Monday, November 12, 2012
The Sultanahmet Jail Hotel
The Ottoman calligraphy across the lintel reads:
"Capital City Murder Jail",
but I'd pay 370 Euros to stay for a night,
if I had any spare Euros to spend, that is...
A lot of other people think it's worth the money too, because this is not only the old Sultanahmet Jail, it is now a 65 room, five star hotel: the Four Seasons- Istanbul at Sultanahmet.
The elegant neoclassical style of the building belies the original purpose- on purpose. Perhaps the proximity to nearby Ottoman palaces and public buildings, and the caliber of the actual prisoners (writers and educated political dissidents) warranted a more gentle architecture.
While all that was fine in 1918-19 when the jail was built, by 1968 the prison was shuttered. It's historic, old city location was of no consequence to the growing needs of the new Istanbul. The jail was put to use for a brief stint during a coup d'etat in the 80s, but quickly abandoned again for more than a decade.
Then in 1996, the prison's wide windows and high-arched hallways welcomed a transformation. The building was repurposed, clad in marble and mosaics, and the courtyard was outfitted with a garden, terrace and gourmet restaurant. In 2012, the resulting boutique style hotel was rated #1 on the Top Small City Hotels list by Travel + Leisure.
But take a closer look. A sort of gothic gloom lingers, intentionally, as a reminder of the building's history. Brass rings keep their firm hold on some of the old cell walls. An inmate's inscription still marks up a marble pillar - and wish I knew what it says! Somebody please take a picture and send it to me. Some of the inmates were poets, so maybe the wording is poignant.
Alas, no images of the inscription exist, at least not anywhere I've searched.
Instead, here's a poem by the Sultanahmet Jail's famous inmate and International Peace Prize winner, Nâzım Hikmet.
(Remember my post about Hiroshima Girl?)
Lion in an Iron Cage
Look at the lion in the iron cage,
look deep into his eyes:
like two naked steel daggers
they sparkle with anger.
But he never loses his dignity
although his anger
comes and goes
goes and comes.
You couldn't find a place for a collar
round his thick, furry mane.
Although the scars of a whip
still burn on his yellow back
his long legs
stretch and end
in the shape of two copper claws.
The hairs on his mane rise one by one
around his proud head.
comes and goes
goes and comes ...
The shadow of my brother on the wall of the dungeon
up and down
up and down.