Photos by Joseph Eid/AFP
Sputnik News – The Baron Hotel in Aleppo was once Syria’s grandest and most stylish hotel, a legend in itself due to its high profile guests like Lawrence of Arabia, Charles de Gaulle and Agatha Christie; but since the war arrived in Syria’s commercial hub in 2012, there have been no paying guests and the once-glamourous building is losing its centenary charm.
The idea of building a luxury hotel in Aleppo came at the end of the 19th century. Sometime around 1870, a member of the Armenian Mazloumian family was on her way to Jerusalem for pilgrimage.
While passing through Aleppo which was, even at that time, a cosmopolitan centre of commerce, she noticed how uncomfortable Europeans felt when staying at the traditional caravanserais.
Eventually, she decided to build something modern in Aleppo and the result was the Ararat hotel, named after the mountain revered by Armenians, the first hotel in the region, at the end of the 19th century.
A few years later the Mazloumian Brothers enlarged their business by setting up the new Baron’s Hotel.
His wife, Rubina Tashjian, is now the only person left to watch over the decaying walls, which hold so many memories.
In the Baron’s lobby, on a yellowing wall, an advert from the 1930s can still be seen. ‘Hotel Baron, the only first-clAass hotel in leppo,’ it proclaims.
“Central heating throughout, complete comfort, uniquely situated. The only one recommended by travel agencies.”
The hotel hosted so many famous people that the full list would hardly fit into a little article.
Many of the hotel’s rooms are forever linked to the famous guests who once stayed in them.
Room 201 is linked to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, while Room 215 was where King Faisal I of Iraq and Syria declared Syria’s independence from the balcony in room back in 1918. Lawrence of Arabia stayed in Room 202 and Agatha Christie preferred Room 203 for her visits.
Rubina Tashjian confirms that Christie wrote much of her celebrated mystery Murder on Orient Express while staying at the Baron with her archeologist husband Max Mallowan, who did excavations at Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak in northeastern Syria.
Aleppo was the key transport center and the termination point of the Orient Express in the Middle East.
“I met her in 1959, but I was too young to know why she was important, I only learned that later,” once recalled Armen Mazloumian.
Upon request you can even see the invoices and registration documents for famous guests such as Lawrence of Arabia, who was a regular visitor to the hotel.
It was common gossip that he was there conducting espionage for the British government. The hotel has his book on display with a magnifying glass. The inscription says, “I am writing my letters from the terrace of Hotel Baron.”
Every Syrian president except Nureddin al-Atassi has stayed at the hotel.
Presidential Suite was occupied in turn by Charles de Gaulle, King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Syria’s former President Hafez Al Assad, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (the founder of the United Arab Emirates), and the American billionaire David Rockefeller.
Other notable guests include Dame Freya Stark, Julie Christie, Mr and Mrs Theodore Roosevelt, Lady Louise Mountbatten, Charles Lindbergh and the first man in space, Soviet Yuri Gagarin.
“The history of Syria was written in here,” Rubina Tashjian says in her interview with RT news channel.
Two years ago some rfeugees started coming, and they didn’t have a place to go to. Rubina recalls that Armen said, ‘OK, you’re welcome, get some rooms.’”
This explains how war-fleeing refugees had become the Baron’s latest tenants at her husband’s invitation.
Rubina also recalls that regardless of all her requests to close down the hotel, her husband firmly refused to do so, because it has become a part of the heritage and history of a city that has already lost so much.