Hotels in and through history

history of hotels

The world might have had its beginnings in rather simplistic measures of experiential existence but has over the years evolved in strides huge enough to lacquer over the plaintive with such ideas of indulgence that are a far cry from where they emerged, even when continuing to derive their essence while steeped deep in the instances of their origin. Every single worldly thing and every tangible experience here has seen revolution, progressing from the basic and the mundane to the lavish and the luxe. Be it the needs of life to sustain like food, shelter and clothing or the many means of recreation for life to be truly lived and enjoyed, the primitive experience has been shunned long back.

Catering though to the realms of both the worlds and having witnessed the evolutionary profile in its range of fringed bearing is a certain experience that is as basic as it is indulgent. What we intend to dwell in today might be a space seemingly luxe, or not commonplace at the very least, within the hospitality industry- the ever expanding world of hotels. But in stemming from the basic human need of shelter, albeit in a place within the globe that however is not particularly their own, hotels have come to be as indispensable and coveted a realm of existence in today’s world. Despite however their rooting in needs that can be somewhat understood as those of the modern times, hotels go a long way back in history. In fact, hotels are believed to be almost as old as human civilisation itself though earlier hotels, or more aptly inns aren’t likely the exact predecessors of similar entities of today. In their existence since antiquity though, hotels definitely have been serving purposes of human shelter through different forms and in different modes and measures to come to be a rather ingrained element of civilised evolution itself.

Even in the biblical times, the idea of hotels wasn’t exactly an alien concept with such facilities that offered hospitality to guests having been in existence back then as well. In times as early as 15,000 BCE, the Lascaux caves in France were developed to accommodate members of other tribes, probably marking the dawn of what would take form several thousand years hence as a key feature of the modern hospitality industry. Featuring also in early civilisations, particularly in Greco- Roman culture and in ancient Persia were such instances of hotels that were built at thermal baths and functioned as hospitals for recuperation and rest. In fact, it had been in the spas and bathhouses of ancient Greece and Rome providing sleeping facilities for those seeking rest and relaxation that the first instance of institutional hospitality might have been conceived. The Romans in particular were quite the pioneers of hospitality as it accrued there and then in ancientry, being also the first to develop thermal baths in England, Switzerland and the Middle East. They also built mansions to provide accommodation for travellers on government business, marking therefore yet another way in which their contribution to the hospitality industry would go unsurpassed. The House of Sallust in Pompeii that dates back to the 4th century BCE is perhaps the earliest of ‘elite hotels’, that which took upon its grand hotelier reputation sometime during the late Augustan period of the 1st century- or probably a few years even before it!

Moving into the Middle Ages however saw a parallel notion of the hospitality extension gaining ground. With the spread of Christianity, monasteries and abbeys and cloisters became more commonplace. Unlike the Roman mansions, these facilities stemming from religious leanings offered free bed and supper to all the travellers, not just the politicians and the rich even as inns, possibly stemming yet again from the Roman era, began providing for the needs of travellers, including food and lodging, stabling and fodder for the traveller’s horses and fresh horses for mail coaches. Staging posts in China and Mongolia provided similar facilities sometime around the 1200s. Hospices and hospitals catering to the needs of those on the move also became increasingly common as did caravanserais that provided a resting place for caravans along Middle Eastern routes.

However, even as inns and monasteries and caravanserais continued to evolve to reside in the essence of hotels as we know them today, the oldest known hotel in the world was established still sometime back, in 705. Japan’s Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, a type of traditional Japanese inn known as ryokan is recognised by the Guinness World Records to be the world’s earliest hotel, still existing and preceding the second oldest hotel, another Japanese ryokan, the Hōshi Ryokan that was established in 718. Despite such prominence of the Asian nation of Japan within the hoteling expanse, it still is the Roman might that comes to assert its worth, with inns still largely considered to be the precursor of the modern hotel. Evolving thereon from meeting only basic needs to come across as more luxurious to cater to changing demands, inns multiplied and expanded throughout Europe and then the world, most prominently in England. By the 17th century, with almost 200 years of service on offer, a certain type of coaching inns became increasingly popular.

