Agatha Christie’s hotel in Syria ‘used as military barracks by Assad regime’

It is a horrible irony that an information sheet at the Baron Hotel explained that when it was built in 1909, it was in the midsts of gardens considered dangerous to venture into after dark. Now, the property has come full circle. The hotel that went on to accommodate everyone from Agatha Christie to TE Lawrence and Charles de Gaulle in Syria’s largest city and commercial hub is now on the frontline of a violent conflict. The Baron Hotel is apparently being used to stash weapons and guns by forces loyal to Syria s weakening president, Bashar al-Assad, according to sources in Aleppo. The hotel is out of service because of the clashes near it, and the regime soldiers use it as a resting place, and operation room , a source from the Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office1, an opposition news service, said.

Another nearby residence, a luxury five-star hotel opened in 2007 under the Sheraton brand, is also being used as a huge military barracks for the regime , according to another source currently in Aleppo, as it is in an area that sees frequent clashes between the Syrian Arab Army and opposition fighters.

The Baron Hotel is currently used as a weapons store and sleeping place by the Republican Guard, an elite brigade within the Syrian Arab Army Source in Aleppo, Syria

The claims were supported by a third source who said that the Baron Hotel is currently used as a weapons store and sleeping place by the Republican Guard, an elite brigade within the Syrian Arab Army, while the former Sheraton building is reportedly used by general troops fighting for the government. Both properties lie on the frontlines of the conflict between government forces and rebel factions, who currently split a city once home to more than two million people. The Baron hotel, that in its hey-day was the go-to residence for diplomats, politicians and the cognoscenti, sits on a street of the same name in Aleppo, whose old city is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in danger 2.

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'The room Agatha Christie occupied when she stayed at the Baron Hotel in Aleppo Photo: Alamy

Regime check points separate the Baron Hotel from civilians residing in rebel-held areas, and therefore it is difficult to gain access to it at present, Telegraph Travel was told. The whereabouts of Armen Mazloumian, the Baron s owner and the fourth generation of Armenian hoteliers in his family, are currently unknown. He is still thought to be in Aleppo, but not at the hotel.

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'A hotel opened under the Sheraton brand in 2007 is now reprtedly occupied by soldiers from the Assad regime. It is reportedly no longer part of the Sheraton portfolio and does not appear on the company website (Alamy) Photo: Alamy

The Sheraton building is no longer part of parent company Starwood Hotels s portfolio, as the company severed ties with the three properties in Syria it managed – the Sheraton Aleppo, the Sheraton Damascus, and the Sheraton Ma’aret Sednaya Hotel & Resort – as a result of US sanctions. None of the hotels in Syria appear anywhere on the Sheraton or Starwood websites. A company spokesperson said: “Until further notice, bookings can no longer be made through Starwood’s reservation system.”

Until yesterday, the Aleppo property was still listed on LateRooms.com as offering 199 comfortable guest rooms and spacious suites with crisp sheets and plush duvets , and a full-service restaurant called the Silk Road . A spokesperson for the bookings site told Telegraph Travel that a partner hotel group that until recently managed the hotel “was continuing to offer it on our platform. We have now spoken with and alerted this group to the issue.

We have removed the property and it is no longer available to book on the site.” The site has not taken a booking for the property for more than two years.

The Baron Hotel once welcomed guests from Agatha Christie who wrote part of Murder on the Orient Express during one stay to the explorer Freya Stark, and David Rockefeller

The area in which the hotels are located is just a few hundred metres from the city s museum and the Great Mosque of Aleppo, whose minaret collapsed in 2013. Recent photos from the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology3, (Apsa) a group of academics documenting the destruction of Syria s heritage sites, showed the museum s rooms deserted, windows smashed, and courtyards piled with rubble.

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'A recent photo of the National Museum in Aleppo shows the extent of the damage inflicted to buildings in Syria (Apsa2011.com) Photo: Apsa2011

Unesco World Heritage sites under threat 20154

Before the fighting in Syria that began in 2011, the Baron Hotel welcomed guests keen to see the former residence in Syria of everyone from Agatha Christie who wrote part of Murder on the Orient Express during one stay to the explorer Freya Stark, and David Rockefeller. Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, stayed in room 201, while room 215 was occupied by King Faisal I of Iraq and Syria , and TE Lawrence preferred room 202.

