Southeastern Anatolia, January 2015

Two Winters of Hasankeyf

Exploring the ancient middle-eastern town located along the Tigris River

Under Snow

Following the local kids throwing snow balls to eachother, I was walking from the 800 years old Ulu Mosque to Hasankeyf valley, where locals keep their livestock animals. Shepherd dogs eventually wanted to check what’s going on once we got in the valley, and the kids around me ran away. Except Serkan though, he was too busy with trying to take a panoramic photo with my IPhone and telling me rumors of the ruinous mosque during that. This was the new years day of 2014, and my first time in Hasankeyf. It was under snow and beautiful.

The Next Winter

One year later on January 2015, I was having coffee with Nova sitting on top of a cave church overlooking Hasankeyf. The birds were back to the caves they took over from the human settlers, and the local people were back to their homes. After 15 minutes of watching the peaceful night view, we were asked to finish our coffees by the guy running the tea shop next to the cave church as he was getting ready to close the business. We took the first bus back to Midyat, planning to come back next day.


The coal stove was the heart of the traditional coffee house where I was charging my batteries that morning. It was around 7:30am, some old local people were sitting as a circle around the stove to get warm, while the tea was getting steeped. There wasn’t any music playing, and not much conversations. The sound of the fire and the water boiling in the jug on top of the stove were the morning orchestra. The fresh, oily breads just got out of the local bakery were on the table along with tea in an hour. The breakfast consisted eggs, white cheese, tomatoes, and of course, a lot of cups of black tea. The coffee house was getting crowded with younger and more talkative people as the time passes.

The Valley

A calm, beautiful shepherd dog was watching us while we were heading to the narrow path of the valley. Local kid Bilal was walking in front of Nova and me to show the path to the top. We made it to the top talking about the ways of sneaking into the citadel, watching the birds flying towards the river.

The Mausoleum

Zeynel Bey Mausoleum is on the other side of the river, on a wide open area where thousands of birds gather to dance before sun goes down. In Hasankeyf it’s possible to see horses, donkeys and livestock animals anytime anywhere, specifically on the other side of the river, there are many of them, as there is wider space with grass.

Entering The Citadel

The heart of ancient Hasankeyf is definitely the citadel, overlooking Hasankeyf and Tigris river from 100 meters high. And it has been a closed area for past 5 years, since a rock fell down and killed a local. I did 3 tries to sneak in here and managed to get caught at each try. Local people keep their eyes really open around and never let anyone enter the citadel without town mayor’s permission. And I finally decided to go to mayor and get permission from him. The government buildings are located on the other side of the river and not really a walkable distance, especially with a large & heavy drone case that I had to carry everywhere with me. Once I made to the government building, getting the permission was easier than I expected. The drone case was the key of convincing them. There was one condition though; I have to follow a guide they’ll assign. Later, I realized that the reason behind assigning a guide was to protect the citadel against treasure hunters. I met the guide in his office next to the bridge and we entered the citadel. The entrance is actually the other side of the valley, with hundreds of caves everywhere. Locals use some of these caves for putting their livestock animals, you can see some sheep and rooster on the below photos, that I took while we were walking to the citadel located on the top.

In The Citadel

Thousands of beautifully shaped caves with living rooms, kitchens, windows and doors… Overlooking the Tigris river from a hundred meters, the citadel is fantastic ancient town with probably the best view of Hasankeyf. In the first photo below, you see steep stairs goes until to the ground. It was the secret path used by mostly the soldiers to protect the citadel. Now, these stairs are home for thousands of birds. They leave the caves by the sunrise and come back to the stairs to spend the night.

The Video

My actual goal to visit Hasankeyf was to shoot the town with my Phantom 2 drone and Go Pro 4. And I ended up making this 3 minutes long short documentary, called it “The Birds Of Hasankeyf”, which you can watch below. Enjoy!