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TURKEY’S FIVE-STAR HOTEL MUSEUM

After centuries old artefacts were discovered during the building process of a five star hotel in Turkey, designers had little choice but to convert it into a hotel museum.

July 2015

Five years ago Necmi Asfuroğlu decided to build a hotel in Antakya, a small city in southern Turkey, close to the Syrian border. The hotel was meant to service the emerging city which was, at the time, in the midst of a growth spurt. The idea was to have a five-star Hilton hotel in less than two years.

However, things took a turn for all concerned when archaeological findings were discovered in an excavation on the project site in Antakya, close to the Cave Church of St Pierre, believed to be the first Christian church in the world. The findings did little to deter Asfuroğlu, prompting him instead to convert the project into the Antakya Hilton Museum Hotel.

After the discovery for almost eight months scientists from the classical archaeology department at Antakya’s Mustafa Kemel University turned, what was supposed to be, the hotel basement into a major archaeological site.

While costs for the project have risen, Asfuroğlu admitted in an interview with NBC News: “I could have done three hotels for the cost of this one, but this is fun and a challenge.”

ANCIENT MEETS LUXURY

Antakya, known to the Greeks as Antioch, has remained a symbol and an important centre of early Christianity, with some of the first non-hidden churches.

Turkey is full of layers of ancient culture and history; from the ancient Greeks to Ottoman Turks and the country has been successful in trying to preserve centuries of this history. For Turkish architects EAA Emre Arolat Architects, preserving the culture and history of the site was the driving reason they decided to come on board.

Combining elements of modern and traditional designs into the overall project, architects wanted to create a synergy between a modern five star hotel and a museum.

“The dichotomy between the public programme of an archaeological park and the private use of the hotel became a major input in the design process. The findings discovered during the excavations and the physical and sociological characteristics of Antakya act as primary sources of contextual information,” says Emre Arolat CEO of Emre Arolat Architects.

Experts believe they uncovered one of the largest intact tile mosaic floors in the world, measuring just over 9,000 square feet. In addition, they also uncovered the remains of buildings and dwellings that date back 2,300 years.

“The hotel, a placeless building-type defined by its own programmatic codes; turns itself inside out to deal with the specific characteristics of this unique situation and place. Since the hotel will be situated on a site characterised by archaeological findings, in order to deal with this unique situation the programme elements are considered as individual units spread on the site under a protective canopy, rather than building a compact, introverted, conventional hotel building,” says Arolat.

Arolat’s plan made use of an ancient riverbed running through the excavated property, a narrow strip which would allow for the placement of support columns. The architect’s design concept features a building which will sit about 30 feet above the archaeological site, with views of the site from common areas, even from the hotel’s rooms. There will also be museum-like access.

Antakya is not located on the seashore, but the Asi River (formerly known as the Orontes River) flows through the city centre. “The composite columns are situated on the trace of the former riverbed that goes through the middle of the site and on the periphery of the site in order to minimise any potential damage to the findings.”

Describing the canopy Arolat says: “The canopy supported by these columns acts both as a marker for the archaeological park and as a platform housing programme elements such as the ballroom, meeting rooms, swimming pool and fitness centre. This platform creates vista points to enjoy the view of the city and St.Pierre Hill and sustains the local tradition of roof terraces. Slits on the platform act as skylights for the archaeological site below and provide a visual connection between the findings and the hotel amenities located on the platform.”

The 34,000 sqm museum hotel consists of prefabricated hotel-room units stacked on top of each other. The room-units placed on the steel sub-structure are connected to the main circulation with walkways and bridges.

Hilton Antakya has 200 guestrooms, three restaurant and bar options, a spa with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, as well as approximately 1,250 square metres of events space.

“The rooms are located under the main canopy and this semi-open space creates an inner world where one can experience the climate and local conditions and has visual contact with the excavation site all the time. Terraces and gardens located under the canopy enhance the experience. The lobby, restaurant and lounge are located on the lower levels in relation with the archaeological site. With its characteristics, the hotel becomes a site-specific building without compromising spatial standards of a five-star hotel,” says Arolat.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

The archaeological park, situated below the hotel is designed so it has an open-air circulation path, composed of ramps and bridges, allowing visitors to experience the archaeological park from different perspectives.

At the beginning of the path is an InfoBox which displays information about the findings on the site.

The pre-fabricated components of the hotel help minimise in-situ fabrication. “The building is assembled on site rather than being built there and reminds one of the temporary structures built by archaeologists during the excavation,” adds Arolat.

Even though the hotel opened its doors in 2014; construction of the archaeological park is still in progress.

RISE OF MUSEUM HOTELS

Turkey is one of the few places in the world that has luxury hotel museums on offer for guests. Some of its more famous ones include the Museum Hotel Cappadocia, a luxury boutique hotel, built on thousand-year-old caves with rare and priceless artefacts.

The country’s rich culture and history is a draw card for guests who want to experience luxury alongside history, as most museums house collections of centuries old Turkish works of art and antiques.

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