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'TE Lawrence’s unpaid bar bill was displayed on the wall in the Baron Hotel, Aleppo Photo: Alamy

Syrian World Heritage Site “used as battlefield”5

Fuchsia Hart, a postgraduate student of Islamic art, stayed there in 2011, and said it was “a wonderful place to stay”. She described its faded charm, “with lovely original fixtures and fittings”, and a fantastic bar that served G&Ts with TE Lawrence s unpaid bill displayed on the wall.

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'The hotel had original fixtures and fittings with a faded charm (Photo: Fuchsia Hart)

Room rates in the late 2000s were $55-100 – expensive by Syrian standards – although one guide book from the time bemoaned the austere facilities and woeful breakfasts. Hugh Fraser, director of tour operator Corinthian Travel, said that the Sheraton was the place to stay in Aleppo before the recent opening of a new wave of boutique hotels in old townhouses, which have now too been damaged or destroyed. “Baron Hotel was a place I used to suggest people go for a drink”, he said. “The ambience was very faded but there was definite character and everyone liked to see T E Lawrence’s unpaid bill.”

Destruction of the Middle East’s heritage is “cultural genocide”6

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'The reception hall of the Baron Hotel Photo: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Photos of the Baron Hotel published widely last year7 showed the state of disrepair its once grand guest rooms and public spaces had fallen into. At that time, the hotel was partially occupied by a few displaced families, and Mr Mazloumian told reporters: It’s been nearly four years since the war began and I see nothing that inspires any optimism in me, quite the contrary.

Other hotels in Aleppo have fared even worse than the Baron and the former Sheraton: the 150-year-old Carlton Hotel, opposite Aleppo’s citadel, was flattened in 2014.8

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'The Carlton Hotel, 150 years old, was destroyed in 2014 (Getty) Photo: Getty I

The Old City, citadel and vernacular buildings have suffered heavy damage as a result of the five-year-old Syrian conflict.

Aleppo’s heritage sites destroyed9

Aleppo’s ancient hammams – the bathouses popular with both visitors to the city and residents – have been damaged and destroyed. A recent video of the Hammam el-Nahasin (below) from Apsa showed the elaborate light fittings crushed and the walls crumbling, while the Hammam Yalbougha an-Nasry, which was described by the Lonely Planet guide to Syria as “one of Syria’s finest working bathouses and something of a state showpiece”, has been destroyed. embedded content

Video source: Apsa2011.com10

A satellite analysis by UNOSAT11 in July this year estimated that there are 14,034 affected structures in Aleppo, including nearly 3,000 houses, public buildings, mosques and other structures, while images from last year showed the extent of the destruction since 2010.

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'Aleppo in November 2010, before the conflict in Syria began, shows the Citadel and Great Mosque intact Photo: US Department of State, Humanitarian Information Unit, NextView License (DigitalGlobe) Satalite Imagery Analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT. Photo: US Department of State, Humanitarian Information Unit, NextView License (DigitalGlobe) Satalite Imagery Analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT.

Agatha Christie's Hotel In Syria 'used As Military Barracks By Assad Regime'Satellite imagery from 2014 shows the destruction of the Great Mosque of Aleppo’s minaret Photo: US Department of State, Humanitarian Information Unit, NextView License (DigitalGlobe) Satalite Imagery Analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT. Photo: US Department of State, Humanitarian Information Unit, NextView License (DigitalGlobe) Satalite Imagery Analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT.

References

  1. ^ Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office (rfsmediaoffice.com)
  2. ^ Aleppo, whose old city is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in danger (www.discountholidays.info)
  3. ^ Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (apsa2011.com)
  4. ^ Unesco World Heritage sites under threat 2015 (www.discountholidays.info)
  5. ^ Syrian World Heritage Site “used as battlefield” (www.discountholidays.info)
  6. ^ Destruction of the Middle East’s heritage is “cultural genocide” (www.discountholidays.info)
  7. ^ Photos of the Baron Hotel published widely last year (www.discountholidays.info)
  8. ^ 150-year-old Carlton Hotel, opposite Aleppo’s citadel, was flattened in 2014. (www.discountholidays.info)
  9. ^ Aleppo’s heritage sites destroyed (www.discountholidays.info)
  10. ^ Apsa2011.com (apsa2011.com)
  11. ^ satellite analysis by UNOSAT (unosat-maps.web.cern.ch)

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