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The Most Famous Hotels in the World™


Pera Palace

THE TALE OF ISTANBUL’S FABULOUSLY AMAZING HOTEL

Pera Palace by Manfred Markowski (2015)

ANDREAS AUGUSTIN THE MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD EDITION RACONTEUR


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‘The train is in?’ The concierge in his elegant frock, with a flower in his buttonhole answered in an English as trim as his morning coat: ‘No. It is three hours late. I believe the engine broke down near Belgrade.’ Graham Greene Stamboul Train (1932)


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Detail from a concierge’s uniform, 2011


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Lobby of the Pera Palace Hotel, 1920s


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PERA PALACE HOTEL

1. Arrival Today

I entered the lobby of the Pera Palace Hotel. About half an hour ago the train had arrived. We had travelled the plains of Hungary, had crossed the Balkan mountains of Romania and Bulgaria before we had driven into Turkey. It was under the windows of Topkapi Palace that we had caught a first glimpse of the blue waters of the Bosphorus. Minutes later, in the first rays of the early sun, the ever beating staccato of the modern diesel engine had finally come to a halt at Sirkeci terminal. After three nights, we had completed the journey of over 2000 kilometres, from Central Europe to its easternmost corner. Like passengers a hundred years ago we had left the train and made our way as quickly as possible to the Pera Palace Hotel. The hotel was always the ‘last platform’ to arrive, today it is a destination in itself. It is affectionately known as ‘Pera Palace’, but it never carried any nickname such as ‘the Pera’ or ‘the Palace’, ‘PP’ or something like this. It was a child of growing demand for luxurious accommodation at the ‘far end’ of the grand railway track, which started in the distant capitals of Europe and ended here, thousands of kilometres away, on the shores of Asia.

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The train plate of the Paris–Constantinople Express. A stamp from an envelope travelling on the Orient Express. First advertisement in 1892 Left: Since over one century arriving travellers entered this elegant lobby with its six Kubbelis (domes, see also page 41).


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It was designed to host international travellers – and for that reason a palace was built in the European part of the city, in Pera. Travellers went up the hill of Pera, disappearing into the narrow lanes of this exciting city. Its bustling little lanes and busy boulevards, its cultural diversity and the mighty harbour makes it – at least for me – the Hong Kong of Europe.

Turks in their fez and stout Americans, officials of all ranks and branches in their uniforms or in disguise, accompanied by ladies, near-ladies and, sometimes, unfortunate ladies. They all were here in love, in war, in a hurry or with plenty of time. All had their particular agendas, and everybody seemed not to trust one another.

The Pera Palace became the first port of call for passengers on the Paris to Baghdad route. One stopped at Constantinople to change trains, stayed for a few days to go about one’s business, to explore the city or to simply re-establish one’s sense of balance after endless days and nights on a shaking train. And, yes, a bath or a shower was great, too. The trains never had one. The most important personalities headed for the Pera Palace Hotel. In fact and in fiction. It is the most written about hotel in the Orient. It became such a synonym for elegance and style that the British author Graham Greene, who didn’t yet have the money to travel personally on the Orient Express himself, made it a location in his novel Stamboul Train, assuming that his fictional characters would of course stay at the Pera Palace Hotel. Nothing else. All this he wrote from his cottage home in England. He himself never came to stay at the Pera Palace. In the hotel lounge guests of all nationalities, faiths, professions and classes have gathered. There have been the hunters and the hunted; the active and the idle; journalists, writers and their readers. There were royals and aristocrats, dashing officers and sleek businessmen, the railroad lords and traders of all shades, elegant

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An epitome of elegance and European style — a haven after a rail-journey of many days.


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Left: One of the most splendid hotel halls in the world. The Ottoman influence lends this room a particular flair, unmatched and truly befitting a palace. The hall measures 115 square metres, the ceiling reaches a height of 5.5 metres, the domes (Kubbeli) have a diameter of 2.58 metres each, and are 2.55 metres high. During the afternoon hours English Tea is served, complete with scones and sandwiches. Top: the first edition of the Guide Continental, issued by the Company International des Wagons-Lits in 1895.


