Founder of the Hoxton Hotel, Kurt R Bredenbeck, reflects on a Syrian hotel lost in time, and now possibly lost forever
Among vintage hotel afficionados the Baron Hotel in Aleppo, Syria has developed a cult following that is something of a legend in itself. To stay at the Baron is to go back in time.
In the present-day midsummer heat, Aleppo is dead and the hotel is quiet. Today, Syria is a little visited land at war with its hereditary dictator. But a hundred years ago the area was a bustling region of international importance at the centre of the Turkish Empire. Aleppo was the key transport centre and the termination point of the Orient Express in the Middle East. These days, Syria is a weird place and the Baron is still a time warp of mystery where anything can happen. Soldiers, arms dealers, Armenian traders – the characters who pass through this aged hotel – would suit an Agatha Christie novel, or even an episode of Twilight Zone.
Of course, Christie stayed here along with a host of other celebrities, film stars, presidents and royalty of an earlier age. Sources confirm that she wrote much of her celebrated mystery Murder on Orient Express while staying at the Baron with her archeologist husband Max Mallowan. 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.
Many hotels revel in their historic past and the glory of their guest list. But at the Baron, the past somehow remains more solid and ever present. It is everywhere, like the thin film of Syrian dust on the furniture. When you enter the hotel’s black and white tiled foyer with its WWI-era map of Syria or sip a cocktail in the panelled bar, it is 1917 once again and the spirits of Christie and Lawrence are with you – perhaps fresh from an archeological dig or a spying trip in the desert.
Kurt R. Bredenbeck is the founder, creator and co-owner of The Hoxton Hotel in London
Baron Hotel, Baron Street, Aleppo, Syria
This story was taken from issue 3 of PORT. To subscribe or buy a back issue, click here