Excavations in Hasankeyf, one of the world’s oldest settlements, first began in the 1980s with an aim to bring its hidden history to the surface.
Archaeological excavations at Hasankeyf Castle have re-started with the goal of bringing out and preserving what was once known as the strongest castle in the east. It was built in the 4th century by the Byzantines in the modern-day Turkish city of Batman.
The excavations at the 12,000-year-old castle first started in the 80s. And since then two rounds of excavations have been completed.
The Castle, also known as “Hisno Koyfa”, meaning rock fortress, had a religious function during the Byzantine rule that lasted for about 300 years. Later it was conquered by Emevis, Abbasids, Hamdanis, Mervanis, Artuks, Eyyubis and Ottomans respectively.
“The district, due to its historical assets, has been declared as a natural conservation area since 1981. These historical assets will probably have been under water due to Ilısu Dam in the scope of the GAP project,” according to Turkey's Ministry Of Culture and Tourism.
“Therefore, the rescue excavations for movable historical and archaeological works of art are still being carried on,” the ministry’s website said. The historic city was evacuated after the dam, which generates electricity for southeastern Turkey, started filling downstream.
Zekai Erdal, an associate professor in the Art History Department of Mardin Artuklu University's Faculty of Literature, who’s leading the third round of excavations told Anadolu Agency that only parts of the city that are at a lower elevation were buried under water, and the upper areas that once functioned as the capital of the Roman province of Arzanene is preserved. The castle is located in the upper town.
"The Hasankeyf Castle should be considered as a whole together with the valley and structures around it. Our castle covers an area of 110 decares (27 acres)," Erdal said.
"The best example of this is Ephesus. Excavations in Ephesus have been going on for more than 100 years. Hasankeyf also has a capacity that can last for hundreds of years in this context," he added.
Located on the banks of the Tigris River, the town stood in an important transit route as it was a center of commercial and military routes. Erdal said, that’s why it is possible to discover mounds from the pre-Neolithic period in Hasankeyf and in its surrounding region.
For Erdal, the most significant remains of the Hasankeyf Castle is the “Secret Gate” -- a rare example of its kind in Turkey.
"In castles, there are always secret gates that are used to evacuate both members of the dynasty and important figures or even the general public in the castle, when there is a raid or attack on the castle," Erdal said.
In the case of Hasankeyf castle, the secret gate that preserved its original texture to this day, provides secret escapes from incidents in the castle as from the deep valley it connects to other valleys to the south of the castle.
"Our gate is on the hillside next to the castle, in a position that oversees the surrounding region and through the rocky, carved road and stairs it descends into the deep valley," Erdal said," Erdal added.
The ancient artefacts that were dugout in the first two rounds of excavations can be seen at the Hasankeyf Museum.