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Ottoman Reverie

Blurring the line between antiquity and the 21st century, the new Raffles Istanbul offers state-of-the-art luxury and historic Turkish delights.

An array of glass chandeliers in the Champagne Room conjures Turkey’s mystical whirling dervishes.

From powerful Roman emperors to brilliant 21st century Nobel laureates, great leaders, thinkers and visionaries have called Istanbul home for millennia. Overlooking the ancient yet cosmopolitan metropolis from atop one of the city’s seven hills is Raffles Istanbul, a new luxury hotel with the design concept The Dream of Istanbul. Like the city itself, the hotel is steeped in history while being focused on the future.

“During the Byzantine era, it was common law that all free men were permitted to wear gold, but only the emperor and empress could wear precious jewels,” says Sandra Cortner, the project’s lead designer at Hirsch Bedner Associates’ Atlanta office, the interior design firm behind the new property. That explains why imperial jewel tones are liberally referenced throughout. Upon entering, guests’ eyes are immediately drawn to the grand lobby, dramatically revealed through a backlit portal adorned with a stylized arabesque motif borrowed from the great Ottoman mosques that surround the city. This space is dominated by dramatic artwork that depicts the iconic Dolmabahçe Palace in vivid detail, commissioned for the hotel by hyperphotorealist Jean-François Rauzier. “I like feeling as if you are walking into the artwork,” notes Cortner. “It is and has been a great collaboration between interiors and art. They merge; they are one.” Another imposing piece of lobby art, “Lavinia” is a towering, 16-foot-by-52-foot abstract bronze sculpture by Martin Dawe inspired by the Turkish poem of the same name.

Up the sweeping spiral staircase, the hotel’s distinctive signature dining experience awaits. Arola, the restaurant helmed by Spanish Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola, is “a feast of discovery, with finishes and furnishings selected to build an ambience of anticipation and mystery,” according to Cortner’s design partners at The Gallery HBA London. Even before the feast begins, diners are wowed by a mirrored entryway and dining room bedecked in deep lacquered navy, with brass and red accents. A herringbone-pattern weathered-wood floor and ceilings featuring patterns reminiscent of Turkish tapestries, backlit to cast curious shadows on tables, add to the allure. The adjacent Champagne Room is outfitted with brass-framed refrigerated wine display cases and bubble chandeliers inspired by Turkish whirling dervishes. Meanwhile, at cocktail lounge Long Bar, a 24-foot-long bar seems to continue forever—an optical illusion created by mirrors at each end. By contrast, the nearby Writers Bar is cozy and dignified, with a rich, cognac color scheme and book-inspired art installations.

The 181 guest rooms and suites are another perfect union of Istanbul’s design past and future. Here, contemporary furniture graces jewel-toned Turkish kilims and blond hardwood floors. Headboards depict ethereal abstract images of the famous chandeliers at Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Wraparound balconies offer guests seemingly infinite views of the Bosporus—the strait that separates Europe from Asia—and the coast of Asia beyond. 

The spa, one of the largest in the city, is designed to emulate the flowing, life-enhancing waters of the Bosporus. A chandelier made from swirls of glass recalls the currents, while other light fixtures dangle like raindrops. “Our aim when designing the spa was to reflect the energetic new vibe of Istanbul—avant-garde, cosmopolitan and full of optimism,” says Inge Moore, principal and creative director of The Gallery HBA London. “Modern interpretations of ancient artistry and rituals create fresh and welcoming spaces that are in tune with today’s forward-looking guests.” As evidence, she points out the skylit pool, which is surrounded by slick black granite and honed silk georgette bamboo stone.

A seamless blend of ancient and modern, the newly opened Raffles Istanbul is a metaphor for Istanbul itself—the most fascinating, enchanting, timeless yet forward-thinking city on Earth. Rates from $750-$31,060 nightly