

    Surrounding Landscape & Structures

    Hasankeyf is located along the upper Tigris River in Anatolia, in the Batman Province of modern Turkey; it lies about 30 km southeast of the city of Batman and just over 100 km east of Diyarbakır. Although the town was already settled in antiquity, its greatest floruit was during the 12th to 15th centuries under the Artuqid dynasts, when remarkable examples of medieval architecture were built here. The upper city once occupied a breathtaking location atop a ravine of the river. However, since the completion of the Ilısu Dam in the summer of 2019—subsequent to the MMM team's documentation—most of this fascinating site has been submerged underwater.

    The Mapping Mesopotamian Monuments team documented Hasankeyf in the spring of 2015, before the completion of the Ilısu Dam project; thus, the media and following description refer to the condition of the site before its submersion and the relocation of several monuments (see further in 'History').

    In the Medieval period, the most striking feature of the town of Hasankeyf would have been the imposing bridge over the Tigris. Its central bay had the widest span of all the stone bridges of Anatolia; Yaqut al-Hamawi (Yâkūt el-Hamevî, d. 1229) describes it as the most spectacular bridge he had ever seen.1 Its date of construction is a matter of debate, as the surviving parts bear no inscriptions. An anonymous commentary added to the book of the 10th century geographer Ibn Ḥawqal credits the Artuqid ruler Fakhr ad-Dīn Qarā Arslān (Fahreddin Karaarslan) for the bridge's construction in 1116/17; however, it is clear that at this time the throne was held by his father Davud (1109–1144). In any case, most scholars today follow arguments for an Artuqid dating for the bridge. The two main points in favor of this dating are: a) the structural similarity of the Hasankeyf bridge to the Artuqid bridge on the Batman Çayı; and b) the similarity of the mason’s marks on the bridge to those on the palace of the citadel, which is likely of the Artuqid period (see further below).

    A number of figural reliefs occur on the western façades of the two main piers of the bridge; these have been interpreted, as a whole, to be an early representation of the khāṣṣakīyah, i.e. the elite corps and personal attendants to the king.2 The bridge was still intact at the time of the accounts of Giosafat Barbaro (1413–1494), Sharaf al-Din Bitlisi (Şeref Han, 1543–1603), Kâtip Çelebi (d. 1657), and Evliya Çelebi (d. 1682, visited Hasankeyf in 1656).3 It must have collapsed sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century, as it was already in ruins when Helmuth von Moltke passed through the region in 1838.4

    Although the original citadel was constructed by the Roman emperor Constantius II (337-361 AD), the present structures at Hasankeyf are all dated between the 12th and 15th centuries. The citadel was surrounded by ravines on three sides and accessed by a ramp on its northeastern edge. Overlooking the Tigris to the north, three of its original seven gates survive, one bearing an inscription indicating a reconstruction by the Ayyubid ruler al-ʿĀdil Sulaimān around the year 1420.5 

    The citadel once included two palaces. The northern edge was occupied by the Great Palace (Büyük Saray), measuring about 46 x 55 m. Only its substructures remain today, but it has been suggested that its northern side—which overlooked the Tigris—must have been designed as the main façade, featuring a series of buttresses as well as the main gate. No inscription is preserved; the palace is dated on stylistic grounds to the 12th century, i.e. to the time of the Artuqids. At the northeastern edge of the citadel, there are remains of a barrel vaulted rectangular hall. This structure is believed to have been part of a larger edifice that has been named the 'Small Palace.' One of its surviving window frames bears a pair of lion reliefs on the exterior. The construction has been attributed to the Ayyubid period. The citadel mosque (Ulucami) occupies the highest spot on the citadel. The earliest surviving inscription on the mosque is dated to 1394, to the reign of al-ʿĀdil Sulaimān, but it is clear that it was initially constructed much earlier.6 Its minaret was built in 1520, around the time of the Ottoman conquest. Compared to the roughly contemporaneous mosques at Cizre, Silvan, and Kızıltepe, it is modest in its structure and decoration.

