Landmark Istanbul hotel bids to revive glorious past

A favourite of royals seeking luxury, writers looking for the muse and undercover spies, Pera Palace - Istanbul's hotel of mysteries and pomp - has reopened after a major facelift to revive its past grandeur.

Built in the late 19th century for the passengers of the legendary Orient Express, the 115-room hotel has hosted generations of illustrious guests, from King Edward VIII and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain or the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I, to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock or Greta Garbo.

It was the place where crime writer Agatha Christie, one of the hotel's most ardent visitors, crafted "Murder on the Orient Express", and where Ernest Hemingway is said to have sipped at a whisky, watching the sunlight play on the waters of the Golden Horn.

Other, more discreet visitors also took up residence in the hotel.

Kim Philby, British double agent in the pay of the KGB, is believed to have been among the guests at the end of World War II.

He was preceded shortly by Elyesa Bazna, better known by his codename Cicero, in the service of Nazi Germany, says historian Jak Deleon in his book "A taste of old Istanbul".

A stay by iconic dancer and spy Mata Hari, registered among Orient Express passengers in 1897, is also very likely, according to Deleon.

The histories of the express, inaugurated in 1883, and the hotel are closely linked.

Carrying travelers of a new kind - businessmen attracted by the growing Western hold on Ottoman economy, artists and wealthy adventurers in search of the exotic - the Orient Express needed a place to meet the expectations of its passengers.

Construction started in 1892 and the Pera Palace opened its doors in 1895, becoming Istanbul's most luxurious establishment.

It was the city's first building, barring the Ottoman palace, to have electricity, and the only one to provide hot running water to its guests. The hotel's electric elevator was unprecedented in Turkey.

But after 111 years of service, the building needed a serious renovation. It was closed in 2006 for an inventory before renovation work started in April 2008.

"It is the first renovation on such a scale in the history of the Pera Palace. Anything you can think of - every pipe, every cable - has been changed," hotel manager Pinar Kartal Timer told AFP.

"Our objective was to preserve the nostalgia of Pera Palace while incorporating the technology of the 21st century," she said. The renovation cost 23 million euros (29.3 million dollars).

But on the ground floor, which is listed as a historical monument, all original pieces were left untouched, meticulously restored by a team of academic experts.

Once the heart of Istanbul's social life - in the 1920s, people came to dance the foxtrot, drink champagne or attend Turkey's first fashion shows - the Pera Palace aims to regain its place on the social map of a city now teeming with posh hotels and night clubs.

"We would like to revive the traditions," said Kartal Timer.

Next month the hotel plans to stage a "Republic Ball," an event dating back to the establishment of modern Turkey in 1923.

The hotel's re-opening Wednesday coincided with the arrival of an old friend, the Orient Express, which today makes a single annual run from Paris to Istanbul.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project