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Christmas 1924 saw the Swedish actress Greta Garbo (left, and above on location in Istanbul) staying at the Pera Palace Hotel for over one month. The press reported: ‘Garbo arrived on 3 December and stayed at the “Luxurious Pera Palace” until 23 January 1925 together with director Mauritz Stiller and actor Elnar Hanson. They were about to make a film The Odalisk from Smolensk.’ Although production started on time, with Greta Garbo in the female leading role, Einar Hansson as her film-lover and Conrad Veidt as the villain, the German film company went bankrupt and the project was stopped after only three weeks. To make things even worse, the complete filmed material was confiscated by the Turkey customs office upon departure of the team. Garbo herself kept Istanbul as a special memory: she spent two evenings at the Swedish Embassy celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Her stay at the Pera Palace Hotel is today immortalised by a set of corner rooms in her name, with a most sensible female touch. Left: Atatürk with Claude Farrère, who wrote his own autobiography at the Pera Palace Hotel.


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In 1922 the foreign correspondent of the Toronto Star Weekly, an American writer called Ernest Hemingway, checked in at the Hotel de Londres, vis-à-vis of the Pera Palace Hotel. He was here to cover the war between Greece and Turkey. While there, Hemingway preferred to have his drinks at the Orient Bar of the Pera Palace Hotel, which he also immortalized in his novel The Snows of Kilimanjaro. At the American (today Orient) Bar, the young correspondent ‘made a few acquaintances among the military personnel, pumping them for authoritative pronouncements on the probable course of events. One of the most talkative was a brisk, red-faced soldier of fortune named Colonel Charles Sweeny, who spoke like a man of the world and amazed Hemingway with his grasp of military science and tactics.’ On 29 October 1923, the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey was announced. Atatürk was its first president. The capital moved from Istanbul to Ankara, the Ottoman Empire was now Turkey. To celebrate the occasion a grand ball was held at the Pera Palace Hotel. The orchestra under the direction of maestro Navai played Viennese waltzes. The beautiful women in the décolleté gowns and the handsome men began to turn with the music. The Salons with their gilded decorations were lent new colour by ladies wearing the latest fashions from the finest shops in the city, Duron, Lazzaro Franco, Karlmann and Tiring. The beauties with their bow lips, tiaras and trains, slender figures, together with their impeccably dressed partners formed an immortal picture. Finally the band would play Le Marche des Petit Pierrots.

Ernest Hemingway in 1922

At the hotel the French author Claude Farrère, who strongly supported the Turkish National Movement, visited Atatürk. His book The Man who Killed became Nights at the Bosphorus, a film with Conrad Veith and Heinrich George. And here at the Pera Palace Hotel, Farrère later wrote his autobiography. Today the Pera Palace Hotel also commemorates the second and the third presidents of the young republic. The Suites 201 and 301 are named after İsmet İnönü and Celal Bayar. Overlooking the Golden Horn, with their charming French balconies, spacious bedrooms, marble bathrooms and separate study sections, these 65 square metre suites are the most historic after Atatürk’s museum suite.

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Pera Palace Hotel labels from 1916 and 1925. The half moon in the label was implemented after the foundation of Turkey in 1923. After the Great War, the Balkan Express (BerlinIstanbul) had ceased to exist and a new company, the Simplon-Orient Express, had started services in 1924. Now it avoided Austria and Hungary, using the route Paris-Basel-Milan (via the Simplon tunnel)-Venice-Trieste-Belgrade-SofiaConstantinople. In 1924, the train returned to its original route via Vienna which it was still using until 1939, when the Second World War broke out. The view on the left page and the flyer below advertised the hotel as ‘le plus grand et le plus élégant’ and as the ‘Rendez-vous de L’Elite’.