    In the northwest of the lower town stands the el-Rizk Mosque. The building is laid out around an arcaded courtyard, at the southern end of which are four units; the mihrab is located in the projecting central room. The inscription, found on the northern façade's decorated portal, indicates that the mosque was constructed in 1409 by the aforementioned Ayyubid ruler al-ʿĀdil Sulaimān. However, it has been suggested that the building involved multiple phases of construction and renovation, and that the 1409 inscription actually marks the erection of the second building at the site.7 The mosque has an elaborately decorated minaret, 30 m in height, with a square base and a cylindrical shaft that sits on a transitional octagonal element. The eastern and northern sides of the minaret's base are decorated with kufi-square designs placed within multiple frames of muqarnas and dentil patterns. The shaft is divided by three bands, one of which bears an inscription. The spaces between the bands are decorated with a variety of motifs, including garland patterns adorned with round or drop-shaped medallions.

    Further into the lower town, there is a building known locally as the Sultan Süleyman Mosque. It is currently in a ruined state but for its minaret, which is partly preserved. The inscriptions on its eastern portal, as well as on its fountain and minaret, point to a date during the reigns of al-ʿĀdil Ghāzī and his son Sulaimān (d. 1424). A striking feature of this mosque is the extremely rich decoration of one of its domed chambers, featuring high quality stucco and multifaceted muqarnas work.8 It served as a funerary complex for al-ʿĀdil Ghāzī.

    Immediately southeast of the Sultan Süleyman Mosque are the remains of the Koç Mosque, which was built sometime in the late 14th/early 15th centuries. Considered a funerary madrasa rather than a congregational mosque, its two mihrabs stand out with their spectacular stucco work.9 Its layout—consisting of an iwan and a domed space on the central axis flanked by rectangular prayer halls—resembles the T-shaped plan of the citadel mosque.

    On the western bank of the Tigris, opposite the town, is the tomb of Zeynel Bey (d. 1473), the son of the Ak Koyunlu Uzun Hasan (as indicated by a cut-tile mosaic inscription above its entrance).10 The tomb's cylindrical exterior still bears remains of dark blue and turquoise faience decoration with geometric patterns. Its interior is octagonal; each of its faces has an arched niche, and on the surfaces between the niches at the level of the arches, there are muqarnas motifs ascending to the pendentives. The pendentives themselves are decorated with a band of elongated zigzag patterns, which provide a transition to the dome through two rings of muqarnas.

    Other monuments in the lower town include a mausoleum from the 15th century, the remains of a 15th-century “small mosque,”11 another Ayyubid mosque named “Kızlar Camii,” the Shīʿite shrine of Imam ʿAbd Allāh, which bears an inscription dating to 1478, and an Artuqid bath. There are also remains of two Medieval ceramic workshops, which have been recently excavated. Lastly, to the east/southeast of the ceramic workshops, are the Salihiyya Gardens with the Haydar Baba tomb complex.

    • 1. See Gabriel 1940, 70, n. 1.
    • 2. Whelan 1988, 222.
    • 3. On Barbaro, see Ory 1971, 507. On Şeref Han, see Eyice 1994, 283. On Kâtip Çelebi, see Darkot 1950, 453-454.
    • 4. Von Moltke 1841, 236–237.
    • 5. Sauvaget 1940, no. 23; Darkot 1950, 453.
    • 6. See Sauvaget 1940, no. 24; Darkot 1950, 453.
    • 7. Schneider 2008, esp. 117–128.
    • 8. See the photo in Gabriel 1940, pl. XLIV, 3.
    • 9. See the photographs in Gabriel 1940, pl. XLV, 3–4, and in Meinecke 1996, plate 19.
    • 10. See Sauvaget 1940, no. 36.
    • 11. The remains were noted by Gabriel (1940, 69) but have reportedly vanished as of 1980s (Meinecke 1996, 75).

    'Description & Iconography' general sources: Gabriel 1940, 63–78; Eyice 1994, 283; Meinecke 1996, 61–76; Oğuzoğlu 1997, 365; Schneider 2008; Fındık et al. 2014.

