Aleppo’s Oldest Hotel, Where Agatha Christie Wrote Murder On The Ori

ALEPPO’S OLDEST HOTEL, WHERE AGATHA CHRISTIE WROTE MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, FALLS INTO RUIN ON SYRIA’S FRONT LINE

MailOnline, UK
November 20, 2014 Thursday 12:18 PM GMT

JOHN HUTCHINSON FOR MAILONLINE

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

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 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.

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.’

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.

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.

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.’

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