Characterised by its Belle Époque style, the historical Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah in Istanbul dates back to 1892 and was designed by the French-Ottoman architect Alexander Vallaury. Claire Hill delves into the history of this fabulous hotel and reveals its enchanting past.
Over the years, the hotel has attracted many famous visitors including the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps one of the most famous anecdotes linked to the property relates to the famous detective novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ which was written by English crime novelist Agatha Christie in 1934. Agatha is said to have fulfilled a lifelong dream when she took the train from Turkey to Iraq and it was during this journey she was inspired to write the book. Adding to the property’s mystique, legend has it, the novel was actually penned in room 411.
This room was re-named after the author and is a must stay for anyone who enjoys intrigue and mystery. Fans can also dine at the hotel’s Agatha restaurant which draws influence from three of the most famous stops on the Orient Express, offering the finest in French, Italian and Turkish cuisines, expertly prepared by a team of master chefs.
The city of Pera
Pera was traditionally known as the European part of Istanbul and it became the first port of call for passengers on the Paris to Baghdad railway route. Some travellers would stop at Constantinople to change trains while others would disembark to explore Pera and disappear to explore its narrow streets. Some went straight to the Pera Palace Hotel which gained a reputation as place of elegance and style. The book by Andreas Augustin ‘The Most Famous Hotels in the World,’ details many interesting facts about the hotel’s past. The plot of land where today’s hotel stands was apparently bought by three Armenian traders in 1879. Despite the fact the site was left untouched for a decade, its position overlooking the Golden Horn, the hills of Stamboul, mosques and the waters of the Marmara Sea meant it had enormous potential. In 1891, planning for the hotel began, a year later, building works started and soon after that, the palace on the hills of Pera was born.
The East and West
Augustin’s book also notes that years ago the hotel acted as an invisible gateway for those making the transition between the East and West. It was here that travellers drifted seamlessly from Occident to Orient and it was considered to be the last stop offering Continental hospitality en route to the East. For those travelling in the opposite direction, returning from archaeological excavations in Nineveh or the oil rich kingdoms of the desert, via the Baghdad-to-Istanbul line, Pera Palace offered a return to more familiar western civilisation. Nowadays, the light lobby continues to welcome guests from all over the world who, once inside, leave the bustling city behind. Popular spots include the Patisserie de Pera, a favourite place for tea and cakes and the Kubbeli Saloon Tea Lounge, the venue for traditional afternoon tea. The library’s dining table concept allows guests to adapt the space to their needs, whether they want to work, read or relax and enjoy refreshments. All three venues have been re-vamped by Anouska Hempel, the ‘Queen of Decoration’ whose innovations reflect the dynamism and energy of the city.