    There are a number of inscriptions to be found on the various buildings of Hasankeyf. All of these have been catalogued and translated into French by Jean Sauvaget.1 The inscriptions of the al-Rizk Mosque are also available in German.2

    • 1. Sauvaget 1940, 305–310.
    • 2. Schneider 2008.

    Excavations at Hasankeyf Höyük, located 2 km east of the medieval town of Hasankeyf, indicate that the history of the site's occupation goes back to the Neolithic era (10th millennium BC, Pre-Pottery Neolithic B); the earliest settlement was contemporary with the sites of Hallan Çemi, Körtik Tepe, Demirköy Höyük, and Gusir Höyük. The earliest potential textual attestation is found in the Mari texts (2nd millennium BC), where the site is possibly referred to as the capital of the kingdom of Ilānṣurā, a toponym also known from the Hittite texts. In the first millennium BC, the area of Hasankeyf was probably under the control of Bīt Zamāni or belonged to the land of Nirbu. What is certain is that in the 9th century BC, the region of Hasankeyf was incorporated into the Assyrian province of Tušḫan, the capital city of which is now equated with the 50 km upstream site of Ziyaret Tepe.

    After the rule of the Achaemenid Persians and Hellenistic monarchs, the area of Hasankeyf served as a strategically important frontier point between the Romans and the Parthians and later, the Sasanians. Located just north of the cloisters of Ṭūr ‘Abdīn (which was known as “Kašiari mountains” in the Assyrian sources), Hasankeyf is mentioned as the seat of a Nestorian bishopric during the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD). In the late Roman sources, the city is referred to as Kiphas, Cepha/Ciphas, or Castron Riskephas, all of which derive fromm the Syriac kifo (“rock').

    After the capture of the town by the Muslim Arabs in 640, there is scant information concerning the site until the short-lived rule of the Hamdanids and Marwanids; following on this, the Seljuqs handed it as a fief to the Artuqids (1102–1231). Hasankeyf flourished, controlling the major caravan routes to Diyarbakır and Mosul by way of its magnificent bridge. The 130-year-long period of Artuqid rule—characterized by a series of political maneuverings between the kingdom's more powerful neighbors, the Anatolian Seljuqs and the Ayyubids—came to an end with the Ayyubid conquest of Hasankeyf in 1232. Subsequent to the sack of the town in 1260 by the Mongols, the Ayyubid branch in Hasankeyf managed to survive, at times under the authority of the Kara Qoyunlu and then the Aq Qoyunlu. During the rule of the sons of the Aq Qoyunlu Uzun Hasan, the town witnessed another brief period of rebuilding, which terminated with the conquests of the Safavid Shah Ismail and then the Ottomans (1516). Hasankeyf flourished as a middle-scale commercial center during the earlier part of the Ottoman era—serving, for instance, as a major supplier of cotton to the city of Venice.1 However, it gradually dwindled to a small town from the 17th century onwards. Today, it is a small district (ilçe) of the Batman Province.

    Hasankeyf was declared a “First Degree Archaeological Site” by the Turkish government in 1981 and archaeological excavations have been conducted at the site from 1986 onwards.2 In 1997, the Turkish government announced plans for a large-scale hydroelectric power plant (Ilısu Dam) on the Tigris within the context of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which would flood a significant portion of Hasankeyf, as well as numerous other unexplored archaeological sites on both banks of the Tigris.3 Despite various local and international campaigns and a series of lawsuits against the project,4 the construction of the Ilısu Dam was ongoing when the Mapping Mesopotamian Monuments team documented Hasankeyf in 2015. Shortly thereafter, in preparation for the flooding of the site, the Turkish government relocated eight of the buildings in the lower town to a “cultural park” near the recently constructed residential unit called “New Hasankeyf,” a couple of kilometers away from the site, where many of the town's residents have resettled.5

    'History' general sources: Darkot 1950, 452; Ory 1971, 507; Astour 1992; Oğuzoğlu 1997, 364–366; Miyake et al. 2012; Fink 2017, 2–6.

