Hasankeyf is a 12,000-year-old village carved into a plateau flanking the Tigris River. It looks like something out of a surreal fairy tale. Overlooking the town are caves crafted by Neolithic pioneers and the ruins of a citadel as old as the Byzantines. The settlement bears traces of the Romans. It’s the site of significant medieval Islamic architecture, including a bridge across the Tigris that established it as an important outpost along the Silk Road. Marco Polo may have crossed there on his way to China.
Hasankeyf is also an active town in southeastern Turkey, with markets and gardens and mosques and cafés—a place with a palpable feeling of historical continuity and survival.
Yet in 2006 the Turkish government officially began work on a giant dam across the Tigris River that will lead to the drowning of an estimated 80 percent of Hasankeyf and the displacement of its 3,000 residents, as well as many other people. The dam—the Ilısu—is now almost complete, and the flooding could start anytime in the next year.