The Pera Palace: A Glimpse into Istanbul’s Past

In the midst of the British and French occupation of Istanbul, the Pera Palace Hotel emerged as a beacon of luxury and a symbol of the city’s cosmopolitan past. Built to accommodate the passengers of the famed Orient Express, the hotel quickly became one of Istanbul’s most celebrated establishments, rivaling even the Tokatlian Hotel, which had been immortalized in the works of Agatha Christie.

The memoirs of Ziya Bey, a Turkish writer, paint a vivid picture of the Pera Palace during these tumultuous times. He describes a place where foreign officers and businessmen were entertained by Levantine adventurers and where the nights were filled with the sounds of music and revelry. It was a place where the social elite could mingle with Russian nobility who had fallen from grace, and where Greek and Armenian women, whose communities had suffered greatly under the Ottoman Empire, found themselves in circumstances that were a far cry from their former lives.

Ziya Bey’s accounts, however, omit the darker realities faced by many Armenian and Greek women during this period. The aftermath of the Armenian Genocide and the persecution of Greeks led to dire straits for many, forcing some into prostitution as a means of survival. This tragic side of history is often left unspoken, overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of the era’s social scene.

Amidst this backdrop, Dr. Yervant Tachdjian stood out as a leading physician, providing treatment to allied troops for various infections, a testament to the city’s complex social fabric during the occupation. His work highlighted the less glamorous aspects of life in Istanbul, where an estimated 40,000 prostitutes and 175 brothels existed, according to historical records.

The Pera Palace today stands as a museum hotel, a tribute to its storied past. It serves as a reminder of a bygone era, one that was marked by both opulence and hardship, and the resilience of a city that has long been a crossroads of cultures and histories.

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