    Numerous travelers throughout the long history of Hasankeyf visited the city and recorded their impressions. One of the earliest sources concerning Medieval Hasankeyf is the 10th-century geographer al-Makdisī, who gives an account of a lively town with multiple churches, bazaars, and inns.1 Ibn al-Azraq (d. 1176–77) mentions the existence of the Hasankeyf bridge.2 Al-Jazarī, the author of the famous treatise on automata,3 states that he entered the services of the Artuqid rulers of Hasankeyf in 1174–75 and later moved to Diyarbakır/Âmid when the Artuqid court was transferred.4 He writes in his treatise that he created for the Artuqid palace at Hasankeyf a bronze door highly embellished with metal inlays and spectacularly designed door knockers:

    • “[…] I made for each leaf a ring [a knocker] from cast brass in the shape of two connected serpents, the head of one facing the head of the other. Their mouths are open as if they wished to devour the neck and head of a lion [that is placed between the serpents].”5

    Petaḥyah ben Ya֫aḳov, a rabbi from Regensburg, visited Hasankeyf on his way to Jerusalem in the late 12th century; he was perhaps the first scholar to work on the etymology of the town's name.6 Yaqut al-Hamawi (Yâkūt el-Hamevî, d. 1229) expressed his admiration for the Tigris bridge,7 while Ibn Shaddād (d. 1285) gave an eyewitness account of the Ayyubid town, counting a royal residence (Dār al-Salṭana), mosques, madrasas, hammams, bazaars and caravanserais.8 Interestingly, it is stated in a later colophon added to Ibn Shaddād’s book that one of the Ayyubid rulers of Hasankeyf, al-ʿĀdil Sulaimān, had showed interest in the book and personally transcribed it.9

    Hamdallah Mustawfi (Hamdullāh el-Müstevfî, d. 1349) points to the fact that the fortunes of the city began to decline in the 14th century.10 Two famous Venetian travelers, Giosafat Barbaro (1413–1494) and Giovanni Maria Angiolello (1451–ca. 1525) visited the area in the 15th century and referred to the town as “Asancheph” and “Arsunchief” respectively.11 Evliya Çelebi passed through the site in 1656 and noted that he failed to find words to express the beauty of the Tigris bridge.12

    Among those who visited the site in the 19th century are Helmuth von Moltke, later chief of staff of the Prussian army; the British Consul-General for Diyarbakır, J. G. Taylor; and the Assyriologist Carl Friedrich Lehmann-Haupt.13 All of them mention that the bridge was already in ruins at that time.

    In the early 20th century, Gertrude Bell visited and photographed the site;14 Albert Gabriel published a detailed documentation of the monuments in 1940.15

    • 1. Oğuzoğlu 1997, 365.
    • 2. See Schneider 2008, 6–7.
    • 3. See Hill 1974.
    • 4. See Meinecke 1996, 62–63.
    • 5. Translation: Hill 1974, 94.
    • 6. Fink 2017, 2.
    • 7. Darkot 1950, 453.
    • 8. Meinecke 1996, 65.
    • 9. Meinecke 1996, 71.
    • 10. Oğuzoğlu 1997, 366.
    • 11. Fink 2017, 6.
    • 12. See Ertaş 2011, 46.
    • 13. Von Moltke 1841, 236–237; Taylor 1865, 32–33; Lehmann-Haupt 1910, 373–380.
    • 14. http://gertrudebell.ncl.ac.uk/photos.php
    • 15. Gabriel 1940. For a list of other, less-known travelers, see Miynat 2009.

    Ahunbay, Zeynep. 2008. “Hasankeyf, a Site Threatened by the Ilısu Dam Project.” In Heritage at Risk: ICOMOS World Report 2006–2007 on Monuments and Sites in Danger, edited by Michael Petzet and John Ziesemer, 156–57. Altenburg: E. Reinhold.

