"The sun that suddenly rises behind the hills of Pera, over the minarets of the city and the Golden Horn, fills your heart with a crimson joy.” This is how Knut Hamsun, Norwegian Nobel laureate in literature who visited Istanbul late in the C19th, described his mornings. Like other western intellectuals - from Alphonse de Lamartine to Gérard de Nerval, from Pierre Loti to Theophile Gaultier, Hamsun delighted in visits to this imperial city, a city which changed the course of history forever.
Pera Palace Hotel opened, 1895
But when the worldwide famous Orient Express train chose Istanbul as its last stop in the East in 1883, Istanbul began to attract a new crowd: the ennobled and the monied classes of Europe. Unfortunately there were no hotels in the city that could meet the high standards of these Orient Express passengers.
terminus of the Orient Express train in Istanbul
Soon the Pera Palace Hotel in Tepebasi, which was founded in 1892 and celebrated with its grand opening ball in 1895, emerged. Designed by local architect Alexander Vallaury, the hotel had neo-classical, art nouveau and oriental tastes. Apart from the royal palaces, Pera Palace Hotel was the first building to have electricity, including an electric elevator made of cast iron and wood. Bathrooms, that provided the only running hot water in the city, were a privilege that was exclusive to the hotel’s guests. Tall spacious rooms lit by magnificent chandeliers witnessed unforgettable tea and dance parties.
This was a tumultuous time for Istanbul – consider World War I, the Occupation of Istanbul, the Turkish War of Independence and the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Leader and founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel for the first time during WW1, then many times after that. Room 101, where he stayed each time, is now kept as a museum; the original furniture and memorabilia are carefully maintained.
Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express", apparently inspired by the author's stays at the Pera Palace Hotel, was published in 1934. Room 411, where she stayed and wrote, is now preserved in her honour.
Pera Palace's main hall, after the renovations
World Tourist Attraction blog described the renovated version of the hotel: white marble steps from the foyer lead to the Kubbeli Saloon, a soaring room at the heart of the hotel, with parquet floor, banded columns of Carrara marble and six domes pierced with discs of turquoise glass. This is the setting for the English tea ritual, a traditional speciality that is accompanied by music on the Schiedmayer grand piano. The Orient Bar and enchanting dining rooms are described as some of the most atmospheric in Turkey, redolent of turn-of-the-century taste.
Room 411. Agatha Christie's portrait, desk and papers are still in place