Hasankeyf is in danger and it has been for a long time, yet it is the only place in the world that fulfills nine out of the ten UNESCO heritage site criteria. Nine out of ten! Pretty surprising for a place most people don’t know about.
The quiet town tumbles down the banks of the River Tigris, layer upon layer of history and culture combining to form an awe inspiring open air museum. Not only this, but the beautiful setting also provides a home for a unique canyon ecosystem. This area was part of the fertile crescent, where some of the earliest civilisations made their mark and Hasankeyf is no less ancient, being perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited settlement on Earth.
The town’s history spans a period of 10,000 years and it still has a lot to show for it. The surrounding cliffs are laced with thousands of hand carved cave houses, a tradition that goes back a long way judging by its Ancient Assyrian name, ‘the Castle of Rock.’
It is also one of the best preserved medieval sites in Turkey, with over 300 monuments littering the hillsides. Ranging from a 12th century palace of the Artukid kings to ornate tombs of Central Asian design, this mish mash architectural mosaic has been created by the passing through of more than 20 different cultures.
There is yet another enticing relic too, even after the glut of historical wonders we’ve already dragged you through. Excavations are being carried out on a recently uncovered temple complex, with striking similarities to Gobekli Tepe – the 12,000 year old site a few hundred kilometres to the west that is re-writing history. Abdusselam Uluçam, who heads the project claims it may be even older, therefore holding the keys to a better understanding of our most remote prehistory.
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So why would anyone inundate such an underrated treasure, a place that clearly has the potential to be a huge draw for adventurous travellers and domestic tourists? The reason is the construction of the Ilisu Dam, a huge project which the Turkish government claims will massively improve the regions farming ability and create thousands of jobs. Started in 2008, the construction of the dam has been halted numerous times as international investors react to protests regarding environmental issues and displacement of people.
The stakes are high on both sides of the argument, especially with the millions of dollars that have already been invested.
Although the area is deemed unsafe at the moment due to its proximity to Iraq and Syria, we can only hope the future will be bright and intrepid travellers will once again get the chance to experience this unique site before it disappears forever.
The dam was scheduled for completion this September…so that may not be that long.