From the edge of town, the footpath climbs gently toward Zih Canyon, tracing a line between the Sâlihiyya Gardens and the cliff of Ra’s Tibbah, the mount that forms the southern boundary of Hasankeyf. Here the villa of an Artukid prince, there a sheikh’s tomb stand among the rows of fig, pomegranate, and mulberry trees that divide the gardens into a patchwork of uneven plots. A little farther uphill, one pauses at the mouth of the canyon to survey 12,000 years of urban history: the Neolithic mound on the far side of the Tigris River contains the earliest evidence of organised human settlement ever found. Towards the left, the lower city of Hasankeyf, marked by two Ayyubid minarets, lies in the shadow of the storied Hisn Kayfa (The Citadel of the Rock) – atop the sheer cliff that towers a hundred metres above the Tigris River.
Particularly rich in Seljuk-era architecture and urban archaeology, Hasankeyf provides us with a broad and comprehensive view of how cities were organised, the technologies that shaped everyday life, and the eclectic architectural tastes of Artukid, Ayyubid and Akkoyunlu patrons. Hasankeyf is a treasure house of the cultural history of Eastern Anatolia from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries and an invaluable source of insight into the complexities and nuances of Seljuk society. The eclectic architectural repertoire of Hasankeyf underscores the well-documented Seljuk blending of Turkish and Persian, so intricately interwoven as to render useless any attempt to think of one without the other. In 1978, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture declared Hasankeyf a first-degree archaeological site and its General Directorate of Antiquities and Museums placed the site under protection. Ironically, Hasankeyf is not a UNESCO World Heritage site, even though it meets nine of ten UNESCO criteria. Worse still, the immeasurable cultural heritage of Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley are now under serious threat by a controversial mega-dam nearing completion at Ilısu, a village sixty kilometres downstream from Hasankeyf.