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Struggling During the Turkish-Greek war the owning family, the Greek Bodosakis (by now the next generation had taken over, Prodromos Bodosakis Athanasiadis, Bodosakis son) found themselves driven out of Turkey. The Bodosakis fled to Greece where they became one of the most influential families. The economic situation now asked for the injection of fresh capital into the almost 30 year-old structure of the hotel. The subsequent floating of shares on the stockmarket was meant to generate enough funding to save the hotel. These 1922 shares for the Pera Palace aimed to save the hotel.

A New Owner, A Saint Misbah Muhayyes took over the management of the Pera Palace Hotel in 1924. In October 1928 he bought the hotel for 568,000 Turkish Lira and remained at its helm for 30 years, introducing fascinating aspects of ownership. In his will (1947) he stipulated that the income of the enterprise be divided between various philanthropic institutions. He decreed that his nephews, Cemil and Ferit Muhayyes, should became directors, and that the Prime Minister, the Chairman of the national Assembly and the Mayor of Istanbul became appointed trustees of a charitable foundation that owned the estate. It was also ordered that all historical furniture which could not be used or displayed at the hotel should be donated to Topkapi Palace Museum. Thus institutions for orphans, the institution for the poor and disabled elderly people and the institution for the prevention of tuberculosis were the direct beneficiaries of any profit the hotel made. In the minds of many people Pera Palace Hotel is rather a charity organisation than a hotel. Left page: The grand hall of the Pera Palace in the 1920s.

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David Suchet as Hercules Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express. The inset shows the cover of the first edition. To the right a view of Grand Rue de Pera and the Tokatlian hotel (to the right), where Poirot booked his trip on the Orient Express. The Tokatlian does not exist any more. It burned down in the 1950s and was never rebuilt. In the 1920s, the days of Agatha Christie’s first arrival, it was very popular, in the centre of Pera Street, which today is Istiklal Avenue. It was just a stone throw away from Pera Palace Hotel.


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A few years later, Hasan Süzer, the hotel’s managing director, confined to German writer Peter Hornung, author of the book Dream Hotels: ‘I assume somebody had placed the key in the room to provide the so-called proof for the clairvoyant’s experience.’ Today everything appears in a different light anyhow. By now modern biographies of Christie have long since proved the truth about the crime writer’s missing 11 days. What wasn’t known then, appears to be common knowledge today: in 1926, after she went missing, Agatha Christie turned up in a hotel in Harrogate (in the north of England). She had spent all 11 days there. She was alive and well and wearing a lovely new georgette frock. Police reports confirm all this. I am hesitant. Agatha Christie, the perfect crime writer, was also a specialist in obliterating her tracks. Here she is as elusive as ever. If she ever stayed here or there or not — we will have to wait for any final proof. This is, I’m afraid, exactly the way she would have wanted it. But how far had she planned ahead? ‘She has her cards and she shifts them with those cunning fingers until, of course, the reader sees the kind of trickery she operates,’ said PD James, a fellow grand dame of crime writing. Mrs Christie, however, mentioned not one word about these famous 11 days in her own biography. As if she still wanted to hide something. Officially, her first trip to the Orient took place in 1928. By then, a new page had turned in her life. In April her divorce from her first husband Archie Christie was finalised. By the autumn of that year Agatha was ready for a holiday, and began planning a trip to the West Indies. But she changed her mind, and decided upon Baghdad instead.

Agatha Christie at her typewriter. In 1934 she published Murder on the Orient Express. The setting was suggested after she had read reports from 1929, when an Orient Express was trapped in snow for days. The passengers on each of her journeys from Istanbul or Athens to London included an international mix of characters. All the elements for her plot were coming together. The Murder on the Orient Express itself was based on the real story of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, which had recently shocked the whole of America and Europe. Agatha Christie, who has been translated into more languages than Shakespeare, has dedicated The Murder on the Orient Express ‘To M.E.L.M, Arpachiya, 1933’. M.E.L.M was her husband Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan. Arpachiya was an aeneolithic settlement near Mosul in Iraq. Her husband Max and his colleague J. Cruikshank Rose completed at that time their work Prehistoric Assyria: The Excavations of Tall Arpachiyah, 1933, published in London in 1935.

