Aleppo’s oldest hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express, falls into ruin on Syria’s front line
- The Baron Hotel has become another casualty of the ongoing troubles
- Owner Armen Mazloumin looks back fondly on a star-studded guest list
- Hotel was founded by Mazloumin’s grandfather in 1911
Published: 10:37, 20 November 2014 | Updated: 12:18, 20 November 2014
It was once the most stylish hotel in Aleppo, hosting the likes of former French leader Charles de Gaulle and novelist Agatha Christie.
But the feted Baron Hotel has been forced to close its doors as the Syrian civil war grips the city, with the front line separating government and rebel forces just metres away from the building.
Haunting photos of owner Armen Mazloumian sitting on the abandoned terrace and empty rooms in the once-grand hotel have emerged painting a bleak picture of life on the front line.
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The Baron Hotel, the oldest hotel in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, has been forced to close
Armen Mazloumian, the owner of the Baron Hotel sits at the terrace and reflects on the future
The lobby of the Baron Hotel still holds an element of class and distinction
The hotel was founded in 1911 by Mazloumian’s grandfather, whose name it bears, and was once the fanciest in Aleppo, Syria’s former commercial hub.
In 1958, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser delivered a speech there. It was also at the Baron that Agatha Christie wrote parts of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.
But since fighting arrived in the city in 2012, paying clients have dwindled to zero and the once-glamourous building is falling into disrepair.
‘It’s been nearly four years since the war began and I see nothing that inspires any optimism in me, quite the contrary,’ says 63-year-old Mazloumian, unshaven and wearing a blue woollen hat.
Aleppo has been divided between government control in the west, and rebel control in the east since shortly after fighting began.
The conflict, which started with anti-government protests in March 2011 and has since spiralled into a brutal civil war, has ravaged large parts of the historic second city.
The reception has struggled to cope with reservations – or more, a lack of them
The conflict, which started with anti-government protests in March 2011, has since spiralled into a brutal civil war
The war has ravaged large parts of the historic second city hitting local businesses and tourism
Mazloumian is the last of four generations of Armenian hoteliers in Aleppo in his family.
His great-grandfather Krikor opened the family’s first hotel, named Ararat after the mountain revered by Armenians, in the second half of the 19th Century.
In the Baron’s lobby, on a yellowing wall, an advert from the 1930s can still be seen. ‘Hotel Baron, the only first-class hotel in Aleppo,’ it proclaims.
‘Central heating throughout, complete comfort, uniquely situated. The only one recommended by travel agencies.’
The reception hall is in a state of decay, with no hope of ever being restored to former glories
The telephone booth is dusty and outdated, emphasising the true effects of war
Nowadays, it’s a different story. Everything inside seems outdated and dusty — the reception hall, the telephones, the polished wooden bar with empty liquor bottles.
The roof has been perforated by incoming shell fire, with water leaking inside when it rains.
Rooms that once hosted celebrities and political leaders are empty, or home to a handful of displaced families who have been allowed to take refuge in the hotel.
The hotel is not far from the Aleppo Museum, which has been closed since the war began, and near the rebel-held Bustan al-Qasr district.
‘You think all this will stop? It will take years,’ Mazloumian says over the sound of gunfire.
It’s a world away from the hotel’s glory days of glitterati.
An old car belonging to Armen Mazloumian, the owner of the Baron Hotel, stagnates outside
The key to the presidential suite at the Baron Hotel, where guests such as Charles de Gaulle stayed
Many of the hotel’s rooms are forever linked to the famous guests who once stayed in them — Room 201 was that of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, while Room 215 was where King Faisal I of Iraq and Syria stayed.
Lawrence of Arabia stayed in Room 202 and Christie preferred Room 203 for her visits.
‘I met her in 1959, but I was too young to know why she was important, I only learned that later,’ said Mazloumian.
‘She came every year with her husband, the archeologist Max Mallowan, who did excavations at Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak’ in northeastern Syria.
Every Syrian president except Nureddin al-Atassi has stayed at the hotel.
An old photograph of the Baron Hotel displayed inside the hotel, the oldest hotel in Aleppo
Areceipt of British Army officer Thomas Edward Lawrence displayed at the Baron Hotel
Armen Mazloumian, the owner of the Baron Hotel, sits at the terrace with his black Russian Terrier
Hafez al-Assad, father of Syria’s current President Bashar al-Assad, visited the Baron shortly after the coup that brought him to power in 1970.
‘There were so many famous people who came here that if I started listing them all for you I wouldn’t finish before tomorrow morning,’ he said, ticking off names like billionaire David Rockefeller, former French leader Charles de Gaulle and aviator Charles Lindburgh.
‘But this is all in the past now. Honestly, the hotel will never go back to how it was,’ Mazloumian sighed, stroking Sasha, his black terrier.
‘The best years are behind us now.’