The Baron Hotel, Syria by Brian Kennedy
The following year I tried to travel to Aleppo on the Taurus Express which runs between Istanbul and Aleppo, but unfortunately at that time it was cancelled.
Damascus claims to be the oldest city in the world, we were made aware of this when walking down Straight Street which is mentioned in Acts in the Bible. At the bottom of Straight Street there is the house where St. Paul was brought after his conversion to Christianity.
We also travelled beyond the city to visit the ancient Roman site of Palmyra, sadly it is in the news again as parts of it are being destroyed in the current Syrian conflict. Victor insisted that we would get up very early so that he could capture the beautiful golden light on the ancient stone buildings, I never realised that a desert could be so cold, but it was typical of his attention to detail when it comes to taking photographs.
While in the area we visited Beirut in the Lebanon. We also visited the towns of Homs and Hama, now sadly famous for their role in the civil war. Back then Homs was renowned as the city where the most beautiful women in Syria came from and Hama was known for its norias which were giant waterwheels. We also visited the crusader fort, Krak De Chevaliers. Lawrence of Arabia considered it one of the finest castles in the world, as Lawrence described it in his undergraduate tour in 1909.
The hotel retained some its faded grandeur, and I remember Victor photographing the thick folded linen and a brass plate which had been placed under a door to prevent the wood from wearing. The brass was etched by many years of use. This for me was typical of the unique way Victor could spot something about a place and in one simple photograph could summarise the entire building and its history.
Lawrence of Arabia’s unpaid bill was proudly displayed in a glass case in the lounge. The room in which Lawrence stayed was just up the corridor from Agatha Christie’s.
It was sad to read a recent report about the hotel’s owner, Armen Mazloumian lamenting about the early days of the hotel when world leaders stayed there. Among the guests were Charles de Gaulle, David Rockefeller and Charles Lindburgh. Armen Mazloumian is the fourth generation of his family to run the hotel. He said the best years are behind us now.
Issa Touma comes from Armenia, he took us to an Armenian restaurant where we got the best food we had ever had in the Middle East. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion which meant that you could buy alcohol with your meal. The only way to access alcohol in Muslin countries is to go to a Christian quarter.
Sadly, the Baron hotel has been damaged and is now closed.
Brian Kennedy, 20 May 2015
The Baron is a series of works produced by Victor Sloan for Belfast Photo Festival 2015, when artist in residence at Belfast Print Workshop.
All images were screenprinted on Fabriano Rosaspina Avorio 285gsm paper, 25.5 x 38.3m, 2015, in additions of 6.
For further information contact Belfast Print Workshop at:
30-42 Waring Street
Belfast BT1 2ED
Telephone: 028 90231323