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Image: Old photograph of the Hotel Baron, Aleppo; Credit: JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

Hotel Baron Revisited

by Yahya Al-Abdullah and Nora Palandjian, The Aleppo Project on February 3, 2017

The first grand hotel of Aleppo, the Hotel Baron is remembered by Aleppians and the world alike for its historical glamor. Founded in 1911, the Baron is known for its famous clientele, including Lawrence of Arabia, Agatha Christie, President Theodore Roosevelt, and President Gamal Abdel Nasser among others. Located on the front line and featured in a number of articles since the start of the war, the Baron was most recently the subject of a BBC Outlook podcast with Mary Mazloumian of the family who founded the hotel. The podcast tells the history of the Baron’s extravagant opening as well as its more humanitarian spirit, with the Mazloumian brothers hosting those fleeing war from the Ottoman Empire.

Although Mary describes the luxury and poshness of the hotel in its heyday, perhaps most striking is her nostalgic account of growing up with it as the center of her world. She recalls the daily details, from her father typing up the menu on a typewriter to the background French music emerging from the record player. She emphasizes not only her connection to the place but also that of the guests, saying, “Our clients used to love coming back because they knew the people who worked there. They’d been there for years. It felt like home to a lot of our guests.”

This holds true even for a newer generation of clientele, including a former regular of the Hotel Baron, Aleppo Project’s own Yahya Al-Abdullah. Yahya, who worked as a part-time tour guide, revisits the space through his most recent memories from 2011, noting the grand staircase, carpet that is 100 years old, bar stocked with with decades-old souvenirs collected over time, and several couches and armchairs that would engulf those who sit in their depth. He illustrates a charm that is aged and preserved with nostalgia for the classic grandeur of the early twentieth century. Upon entering the building and taking a right into the reception, he describes a fairly vacant area adorned with an out-of-use grand piano and the hotel’s archive of celebrity and royalty, remnants preserved in glass shelves, including the framed unpaid bill of Lawrence of Arabia.

Image: Tamo the Bartender, Hotel Baron, Aleppo; Credit: Christophe Satgé

In his description of the layout, Yahya exits the reception and moves into the bar, where the bartender Tamo would serve the perfect gin and tonic but for himself would only ever have whiskey, either on its own or with ice. Yahya shares a picture taken by his friend Christophe Satgé featuring Tamo, described as a sort of caricature of a classic bartender from the 70s who would keep strict order in the bar and send people home at midnight sharp. With either soft jazz music playing in the background or no music at all, the Baron was Yahya’s favorite place to go on the weekends with his friends as well as a must-see destination as part of his tours, which included the citadel and the old market.

At the time, while the hotel was no longer as busy as it once was, Yahya remembers the owner continuing to operate and not being bothered by making money. The owner would come with his huge black dog, sit outside with other older people, and host friends and guests from around the world. By 2014 it became host to displaced families, over 100 years later retaining the warm and hospitable spirit with which it was founded.

Mary’s brother would keep her updated by telephone and stayed in the Baron until his passing in January 2016. To preserve these memories of the Baron, Mary and her sisters plan to collect the stories of clientele past to keep the memory of the hotel alive.

Listen to the full interview with Mary Mazloumian here.

Yahya Al-Abdullah and Nora Palandjian, The Aleppo ProjectHotel Baron Revisited