    Astour, Michael C. 1992. “The North Mesopotamian Kingdom of Ilānṣurā.” In Mari in Retrospect: Fifty Years of Mari and Mari Studies, edited by Gordon D. Young, 1–33. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

    Darkot, Besim. 1967. “Hisn Keyfâ.” In Islâm Ansiklopedisi: Islâm âlemi coğrafya, etnografya ve biyografya lûgati, vol. 5, pt. 1: 452–454. Istanbul: Millî Eğitim Basimevi.

    Ertaş, Mehmet Yaşar. “Evliya Çelebi Seyahatnamesi’nde Yollar: Kaldırımlar, Köprüler ve Kervansaraylar.” Pamukkale University Social Sciences Institute Journal 10: 43–53.

    Eyice, Semavi. 1994. “Dicle Köprüsü.” In Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı Islam Ansiklopedisi, vol. 9: 283–284. Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı.

    Fındık, Nurşen Özkul, Ali Akın Akyol, and Nurşen Sarı. “Archaeometric Analyses of Hasankeyf Unglazed Ceramics.” Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 14 (1): 261–271.

    Fink, Andreas. 2017. Der arabische Dialekt von Hasankeyf am Tigris (Osttürkei). Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz.

    Gabriel, Albert. 1940. Voyages archéologiques dans la Turquie orientale. Paris: E. de Boccard.

    Hill, Donald R. 1972. The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices by Ibn al-Razzāz al-Jazarī. Boston: Dordrecht.

    Lehmann-Haupt, Carl F. 1910. Armenien, Einst und Jetzt: Reisen und Forschungen von C.F. Lehmann-Haupt. Vol. 1, Vom Kaukasus zum Tigris und nach Tigranokerta. Berlin: B. Behr’s Verlag.

    Meinecke, Michael. 1996. Patterns of Stylistic Changes in Islamic Traditions: Local Traditions versus Migrating Artists. New York: New York University Press.

    Miyake, Yutaka, Osamu Maeda, Kenichi Tanno, Hitomi Hongo, and Can Y. Gündem. 2012. “New Excavations at Hasankeyf Höyük: A 10th Millennium cal. BC Site on the Upper Tigris, Southeast Anatolia." Neo-Lithics 1/12: 3–7.

    Miynat, Ali. 2009. “Batılı Seyyahların Gözüyle Hasankeyf.” In I. Uluslararası Batman ve Çevresi Tarihi Sempozyumu, edited by Salim Cöhce and Adnan Çevik, 182–198. Batman: Batman Valiliği.

    Oğuzoğlu, Yusuf. 1997. “Hasankeyf.” Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslâm Ansiklopedisi, vol. 16: 364–368. Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı.

    Ory, Solange. 1971. “Ḥiṣn Kayfā.” In Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. 3: 506–509.

    Rizk Khoury, Dina. 1997. State and Provincial Society in the Ottoman Empire: Mosul, 1540–1834. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Sauvaget, Jean. 1940. “Inscriptions Arabes.” In Voyages archéologiques dans la Turquie orientale, by Albert Gabriel, 287–356. Paris: E. de Boccard.

    Schneider, Peter I. 2008. Die Rizk-Moschee in Hasankeyf: Bauforschung und Baugeschichte. Byzas 8. Istanbul: Ege Yayınları.

    Sinclair, Thomas A. 1989. Eastern Turkey: An Architectural and Archaeological Survey. Vol. 3. London: Pindar.

    Taylor, J. G. 1865. “Travels in Kurdistan, with Notices of the Sources of the Eastern and Western Tigris, and Ancient Ruins in Their Neighbourhood.” The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 35: 21–58.

    Von Moltke, Helmuth. 1841. Briefe über Bestände und Begebenheiten in der Türkei aus den Jahren 1835 bis 1839. Berlin: Mittler.

    Whelan, Estelle. 1988. “Representations of the Khāṣṣakīyah and the Origins of Mamluk Emblems.” In Content and Context of Visual Arts in the Islamic World, edited by Priscilla P. Soucek, 219–243. University Park, PA.: Published for the College Art Association of America by the Pennsylvania State University Press.

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