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I am watching the sun go down over the historic city of Istanbul from the terrace of my Pierre Loti Suite. I can assure you that no cocktail invented by even the most creative of all bartenders could ever match the Pera Palace Hotel itself – this fabulously amazing concoction of fiction and facts. I raise my glass to this grand lady of hotels, who so marvellously plays with her age, her history and her past.


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Andreas Augustin presents Pera Palace The Tale of Istanbul’s Fabulously Amazing Hotel in the library The Most Famous Hotels In The World First of all the author and his team wish to thank Pinar Kartal Timer, the general manageress, for the encouragement to write this book. We are all indebted to Yavuz Kalkavan, who kept the legend alive, and to Demet Sabancı Çetindoğan and Cengiz Çetindoğan who are generously working on enhancements for the Pera Palace Hotel to regain its well deserved position among the most famous hotels in the world. In loose order we would like to thank Murat Eti, Evren Esen, Elif İzvatlıoğlu, Hakan Memiş, Maximilian J. W. Thomae and Burcu Hakman, Lisa Augustin. Esin Sungur, Selbin Okyay and all the others who helped to make this book. With this book and its related research we have started to dig deep into the hotel’s history, a fieldwork in constant progress. Our gratitude goes to the management of the hotel who accepted that some legendary myth had to be replaced by more solid but nevertheless delightful facts. Assistant in research: Elif Suyabatmaz and Nihan Schröder Historical advisors: Jürgen Klein and the curators of the Musee et Archives Bouilhet Christofle Paris; Photographs: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., Steve McCurry; Courmont Freres, Paris and Joplin Sinclair. Director of History: Carola Augustin Drawing: Manfred Markowski Editor: Cherry Chappell Copy editing: Thomas Cane, Carola Augustin All rights in this publication are reserved. This book and no part of it may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the copyright owner (except for book reviews). It may, as we like to suggest, be bought, read, recommended and given as a present to friends who like to read and to travel and – eventually – understand a little bit more about our world. © Andreas Augustin, 2015 ISBN: 978-3-900692-37-7 Second edition: 2015 First edition 2012

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Pera Palace Istanbul

1. Arrival 9 2. The Invisibel Gate

19th century

15

3. The Dream 1850s—1890s 21

Sketch by Manfred Markowski (2011)

4. This Business of Hotels

1890s

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5. The Best Hotel ...

1892—1910

43

6. The Great War

1910—1918

51

7. The Birth of a Nation

1918—1930s 59

8. Murder They Wrote

1931—1950s 73

9. Romance, Spies World War and Peace

Andreas Augustin researches and writes books about famous, legendary hotels.

Under the critical eyes of his wife Carola who holds a master degree in contemporary history from the University of Vienna, Austria, he – the story teller – brings the amazing history of Pera Palace Hotel alive in a diverting and informative way.

Manfred Markowski is a Viennese artist. A keen admirer of fine architecture and historic hotels, he produced many illustrations and covers for The Most Famous Hotels in the World library.

1938—1956

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10. Transition 1950s—2006 91 11. The Renovation

2006—2010

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12. The Grand Re-Opening

2010

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Status Quo 115 Who’s Who 119 Pera Palace Hotel in Literature&Movies Famous Hotels

1755—1910

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Imprint 127

The Most Famous Hotels in the World™ please mail us at friends@famoushotels.org

2nd edition 2015 1st edition 2012 You find additional bonus material of this book and the story “The Making of ...” on www.famoushotels.org

Design: Ramazotti Michelangelo

Pera Palace Istanbul by Andreas Augustin  

Andreas Augustin about his book: "For me, Istanbul is the most exotic city of Europe. Its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, its...

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