Friday, July 15, 2016

The Sâlihiyya Gardens of Hasankeyf

The Sâlihiyya Gardens are located to the east of the medieval ceramic kilns and the walls of Hasankeyf’s lower city. Here you will find fragments of villas, mosques and madrasahs among small garden plots where local Hasankeyf residents still cultivate fruits and vegetables.

Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, grapes,
pomegranates, and figs are just some of the 
products of Hasankeyf's several gardens.

In its location and distinctly “suburban” atmosphere, the Sâlihiyya district of Hasankeyf recalls the City of the Dead in Cairo (where the wealthy retreated to family mausoleums for holidays and in summer), the Salahiyya district of tombs and dervish lodges on the edge of Damascus, and the cemeteries and gardens on either side of the defense walls of Istanbul. Whereas modern urban sprawl has engulfed and dwarfed the old fields and gardens in most cities of the region, in Hasankeyf the proportions of the Sâlihiyya district, lower city and citadel are much closer to what they would have been 900 years ago, when the Sokmen branch of the Artukids made its capital here.

The Haydar Baba funeral complex is one of the
better-preserved sites in the Sâlihiyya Gardens.

The gardens of Hasankeyf hold traces of residential architecture, including the eyvan and pool of the “Artukid villa.” The eyvan is a distinctive architectural form, typically described as vaulted porch or veranda with “walls on three sides and completely open on the fourth.”

Eyvan and pool of the "Artuklu villa" in the Sâlihiyya Gardens

Ibn al-Munshi’, who wrote a historical chronicle of Hasankeyf in the early 15th century, writes that Sultan al-Malik al-Adil spent the summer of 1348 at the “Sâlihiyya Pavilion,” where he “enjoyed the pleasures of youth,” sitting most mornings “at the eyvan with his deputies and commanders attending to the affairs of the people and the business of government” and “summoning court entertainers” and his princely guests in the afternoons.

The remains of an eyvan and pool in the Kasimiyye
district of Hasankeyf (east of the Sâlihiya Gardens)

The sultan’s guests would likely have gathered in various chambers of the pavilion or in the courtyard, those of the highest status taking in the scene from the shade of eyvan. Following Artukid tradition, the innermost wall of the eyvan would have been ornamented with a fountain from which water emptied into a shallow channel in the floor of the eyvan, cooling the air as it flowed to the pool in the courtyard.

The Kasimiyya Madrasah in Mardin offers a fine intact
example of the eyvan and pool combination.

Garden districts were an integral part of medieval cities in Seljuk lands and across the Islamic world. The gardens of Merum, which stood outside the city walls of Konya, were “famed in Seljuk and Ottoman times for their lushness and beauty.”* Unfortunately, most of these gardens have disappeared, and scholars must rely on textual sources – poetry, epic, travel narrative and scientific treatises – to understand garden complexes as an alternative space for conducting business and entertaining guests. Further archaeological excavation at the Sâlihiyya Gardens has the potential to strengthen significantly scholarship on the history of medieval landscape design and the social uses of gardens. #HasankeyftoUNESCO.

Emin, who works in his garden each morning,
is always generous in sharing his expertise.

* Scott Redford, Landscape and the State in Medieval Anatolia: Seljuk Gardens and Pavilions of Alanya, Turkey. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2000, p. 62.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What will you do for Hasankeyf?

With a history reaching back 11,500 years, the cultural heritage of Hasankeyf is a vital resource for building peace. Unfortunately, the site is under threat of flooding by the controversial and massive Ilısu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP) project. Inscription of Hasankeyf and its environs as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with other conservation measures, can ensure that Hasankeyf lives. We ask for your support in advocating for these protections.

Hasankeyf: Ayyubid Mosques and Artukid Bridge

Cultural heritage and dialogue

Little is known about the history of Hasankeyf between the time of its first settlement in 9,500 BCE and the Romans’ use of “Kifas” – or “Rock”, as it was known in Eastern Aramaic – as a defense outpost. In the 4th century CE, Constantinius II built a palace and chapel on the solid rock mount. The naturally fortified city grew and prospered, became the seat of a Syriac Christian (Nestorian) bishop in the 5th century and participated in the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451. Following the Islamic conquest in the 7th century, a succession of Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen dynasties ruled the city. Christians, however, remained a significant proportion of the population until recently. Today, most Hasankeyf residents speak three languages: Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish.

Europa Nostra has selected Hasankeyf as one of Europe’s 7 Most Endangered sites for 2016.

A synthesis of Arab, Persian and Central Asian influences

Hasankeyf displays an extraordinary collection of diverse architectural styles from the 12th to 15th centuries. Viewed from the far bank of the Tigris, the pylons of the 12th century Artukid Bridge and the minarets of two Ayyubid mosques (built between 1378 and 1409) still dominate the skyline, a reminder that Hasankeyf is the product of numerous cultures and civilizations, most recently the Turkmen Artukids and the Kurdish Ayyubids.

The Koç Mosque (date of construction uncertain) originally consisted of an eyvan (a grand arched entryway) combined with a domed space above the mihrab, with barrel-vaulted prayer halls on either side. While the Seljuks of Anatolia used the eyvan widely in madrasahs and villas, they generally did not use it in mosques, making the Koç Mosque a fascinating and unusual application of Great Seljuk design in Upper Mesopotamia.

Koç Mosque: eyvan and Persian-style dome
flanked by prayer halls

The Zeynel Bey Tomb is the only example of Timurid architecture in Anatolia. Its huge calligrams, as seen in Iran and Central Asia, display the names Allah, Muhammad and Ali.

Zeynel Bey Tomb: calligrams in Kufic script

Cultural heritage and economic development

Hasankeyf is extremely important to the people of the region, not only because the site serves to strengthen their bonds with the past, but also because it helps to sustain their ways of living and their livelihoods. In times of peace, hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Hasankeyf each year.

A historically rich open space for leisure and creativity

Taking a broad view of the historic city and its hinterlands, it is possible to craft a locally grounded management strategy that balances conservation and tourism, with the potential to accommodate millions of tourists while also preserving the site for future generations. The tourism-related revenue of Hasankeyf and its hinterlands could gradually reach €500 million annually, a figure already surpassed by Göreme, in Cappadocia, and is slightly greater than the anticipated direct revenue from the Ilısu Dam.

The threat to Hasankeyf

The Ilısu Project is expected to flood 80 per cent of the town of Hasankeyf, irrevocably changing the natural ecosystem and destroying the historical landscape. While there are dams in the world that have lasted much longer, research shows that most dams built today have a life expectancy of less than 100 years.

Is flooding a 12,000-year-old city with a 100-year dam the optimal use of economic resources? Are there better alternatives for building peace and prosperity in the Tigris Valley? Your voice can help us build a robust dialogue around cultural heritage conservation and sustainable development.

Zeynel Bey Tomb (late 15th century)