The modern beginnings of the hotel industry can be traced to the 18th century, precisely in 1774 when the Grand Hotel was established in London. Prior to that, another such establishment that could be considered the forerunner of modern hotels came up in Exeter in 1768. However even before the dawn of the 1700s, Europe witnessed another first in the hotel scene. During the reign of Louis XIV in Paris, the first ever multi- use architectural complex Place Vendôme accommodated among other institutions of boutique, offices and apartments, a number of hotels as well, including today the Ritz Paris, continually ranked amongst the most luxurious of the world. Following the Industrial Revolution of the 1760s, the hotel industry experienced a boom that saw numerous hotels come up everywhere, in mainland Europe, in England and in America.

Some years hence in 1792, the first publicly held hotel, called the City Hotel, opened in NYC while the first hotel in the present sense of the word, the Tremont House, opened in Boston in 1829. As the first hotel to provide inside toilets and baths, locks on the doors, and bellboys, as well as an a la carte menu, it was quite a remarkable place, being also the pioneer in the reception arena of the hotel industry. Thereafter embarked a series of such hotels with distinctive and unprecedented exploits like the Holt’s Hotel in 1832 that boasted the first steam-powered elevator in New York City. Just four years later in 1836, NYC had its first luxury hotel in the form of The Astoir House. In the next decade, a certain category of hotels sprang up throughout the Indian sub continent, as dak bungalows that, like the erstwhile Roman mansions provided free accommodation for government officials. The year of 1862 saw the Le Grand Hôtel open in Paris, then the largest and most luxurious in Europe, decorated by top painters and sporting also the first hydraulic lift. The Palmer House Hotel in Chicago followed as the first hotel built to be fire resistant and the first to offer telephones in all its rooms when it was established in 1870. While the next decade saw the first hotel to offer an en suite bathroom with every room when Hotel Victoria came up in Kansas City, Missouri in 1888.

Despite however the prominence of the 18th and 19th centuries in the league of modern day hotels, the roots of hoteling in an organised manner goes back to some couple of centuries earlier in the 1400s. The beginning of the 15th century saw France devise rule for hotels that mandated them to maintain a register. As the need for hotels was further intensified by a global surge in travelling, the first guide books for travellers were published in France during this period. Even in England, the 600 something registered inns of those times had a certain set of rules to abide by.

The scene in contemporary Europe was no any different. With the hotel industry beginning to take shape, it became increasingly common for such establishments to sport signs outside their premises. Fittingly therefore, the first school for hoteliers was founded some centuries later in an European country. The close of the 1800s saw the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne come up in Lausanne in Switzerland in 1893. This particular year marks another remarkable presence in the timeline of the hoteling journey since it was when New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria opened as the first hotel to offer room service. However, the reputation of the Waldorf Astoria rests also as prominently in it being the birthplace of the namesake Waldorf salad that which was created by its maître d’hotel, Oscar Tschirky. Another such hotel of the 19th century that is exclusively associated with a certain dish is the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria. Opened in 1876, Hotel Sacher is most iconic in its creation of a specialty chocolate cake, the Sachertorte. Likewise popular is the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, supposedly the place where the French crêpe Suzette was invented, though in disputed claims.

Moving on to the 20th century, we encounter some of the most notable names that continue to dominate the hotel industry today. Luxury hotels like The Ritz in Madrid, the Savoy in London, the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, the Plaza in New York, the Métropole in Brussels, the Plaza-Athenée in Paris, the Taj Mahal in Bombay, etc came up during the period of early 1900s which was also the time when Switzerland first started building its now world famous ski resorts. The 1900s saw also the opening of what had been for decades the most beautiful hotel in the world. In the heart of the Red City of Marrakech in Morocco, the La Mamounia was constructed in 1923 amidst some wonderful gardens. Even the Great Depression that plagued the world a few years hence did not dampen the hotel business, nor did the World War as the industry continued to witness many epoch making occurrences. Whether it be the establishment of the first casino hotels in the 1950s or that of the club villages as well as the exquisite resort hotels in the years and decades that followed, the hoteling scene has evolved immensely over the years. Incorporating also in more recent times the convenience of technology as well as adopting the more business centric approach leading to the emergence of increasingly luxe hotels as well as unique and specialty hotels, the expansion of the hoteling space with world class hoteliers at the helm of affairs has been a journey that has spanned the ages with such leaps and bounds to dwell now in transcendence, but still chartering newer heights of luxury to offer experiences of world class hospitality and to serve human demands in lavish splendor.