Istanbul's Pera Palace Hotel restored to former glory

Fri Sep 3, 2010 9:31am EDT
 
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By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters Life!) - The Pera Palace, once Istanbul's grandest hotel which hosted Alfred Hitchcock and Winston Churchill before it slumped into disrepair decades ago, re-opened this week after a lavish, 2-1/2 year renovation.

The rebirth of the 118-year-old landmark echoes the new economic life of Turkey's biggest city. Incomes have tripled since 2000, and almost 8 million tourists visited last year.

The unveiling of the restored Pera in what was a rundown neighborhood 20 years ago may help a government campaign to keep the 8,000-year-old city on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

UNESCO has threatened to relegate Istanbul -- the seat of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires -- to an endangered list for failing to defend vulnerable historical sites.

The five-star Pera, itself a protected site under Turkish law, boasts a mix of Oriental and Occidental styles in its design by Levantine architect Alexander Vallaury, General Manager Pinar Kartal Timer told reporters last week.

"The architecture captured a beautiful synthesis of East and West," she said. "The hotel was worn down after a long time between renovations, but has now recovered its former glory."

When it first opened in 1892, the Pera was the Ottoman Empire's first luxury hotel, boasting the only cast iron and wood elevator. It was the first building other than the sultan's palaces with hot running water and electric lights.

A playground for aristocrats, writers and film stars, the Pera was the last stop on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie may have written "Murder on the Orient Express" in Room 411.   Continued...

 
<p>A guest walks at the main lobby of the Pera Palace in Istanbul September 3, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer</p>