BY: AISHA ILYAD
One of the many great and historical remnants of the past Lebanese and Roman ruins is a hotel that was built in 1874 and is still open today. The hotel has never been closed, not even for one day.
As unmissable as the ruins themselves, the Palmyra is a little preserved piece of 19th-century Middle Eastern history. It has entertained famed and favored visitors to Baalbeck Valley near the Syrian border for well over a century. Guests as diverse as Jean Cocteau and General de Gaulle have graced its portals.
Windows facing the ancient Roman temple ruins of Heliopolis, long halls decorated with antique Persian and Turkish rugs on the walls and floors, comfortable, creaky rooms showing their age, and the rattle of elderly plumbing make the view and atmosphere spooky and unforgettable, and drove the visitors to the 19th century.
This historical hotel has witnessed two world wars and many regional conflicts. Even during World War II, Palmyra hotel served as headquarters for the English troops in the area.
The hotel was built by a Greek entrepreneur in response to the growing number of tourists to the region. Beginning in the mid-1860s, European tour operators offered package tours of the Middle East, and Baalbeck had become a renowned destination. Western academics had been drawn to the ruins for years.
A myriad of archeologists, artists, and adventurers followed in their wake, in what would become known to some as the ‘golden age of travelling.’
The last German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, stayed at the hotel in 1898 and paved the way for a joint German-Ottoman excavation of Baalbeck’s ruins. This venture led to some of the site’s later history, namely the Arab influence, being effaced.
All the current travel guides and hotel booking websites boast that the Palmyra hosted the Germans during World War I and served as English headquarters during World War II, an anecdote that somehow seals the hotel’s fate as a colonialist monument.
The July 2006 war affected tourism in North Lebanon drastically, though a few years later it picked up again until the crisis in Syria has all but completely halted it. Now, no longer possible to ignore the contemporary settings, the Palmyra sees only a few guests a month.