Foreigners, who previously had no option other than staying with acquaintances in the city which wasn’t really ready for international tourism in 1840s ,were given brand new opportunities first by bed and breakfasts and subsequently the hotels opened one after the other by minorities or Levantines in Kuledibi, Tepebaşı and Grande Rue de Pera.
However, the luxury and comfort offered by the grand hotels where distinguished individuals stayed in major cities of the west were not available in these hotels. For this to happen, 1890s had to arrive.
The railroad had already reached Istanbul in 1870s; however, the famed Orient Express, incorporating the sleeping and restaurant cars opted for the distinguished, would be able to make its first run only in 1889. Actually, the construction of Sirkeci Main Station, Orient Express’s starting its trips and Pera Palas’s construction must be evaluated under the same scenario.
As a result of the great popularity of the trips, the affiliates of the operator called Compagnie Internationale des Grands Hotels was commissioned to build a grand hotel similar to those in the other major European cities in Istanbul.
Using a method employed by the other current international hotel chains, the company assigns the task of designing the hotel to Architect Henry Duray in Istanbul subject to the condition that the design should absolutely meet the pre-specified quality standards and rules. The Istanbul born Alexandre Vallaury, who had completed many major buildings successfully in Istanbul until then, was selected as the local architect.
The chosen site was the lot next to the Islamic Cemetery also called Petit Camp de Mort at the time from where the Golden Horn could be viewed in all its eye-smashing beauty as part of the panorama of Istanbul especially at sunset.
The construction was completed rapidly and the hotel opened for business in the spring of 1893. The rather cumbersome mass of the nine-storey hotel reflecting the design principles of the international hotel architecture in effect in the period without exaggeration has been enriched with neoclassical façade arrangements. Rooms placed in four directions were equipped with luxury furnishings lined up around the large skylight shaft rising five floors high.
However, the magnificence of the ground floor is not matched in any other place of the hotel. Due to the excessive similarities between the interior of some large buildings he previously designed and this floor, it can be argued that Vallaury specifically assigned the task of designing this floor.
However, Vallaury, who had interpreted the local and traditional certain architectural elements in an approach dedicated to himself till then, perhaps had opted to reflect the orientalist-exotic atmosphere imagined by the guests in a rather selective arabesque attitude more in line with expectations here.
The hotel has maintained the distinction of being Istanbul’s most famed, most luxuries hotel over the years. Balls were held and foreign distinguished guests were entertained. In the list of guest which include many famed names are Mustafa Kemal paşa, Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, Edward VIII, King Zogo, Maria Callas and Jacqueline Kennedy. Hundreds of secret agents whose names are known or unknown like Mata Hari and Cicero have added to the mystery of Pera Palas in war years.