Listen to this article
You can see it advertised in in-flight magazines and slapped across billboards downtown: Istanbul is set to get its own seven-star hotel to rival the gaudy palaces of the Gulf.
A hotel at the pinnacle of luxury might be just the thing for the showpiece city of a rising Turkey. Buzzing with construction, confident in its allure, Istanbul is in about as much a hurry as a 1,688-year-old city could possibly be.
The hotel in question has a sybaritic sounding name – Caprice Gold – but is being promoted as Muslim-friendly, with separate swimming pools for men and women and a mosque of its own.
But all is not as first meets the eye. The Turkish government has pronounced itself bemused at Caprice Gold’s description of itself as a seven-star hotel, saying no such category exists. It has fined the group but Caprice Gold adverts remain all but inescapable, hawking timeshares in the hotel’s thousands of rooms.
That is not all. Unlike Istanbul’s established luxury hotels, Caprice Gold will not loom over the banks of the Bosphorus. Instead, it is being built in Bayrampasha, an Istanbul suburb once famous for artichokes, now better known for industrial buildings and a fancy shopping mall.
Such details aren’t likely to get in the way of the man behind Caprice Gold, Fadil Akgunduz, popularly known as Jet Fadil for reasons too complicated to get into. He already has a similar hotel in a southern Turkish resort and has always been a man of ambition. About a decade ago he went on live television to announce he was producing the first 100 per cent Turkish car, although it has yet to appear. Nor has he been deterred by litigation over previous construction contracts or a fraud case that saw him serving time in prison. He says he has never been convicted of anything and that the hotel – which to a casual viewer looks far from completed – will be ready by year end.
Empire strikes back
There are still plans afoot for a Turkish car, although the government seems rather keener on the idea than do the companies that would actually manufacture it. A drive is also in progress to distribute a Turkish tablet computer to the nation’s schoolchildren.
But one thing has already arrived, the Turkish blockbuster movie.
Fetih 1453 (“Conquest 1453”) – at $17m, the country’s most expensive film – looks a little like the love child of Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings and has the merit of being based on a true story.
Since the story in question is the Turks’ conquest of Byzantium – the city that became Istanbul – Greece is none too amused. And indeed the movie doesn’t depict the Byzantine Greeks in a particularly heroic light. In one scene, the doomed Emperor Constantine XI is seen lounging in a medieval jacuzzi with three bikinied beauties and a bowl of fruit; in another the louche Byzantines let themselves go at what appears to be the equivalent of a disco. It all looks a little more like the 1970s than the 1450s. Still, swashbuckling epics aren’t exactly renowned for their historical accuracy and 1453’s first week broke box-office records. It has also pleased Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who often hails the importance of a new, self confident Turkey on the world stage.
Mr Erdogan himself spends much of his time in Istanbul, where he was once mayor. He’s been here even more in recent months, recuperating from two colon operations. Istanbullites chatter, but Mr Erdogan and his doctors say the polyps removed from him were benign and he is set to resume international travel this month with trips to South Korea and Iran.
Nevertheless, the pace of government noticeably slowed during his recovery period and there have been signs of splits among the ruling party and with some of its allies. It all goes to show how much the prime minister has come to dominate Turkish politics in almost a decade in charge.
Weirdly enough, Mr Erdogan only became prime minister after securing a parliamentary seat formerly held by Fadil Akgunduz, the Caprice Gold businessman. Embroiled in a court case at the time, Mr Akgunduz campaigned for the seat from New York. But despite hopes of parliamentary immunity, he ended up in jail all the same – leaving the way open for the present prime minister.
Get alerts on Istanbul when a new story is published