The moral of this story: “Don’t mess with whirling dervishes.”
Yes, we’re talking about the Ciragan Palace Kempinski. This Imperial Ottoman palace turned five-star hotel offers intrigue, romance, history and its own jetty and heliport for bringing in the A-list celebs who make the $40,000 a night Sultan’s Suite their “home away from home” while in Istanbul giving concerts (Madonna stayed here during the infamous breast-baring concert of 2012), hosting parties (Oprah threw a giant bash for her employees and their families in 2009) and resting up between basketball gigs (Kobe Bryant has stayed here twice).
Last month, it knocked Parisian landmark Hotel Le Bristol off its vaunted perch as the best hotel in Europe at the 2013 World Travel Awards–think Oscars for the hotel industry.
But this stunning palace alongside Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait hasn’t always been so lucky. Allegedly, when Sultan Abdulaziz had it built between 1863 and 1871, he got a bit overzealous, co-opting a monastery of whirling dervishes which resulted, curse or not, in a string of unhappy consequences.
Even though Abdulaziz hosted French Empress Eugenie de Montijo at the palace hamam (and, according to rumor, might have snuck in a dalliance with Napoleon III’s wife), he was only able to live at his luxurious new digs for a few short years before being deposed and found mysteriously dead at the tender young age of 46. His heir, nephew Sultan Murad V, lasted but 93 days before being declared mentally incompetent and forced to live under house arrest in the palace harem.
Disaster struck again in January 1910 two months after the second Imperial Parliament convened on the palace grounds. Except for its high marble walls and bridges, one leading to Yildiz Palace, and the famous hamam that hosted the French Empress, Ciragan burnt to the ground with all its luxurious furnishings, art work and rare books.
Luckily, luxury hotel group Kempinski broke the dervish curse when it restored the baroque palace, re-opening it to glorious fanfare in 1991. Today, the former palace, back to its original opulence, is divided into 11 ooh-la-la suites complete with 24-hour butler service and the famous Tugra restaurant.
And the decadence doesn’t end there. Lush lawns with gardens, palm trees and gazebos line a long promenade leading to the new “wing” of the palace where guests can enjoy a Moet & Chandon champagne bar, heated infinity pool and rooms with handmade carpets, spacious balconies and pillow menus.