Photo by Smooth_O
Throughout history, certain hotels become synonymous with a particular war or conflict. Whether it’s through actual involvement, or where the media and journalists congregate to report on political or military struggles. We have compiled our Top 10 ‘War Hotels’ from the struggle of Bangladesh’s independence; to Libya’s recent uprising.
The Palestine Hotel, Baghdad, Iraq – History: The Palestine was one of several hotels in Bagdhad from where the worlds’ media reported from the outset of the Gulf War in 1991 up to the very last days of the Saddam regime. The Palestine’s convenient location directly opposite the Saddam Hussain statue on Firdos Square, provided a ringside seat as US coalition troops symbolically toppled the Iraqi leader’s effigy with an M88 armoured vehicle on 9 April 2003. Only the day before, an American tank fired a shell at the hotel killing two journalists, with the incident causing much controversy. Now: At the time of writing The Palestine is under reconstruction following a car bombing a year ago; however there are reports of some guests returning.
Holiday Inn, Zmaja od Bosne 4, 71000 Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – History: The Holiday Inn was originally built for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, yet, during the beginning of the 1990s, the yellow hotel became a symbol of conflict on televisions across the globe. As the war tearing Bosnia-Herzegovina apart raged outside, the foreign press covered stories of blood shed from within the Holiday Inn, the only open hotel in Sarajevo, while overlooking an area known as ‘sniper alley’. Now: The Hotel is still bears shelling scars from the conflict and retains that famous yellow facade. www.holidaysarajevo.com
The Commodore, Baalbek Street, Beirut, Lebanon – History: Deep in the heart of West Beirut, The Commodore played host to the world’s media covering Lebanon’s civil war. By all accounts, most of their time was spent in the legendary bar encouraging an African Gray Parrot to mimic the sound of incoming shells to the horror of newly arrived journalists. Allegedly, one night, somebody shot the bird, another casualty of war! Now: The hotel now receives mixed reviews, yet ideally placed for exploring Beirut. Perhaps they should consider getting a pet! www.lecommodorehotel.com
Europa Hotel, Great Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland BT2 7AP – History: Having the taglines ‘The worlds most bombed hotel’ and ‘the hardboard hotel’ is clearly not going to be good for business. Yet during ‘the troubles’, the Europa hotel was buzzing with journalists, despite being bombed 29 times in the 1970s alone. The owner Harper Brown, complete with moustache lifted spirits by plying the journalists with Champers. Now: The fact the hotel stands at all, is a testament to this resilient Belfast institution. Now fully refurbished the elegant décor of the centrally located Europa welcomes celebrities and dignitaries alike. www.hastingshotels.com/europa-belfast
Le Royal Phnom Penh - Photo by Henning Blatt
Le Royal, 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – History: During the 1970s, war reporters such as Sydney Schanberg and Jon Swain stayed here while covering news from war-torn South East Asia and the Khmer Rouge. When Phnom Penh fell to Pol Pot’s brutal regime, so did the hotel. Scenes in The Killing Fields movie were shot in the hotel and portray the final hours of the journalists time in Phnom Penh. Now: Now restored, renamed and reopened in 1997 the Raffles Hotel Le Royal claims to be the premier hotel in Phnom Penh and offers the elegance you would expect from the Raffles group. www.raffles.com/phnom-penh/home
The Greenbrier, 300 W. Main Street, White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986: History: A war hotel in the United States? It should be no surprise that The Greenbrier has never seen conflict, but it could of! Deep under this luxury hotel remains a gigantic emergency underground bunker. During the Cold War, the bunker lay in readiness to house Congress in the event of a nuclear attack. The bunker held enough supplies for 30 years! Now: The Greenbrier remains a luxury resort and describes itself as one of the finest luxury resorts around the world. The now declassified underground complex can be toured by guests of the hotel. www.greenbrier.com
Hotel Continental Saigon - Photo by terence
Hotel Continental, 132-134 Dong Khoi Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – History: The Hotel Continental is probably one of the most well known ‘War Hotels’ made famous in Graham Greene’s novel ‘The Quiet American’. The irony is, the hotel remained relatively incident free during the Vietnam war like the majority of Saigon. Rumour has it, whilst writing the book, Graham stayed in the Majestic Hotel rather than the Continental. However, the French Colonial Style and position adjacent to the Saigon Opera House made the hotel an ideal setting for the book and as the headquarters for the world’s press during the actual war. Now: Nowadays, the Hotel Continental remains a popular choice due to the history and convenient location. I can’t think of a better place to read the Graham Greene classic, sitting on the terrace looking across Saigon. www.continentalhotel.com.vn
The American Colony Hotel, One Louis Vincent Street, Jerusalem: History: Another journalist hangout in the middle east, this time on the east side of Jerusalem where reporters cover the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The hotel became a hotel in 1902 when a Jaffa hotelier named Baron Ustinov (grandfather of actor Peter Ustinov) asked the owners to accommodate them. Over the years, the American Colony Hotel has endured many attacks during various conflicts. Now: Today the hotel calls itself an oasis of neutrality and has played host to guests such as Lawrence of Arabia, Bob Dylan and Tony Blair. www.americancolony.com
Intercontinental Hotel, Dhaka, Bangladesh History: The birth of Bangladesh was a horribly bloody affair and refuge for the world’s media was in short supply. The Intercontinental Hotel at the Shahbag Intersection was declared a neutral zone, yet suffered attacks from both the Mukti Bahini and Pakistani army. Two notable incidents were in 1971, when the lobby was bombed, and in 1974, the hotel bar was blown up! Now: The Intercontinental is now the Ruposhi Bangla Hotel and claims to be the first renowned international five-star hotel in Bangladesh. www.ruposhibanglahotel.com
Rixos (Now Swiss Inn) Al Nasr Hotel, Al Nasr Forest, Tripoli, Libya History: The Rixos Hotel in Tripoli is the latest ‘war hotel’ to make the news. Following the uprising against Gaddafi. 35 journalists and foreign nationals were held captive under armed guard within the corridors of the hotel as the battle raged outside. They were eventually all released without harm. Now: Following the demise of Gaddafi, and at the time of writing, we understand that Rixos Hotels pulled the contract to manage and has been taken over by Swiss Inn. However, it currently lies empty.
Unfortunately wars and conflicts will continue to rage and more hotels will turn into temporary homes for the world media, and become known as ‘War Hotels’.
by Si Salter
What we are reading: We know people who love to travel love to read about travel.
Simon is reading The Backpacker by John Harris: If you enjoyed Alex Garland’s The Beach or William Sutcliffe’s Are You Experienced? then The Backpacker by John Harris should entertain you. The true story starts with John and his girlfriend in India then following her returning home he embarks on a series of increasingly bizarre journeys.
Gavin is reading At Home by Bill Bryson: If you think that your mind is always in overdrive, spare a thought for Bill Bryson, who can’t seem to switch off no matter where he is! If you enjoy an element of history and travel in your reading material, ‘At Home’ would be a worthy purchase. It is a book written along the same lines as ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, but it also has many similarities with his travel books, written in his usual witty style, just set at home. ‘At Home’ succeeds in answering many questions, some of which you wanted to know and others, you probably had never given any thought!