Hasankeyf is one of the oldest settling places situated in the Mesopotamia region. It is an outstanding international heritage. It is known as Hisn Kayfa in Arabic which means “rock fortress”.

But the name of Hasankeyf is also linked with an interesting legend :


An Arab prisoner Hasan, who had been sentenced to death, requested a last favour. He asked if he could ride his horse in the courtyard of the fortress for the last time, towering above the waters of the river Tigris where he was imprisoned.

His last request was accepted - and during the course of his ride, the prisoner jumped his horse over the wall of the fortress into the Tigris. The horse died on landing in the waters but the prisoner escaped. Everybody was astonished at the scene they witnessed.

According to the legend, the spectators exclaimed: “Hasan Keif?” (Hasan, How?) The name Hasankeyf was given on the fortress and from that day it has been kept through the centuries.

A view on the River Tigris from the castle


This ancient settlement and centre of trade was located at the junction of two historically important routes, the "silk road" and the "kings’ way", and near an important waterway, the Tigris.

It is not known when and by whom Hasankeyf was established but Hasankeyf as a settlement area probably dates back to prehistoric times. It is the witness of numerous civilizations. The city and thousands of caves surrounding it show that people were established here 12,000 years ago. Throughout its long history, more than 20 cultures such as Artukids, Akkoyunlu and Ayyubids have left their marks at Hasankeyf.

Churches and mosques were carved into the cliffs and numerous ancient cemeteries exist throughout the area as well.

Shaking hands in the church and the mosque

Different religions were able to live together in harmony. Thus, we can see a mosque and a church next to each other in which Muslim and Christian people used to pray together.

One of the significant treasures located uptown is The Hasankeyf Citadel.
This structure sits 100m above the River Tigris

There are approximately 4000 caves in the Hasankeyf Citadel and along the valleys that surround the city.

Some of these were naturally formed, and some of them were manmade. The people of Hasankeyf used these caves as dwellings for a long time. Poor people used to live down the hill and the rich used to live on the hill.

At the top of the hill, there are numerous historical remains and different buildings such as houses, a prison, a university, palaces and The Grand Mosque, built by the Ayyubids in 1325.
The Small palace that overlooks Hasankeyf as it sits on a cliff was built by the Ayyubids as well as the Great Palace with its watchtower in the north.

On the way down, behind the Grand Mosque there is a small historical remain of a village. It still carries the marks of livings of ancient times. It seems an open-air museum.

The Tigris Bridge is very impressive, too. It was built a long time ago and is 100 meters long. It is considered to be the largest bridge from the Medieval Period. It could survive to our times with its three pillars. Human remains holding unidentified objects in their hands were found on its arches

Other important structures in the town are the Imam Abdullah Lodge, the Zeynel Bey’s tomb, the El Rizk Mosque, the Koc Mosque and the Eyyubi Tomb.

El Rizk Mosque - The Mosque was built in 1409 by the Ayyubid Sultan Süleyman and stands on the bank of the Tigris River. The mosque also has a minaret that has remained intact.
Süleyman Mosque - This mosque was built by Sultan Süleyman and is all but destroyed except for a minaret.
Koc Mosque - The mosque is located east of the Süleyman Mosque and was likely built by the Ayyubids.
Kizlar Mosque - It is located east of the Koc Mosque, the Kizlar mosque was also likely from the Ayyubid period as well. The section of the structure which is used as a mosque today was a mausoleum in the past, containing grave remnants.
Imam Abdullah Tomb - The tomb lies west of the new bridge in Hasankeyf and it the tomb of Imam Abdullah. Abdullah was the grandson of Cafer-i Tayyar, uncle of the prophet Mohammad. An epitaph on the tomb states that the tomb was restored in the Ayyubid period.
Zeynel Bey Mausoleum - This mausoleum is opposite Hasankeyf on the Tigris River. Zeynel Bey was the son of Uzun Hassan ruler of the Akkoyunlu which ruled over Hasankeyf in the 15th century.

Hasankeyf has been declared conservation area since 1981. However, it is very worrying to hear that it may be flooded by the Ilιsu Dam because of the GAP Project. The works for the rescue of the town are still being carried on.

According to a rumour, Prophet Danyal was sent a divine inspiration. It said: “draw a line from the entrance of the cave where the water flows, then the water will flow behind you”. Prophet Danyal obeyed this order from Allah and drew a long line with his crook along the Tigris River starting from the point where the water comes from the Persian Gulf. After that, the river started to flow along the line but it dangerously flew past the houses of poor people, orphans and widows. Fortunately the river miraculously flew the opposite way not to harm their homes or estates. Prophet Danyal had changed the flowing way of the river.


According to the legend, Lion father, one of the most important commanders of Muslim Halid Bin Velid Army who conquered Hasankeyf, has an important role in conquering Hasankeyf.
He started to live in Hasankeyf after its conquest. He was a good religion man rather than a good commander. Therefore, he trained people of Hasankeyf about religion. His tomb is in the cave where he lived.
People of Hasankeyf have been visiting his tomb on Wednesdays since then. But it is not known why they visit especially on Wednesdays.

Everybody knows that storks are migratory birds. They migrate to other places at certain periods of the year. But in Hasankeyf, they never do.
One day, the people of Hasankeyf witnessed a fight between storks. One stork died and one was injured. After a while, the villagers learnt the reason for this fight and were surprised. They understood that the storks in Hasankeyf never migrate as they only leave their nest after having handed it down to their chicks.
The main reason for this fight was in fact that a stork from outside Hasankeyf had come to one of Hasankeyf’s stork nest and thus was killed by its legitimate dweller.
It is also believe that if the first stork of the year you see in the spring of a new year is nesting, you will stay close to home in the coming year. If the stork is flying, you will travel.