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Remnants of a great past: Lebanese hotel that has remained open since 1874 stands emptied as nearby civil war rages

29
NOVEMBER
2016
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With its windows facing the ancient Roman temple ruins of Heliopolis, the Palmyra hotel in Lebanon's Baalbek attracted renowned international figures since it opened in 1874. 

Jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone, late French president Charles de Gaulle and even the Empress of Abyssinia stayed in its sumptuous rooms, admiring the hotel's long halls decorated with antique Persian and Turkish rugs on the walls and floors.
But now the Palmyra hotel stands emptied in Baalbek, due to the worsening situation in the in the Bekaa Valley, which is close to the Syrian border.


Stepping into the legendary hotel is like a 'journey into the past', as owner Rima Husseini puts it.
Built by a Greek entrepreneur following the growing number of tourists in the region, Hotel Palmyra became a top destination for tourists and academics eager to find traces of a European past in the region.
The last German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was a guest at the hotel 1898, sponsored a joint German-Ottoman excavation of Baalbek's ruins.


During World War II, Palmyra hotel even served as headquarters for the English troops in the area, according to some.
'So many people have passed through this hotel,' Husseini recalls in an interview with Great Big Story.
'But now we are feeling the impact of the war on one side of the border and economic depression in general. At one point there were no visitors to speak of and that was very difficult'.


The hotel's deserted, dusty interiors, with their antiquated mahogany furniture, relics from the Baalbek ruins and green ostrich skin lampshades, bear memories of a great past which seems to be gone forever.
There is a persistent smell of carpet, old walls and rusty faucets which 'makes you smile', according to Husseini. 'That's what memories are about,' she says.
One room, where heavy drapes are pulled back to let the sunlight in, features drawings by the French poet Jean Cocteau framed on the wall.

The personnel has been there since the 1950s, Husseini says, because 'for them it's home'.
Ahmad Kassab, who works in the kitchen, has worked in the hotel for 60 years. 'This hotel runs in my blood. After 60 years you feel something extraordinary. Anything related to this hotel affects me. If I am here or not, it is part of me.'
Despite the sheer decline in visitors, Husseini stands defiant: 'No one has a right to touch hotel Palmyra, except for time'.

 

 

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